Monday, 29 September 2008


Mark Rothko’s suite of late murals, originally commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York in 1958, are now the subject of the New Tate’s retrospective examination of his late work. Rothko, in the event, withdrew from the original commission and donated the paintings to the Tate where they arrived on the day he ended his life - February 25, 1970.

Obviously, a glorious failure!

And below are AA Gill, the Sunday Times food critic and Waldemar Januszczak, its art critic. The former giving an uncannily accurate impersonation of the artistic reviewer, the latter prostrate at Rothko’s feet with a moon-calf look in his eyes in what is a very credible simulation of pubescent infatuation. One is in italics, the other in Trebuchet font. But it is for you to decide who is who, i.e. who talks about artistic canvases and who talks about palatable gourmandise:

“Doomy weightiness has been replaced by a rich set of soaring sensations.”

“It’s all done without overt decoration or fuss, without adjectives or
exclamation marks.”

“a glorious ocean of linked variations”

“an inspired and complementary match”

“We have here a gorgeous restaurant decoration that appears, on this
evidence, to be completely uninterested in the big truths of the cosmos.”

“It is a masterclass in the metaphysics of how, what and why...”

“You will keep returning to this dramatic rethink for further doses of

“ paint dripped into a glass of water, opaque filigree swathes and
fretted blots whitening out the miraculous landscapes...”

“...remarkable for their skilled manipulation of
glares and reflections and not their tonal bleakness.”

“The combinations of flavours and textures and methods are challenging, but
never overpowering, and often astonishing...”

“The thick fog of spirituality is blown away ... allowing it to breathe
more easily”

“There is none of the faux ponce or haute civility, not the merest whiff of
provincial grandeur that always comes with ...”

...comes with what? Dadaism, Etruscan cutlery, fresh trout grilled over
charcoal, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, or chicken korma from Calcutta? The
euphemisms, as it happens, are valid for either.

“It’s difficult to talk about the emotion of food; it’s plainly an element of eating that goes beyond
epicurean pleasure,” says AA Gill - which rationalization, in the event, is the
same for both. There are few facts but much room for synonyms. Oblivious that he is becoming a parody of himself, Januszczak’s brain seems a sort of gastronomic
belly or diaphragm which quivers in response to every culinary input from its
artistic surroundings and - pardon my hubris - regurgitates this type of
blatant, expedient humdrum horse-shit that even a prepubescent adolescent
wouldn‘t be taken in by: “those famously morose burgundy twilights in which
Stonehenge shapes loom up fuzzily in a claret-coloured gloom.”

Which brings me to Mark Rothko: "There is more power in telling little than in telling all!"

Of one thing we can be certain though, whether we divide art critics psychologically or ethically,
aesthetically or commercially, into vehicles of ambition or repositories of
benevolence, into male or female, black or white, vertically, horizontally or
diagonally, and solemnly conclude that creative ingenuity is in fact compatible
with full mental health, they still show the same dichotomy: the everlasting
struggle between the immovable object and the irresistible force, which is as
old as art itself and as inevitable as the rivalry between the sanguine, the
melancholy, the choleric and the phlegmatic, however trivially motivated and
carried on for whatever purpose. Their integrity, thus, is not in question. The
comedy lies in the fact that when all is said and done, though art can only have
the life of its beholder and may not be worth a warm bucket of spit, they’ve
actually come to believe in it...


Friday, 26 September 2008


So I came across this piece yesterday, in which the saga of Sarah Palin becomes the theatre of the absurd. Apparently Sullivan sent two emails to the McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb, in order to enquire if Trig, Palin’s son, is her biological offspring!

It was a perfectly proper query to make in the circumstances, he claims, and one is to read no sinister connotations into it. A thought which might have been spared the perfidy of utterance! Not surprisingly, then, that quest was ignored. Not only that, but both his emails, equally unsurprisingly, found their way into the Washington Post. And here is injured righteousness:

“I asked a question in private. But it has now been made public by Goldfarb and Kurtz...”

Well, if you asked the question “in private,” the answer lies on the
tip of my tongue: Bollocks! No one promotes this private aspect of the
electioneering campaign more publicly than yours truly:

"I'm very sorry to say, it's come to this: can you confirm on the
record that Trig Palin is Sarah Palin's biological son? . . . Since this is a
crazy idea, it should be easy for you or someone to let me know, the most
popular one-man political blog site in the world, what the truth is."

Some people might say that a gift for impudence is the sign of a
malicious personality. In his case it is an example of the spectacular, if
self-defeating, callousness he can display for the feelings and emotions of
others. For worse is to come:

“They won't. They cannot take the time to confirm on the record that
Trig is Sarah's biological son, but they will try to smear the person asking.
What does that tell you?”

Well, what it tells me, Sir - and I may not be alone in this - is that the journalist is never so disingenuous as when he is being “ingenuous”. Though your reasoning is pervers, the facts are not in dispute. The slinger of mud feels maligned when it ends up on his face.

The sheer nerve of it!

I have never claimed, of course, that I first met Andrew Sullivan in
October 1999, when he called upon me in Washington, unannounced, at the Library
of Congress where I worked as the director of research. Or that it was an
eye-opener for me (and would have been for most of the Washington hacks with
whom he then associated). In fact, I have gone to enormous lengths never to say
that. All I will say is that you cannot malign a political party on the basis of
prejudice alone. His record speaks for itself - duly taking cognisance of the
fact that Sarah Palin appears to have no gay friends.:

“Finding these individuals has been difficult.“

Obviously, a man's judgement can change according to whether his spouse
is a man or a woman. A point not recognized in law, but surely compelling in the
emotional loyalties of this particular individual. For Andrew, as we all know,
is married to a male. So tell me, Andrew, if none of my friends are French, does
that make me a Francophobe?

Sarah Palin, he then points out, has been asking God to protect her
from witchcraft - a skill he practises with prolific zeal. Well, Andrew, under
the circumstances, like the good people of Salem in the year of
sixteen-hundred-ninety-two, that is precisely what I would do...


Thursday, 25 September 2008


Behold the woman who understands exactly the poetic quality her life requires and who can reproduce the same emotion both physically and aesthetically in her garden arrangements. This may seem far-fetched, or perhaps just besides the point, but in either case, and within either of its boundaries, the pressing and immediate are lost...

Although I cannot here replicate a precise
reconstruction of the private ventures that make him the true upholder of traditional American values, such as a healthy disrespect for authority, liking Bourbon, cool white jazz and possibly a little dope at weekends, I can see that your husband, nevertheless, has been conquered - only up to a point. Nor is Mrs H easily outdone. Indeed, it is hard to imagine two people with greater
contrasting personalities. To know him one must know - really know - rivers,
mountains, and wuthering heights. To know Helen one must know the eternally
feminine...She will always be Vixen with all her alluring and mystifying
characteristics - a mystification of too much and never quite enough...

But even if a sensuous woman in need of worship is not the kind of challenge that Mr H would easily ignore, there are a number of issues yet to be resolved. Seductive women on a mission are apt to be
determined. And if you have a plan, it is to be provocative to those who ignore

About infidelity I find there is nothing to say...

As for sex, you are adamantly opposed to any form of repression. You
tend to ignore your partner’s sense of convention and explore new ideas and concepts for the sheer joy of acquisition - even if that means you have to fake experience in order to attain it. In other words, you do not see yourself as a woman forced to kneel, a perennially thwarted female struggling to make do with lesser surrogates. Instinctively, if you lose interest in sex, you know something is wrong. Indeed, no judgement on your person or your role in life can avoid references to your sense of intuition, or accuse you of overestimating the conscious components of the human personality at the expense of the instincts. In the same way that I experience this knowledge indirectly, you find (or have found) yourself courted by men for whom the threat of personal (or sexual?) inadequacy gave leave to strange uncertainties.

As a rule, you avoid uncertainties of any kind. You are a cool, intelligent
young woman, a student of life, intellectual in your tastes, who has a not
unpleasant air of upper-middle class calm in moments of emergency. In truth, the
central theme of all your life has been the fight against control, albeit dealt
with in an immensely subtle fashion. It always has a logical, purposive meaning,
and may strictly be called a motive force. An outside observer might even say
you exercised free will. But at the very least, you have a shrewd sense of life
and the living of it, which embraces reality, and a steadfast way of thinking
and acting. And yet, your self-fulfilment lacks a very important component. In
fact, there is a link between these two poles, if I could just put my finger on
it...(and if there is a link, Mr H cannot claim to have solved it).But your
vocational life, and one of which you might not even have thought of in those
terms, seems to lack adequate, let alone total, fulfilment.

One thing, above all, is beyond argument: I see a great life in the making.
Whether it’s your own or someone else’s - becoming the repository of your hopes
- that for me is hard to tell. Am I hallucinating? I promise you I'm not. I’ve
checked it very precisely, and the stars don’t lie. Every full moon, can bring
changing circumstances and your own anticipations to a head. You may wonder why
this is relevant. Whether stars are formed by gravitational condensation of gas
nebulae or by some other conceptual process is not yet entirely clear, but it
seems fairly well established that whatever one’s feelings about the application
of the term “ovulate” to invoke the image of the Full Moon, it all adds up to
one of those providential moments when the planets are in exactly the right
alignment for a truly productive conclusion.

It has been said of Helen H. that she was Veronica Lake in a previous life.
An established star who took pride in the quality of her production. But the
facts underlying this sort of regression are far from transparent, other perhaps
than that you have enough real or apparent similarities to justify the claim.
The stars are vague on sources, and ambivalent, even misleading, in their use of
connotation. So that to divine things is to crack a hidden code...or, to put it
differently, to explain the synchronicities of nature which are altogether
unintelligible within the commonly accepted hypotheses of cause and effect, but
which involve the freeing and revitalisation of precisely those atavistic
instincts whose chaining and restraint has been the work of some three thousand
years of domestication. Incidentally, everything I have experienced in my own
life tends to underline the truth of this perception. Nor do I lack the
self-confidence to draw active conclusions from the spirit that has been keeping
me awake at night - though, at the end of the day, you cannot foretell a person
anything; you can only help them to discover it for themselves...

...about which there is no knowing. Anything is possible, if you will allow
me this generalisation. But I can see a gym, a film-script, or a play perhaps,
the numbers 3, 15, 19 and 72, Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, Hunter S. Thompson, an
optician, an academic ã, and probably an obstetrician too. All our acts have
consequences, and no doubt, one can infer anything or nothing from that
enigmatic inventory. Either way, it would be fey to claim that I was being
directed from beyond the stars after the manner of the angels who have fallen, but I'll let
you into a little secret, over time they have come to seem familiar...


Monday, 22 September 2008


Brilliant exposé on Channel 4 last night: The Mona Lisa Curse. Veteran art critic Robert Hughes said it all. Contrary to the rumours I have been trying to spread for some time, nobody is going to smell a rat. Nor will the jig be up. I'm bound to say the problem absolutely baffled me. But I can see my mistake and understand what I totally failed to grasp: Art is a commodity admired only for its pricetag.

As Jeffrey Archer blithely observed: “There are dealers holding Hirst works in their galleries that they can't afford to see drop to record lows, and therefore decide to join the bidding.”

Ultimately responsible for these encroachments, then, and prepared to justify them at all cost, is that dark, hidden bureaucracy of profit, which comprises the art establishment. Here is the dissemination, through myriad
channels of information based on very specific deception themes, some of which
are colluded in by the artist himself. In the biggest unregulated market in the
world this scam is pursued with precision and bureaucratic thoroughness. It
comes in high places and extreme forms. The dealer’s s' approach to profit
mirrors Cecil B. de Mille’s entertaining spectacle of the Hollywood blockbuster,
where the cost of the production becomes part of its commercial attraction. But
whereas the art establishment’s great skill has been to convince the buyers they
are being done an enormous service by being allowed to acquire the work, this
does not mean the introduction to humanity of great works of art, but the
diminution of the artistic faculties, the forfeiture of judgement, the loss of
aesthetic reflection, of genuine artistic genius and imaginative appreciation.

The hypocrisy is so perfect it's almost delinquent.

No moral principle guides the actions of an industry which is
anatomically separated from the rest of our economic culture. In contrast with
the elaborate rituals of the international banking system, the art business is a
relatively simple financial instrument of the sort used by Nick Leeson, the
rogue trader who brought down Barings bank in 1995. You actually bet on a
profitable future, rather than on derivatives, which are so called precisely
because their value is derived from that of an underlying asset.

I am at a loss what to say.

It is almost as if the sheer effrontery has drained my capacity for
reflection. While there is no accountability because there is no criterion,
artists, in our time, are nevertheless the bastard offspring of Arts Councils
founded by chunks of public money. Indeed, no other profession has been so
copiously blessed. And yet, its very principle is negative. Stop all art
subsidies, is what I would suggest. And I am very clear on this. I have a vivid and
I think certainly no false grievance: Give art back her innocence, I say...


Friday, 19 September 2008

ON THE MATTER OF FREE WILL (Or Part Three Of A Triptych In Which Miss Dreamy Is Finally Coming To The Point...)

Bob: “(unconditional free will as in 'the choice that I make now is totally independent of the circumstances and the history including myself'), because we will never know which was the predetermined path and what happened when we took a turn from there.”


But this is hardly to concede that the whole question of free will can thus be summarily dismissed. That an indomitable will can always make itself felt is a matter of historical fact. For even though no such conscious will may exist, the entire past and future history of man must have been implicit in its unconditional configuration at the point of its creation.

Thus one may say, with scrupulous accuracy, that Pitt, Marlborough, Clive, Cook, Nelson and Wellington belong to the foremost rank of British imperial heroes. Where vital processes are at work, willpower and determination can gain an imaginative foothold, or make a breakthrough of far greater importance than the mere application of free will. The enormous ramifications of what, for want of a better term, may be called cosmic intuition found its most profound expression, perhaps, in Heraclitus and the intellectual impulse towards the modern idea of becoming. One is conscious of the legacy of this great man - Nietzschean rather than Euclidean. Galvani and Watt, Volta and Ohm, Ampere and
Bunsen dominated the early nineteenth century and the science of electro-chemistry. Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction. Maxwell founded the electromagnetic age.

But crucial to all was vision. Either that, or call it intuition.

Einstein had remarkable powers of perception. He was both the detached
observer and a reader of riddles. Newton, apart from a strongly marked
individuality, was at once the magus of the universe and a man of the
Enlightenment. The sheer scale of the man is breathtaking. But both Newton and
Einstein were preoccupied with the modus operandi of the law of gravity, and
their achievement is a triumph of the imaginative will gained not in the
interest of the individual, but of humanity. Men of such note are unique to any
period, but they are a force rather than a power. The broad currents of history
may not have been, and cannot perhaps be fundamentally altered by such impetus.
You need a thousand more to grasp the source and origin of human civilization.

Cultural contexts, then, whether psychological or technological, social
or scientific change their identity through vision and intuition, rather than intellectual
discrimination or free will. No individual freedom of will remotely fulfils the
collective purpose of mankind’s inner spiritual and its outer cosmic
development. Individual events are just part of a probability distribution.
Quantities and numbers come to hold a sovereign significance, pertaining to life
in a way that a metric unit pertains to a poem and are probably amounting to the
greatest single sociological force. Admittedly! In fact, the dependence is such
that social behaviour becomes a commodity charted in financial institutions.
That social patterns are the foundation of corporate profitability and the
rationalization of commercial law is an accepted doctrine of financial
establishments sanctioned by Marx and Adam Smith alike. Indeed, Marx points out
that a social context “can accurately predict the number and kind of crimes that
will be committed over any given period of time,” even though the offence itself
is casual.

Society's socio-philosophical content is, consequently, identical with that of
the first law of thermodynamics governing random motions of particles. However
haphazard they turn out to be, the determinate element is paramount. Free Will
is a myth contrived in scholastic institutions.


Thursday, 18 September 2008

ON THE MATTER OF FREE WILL (Or Part Two Of A Triptych In Which Selena Can Be Seen Enjoying The Freedom Of Her Movement In Predictable Ways...)

David B.: “Perhaps it's not that we lack free will but that we merely
choose to exercise it in predictable ways.”

Jonathan: “Maybe free will is more of a goal to attain, as opposed to a
given state for all.”

It is all a very contentious business, but, as you have seen, I have no patience with those who subscribe to that pathetic phenomenon known as free will. Though the tendency in question is I believe more a matter of the past. It has attracted a good deal of attention, indeed, fromphilosophers of all kinds, determinists and idealists alike. Avoiding that debate, it seems clear nevertheless that, according to the universal understanding of mankind, some actions result from effective choices and hence are free, while others do not and are predetermined. But in all cases on record,
the outcome is essentially determined by the number of choices at hand: When the telephone rings, you can let it ring, or you can pick it up. Full stop! Nor does it make any difference to the overall pattern of a given frame of reference whether individual choices and events are causally determined or in any way free, for as long as the ratio created by dividing the sum total of such actions is part of the probability distribution. And this is self-evidently so. One might expect a certain disproportion where the numbers are low, but given a large number of decisions that essentially only fit the logical choice of yes or no, the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

Jonathan: “Perhaps, though, it depends on what is meant by free will.
Do we mean the freedom to choose between two or more available options according
to our inner promptings and tastes. Or do we mean something deeper and more
truly free than this.”

Nor must we fall into the trap of supposing
that a greater number of alternatives in any way affects the distribution of
individual events. Where issues of principle are concerned, free will perishes
in the finite and predetermined confines of a closed system. The obvious failing
of the idealist is a concern for individuals rather than principles. But, in his
rendering of a sanguine and wonderful faith, neither he nor any possible choice
or event ever succeed in seriously embarrassing statistical method and
contextual constraint. Even to assume it may, is utopian. The measure of the
volitional freedom of human society is to be found at the core - against all his
own intentions - in the limitations of the individual himself. He springs forth
from his mother‘s womb and is ushered onto a stage. He’s become a performer
reading from a cue, a mere player in some eternally revived production. To be
human is to live in the country of the blind, the land of sealed and closed
perceptions. What intrigues one about it, is not so much its apparent
determinism as the air it seems to possess of being both, finite and unbounded,
indicating claims to a personal freedom which is deprived of significance by
limiting the conceptual context in a way which conditions individual responses
and entails actions that are always predicable en masse.

Schopenhauer summed it up: ‘We can will, but we cannot will what we


Wednesday, 17 September 2008

ON THE MATTER OF FREE WILL (Or Part One Of A Triptych In Which Miss Dreamy Can Be Observed Reading From Her Book...)

If mind is a property of the brain, and human behaviour a result of cultural conditioning, can there be such a such a thing as free will?

The idealist is necessarily affirmative: he avers the possibility of more or less fundamentally defying constraint and substituting human determinism for an act of volition. The realist acknowledges an encoded process of
development which he is powerless to change. To him a human being is a finite and dependent being: He cannot fly, he cannot make it rain on demand, he doesn’t get to decide if it’s day or night, he doesn’t even chose the language he’s
going to be born into.

If physical reality, then, can only be predicted by invoking the
mathematics of probability, human behaviour, too, in terms of probability, can
always be predicted en masse. As has already been noted, it is an intriguing and
inexplicable fact that - in the matter of spontaneous nuclear disintegration -
there is no criterion for deciding which atom, on an unprompted impulse, is
going to decay. For while observation has shown that the time it takes for a
given quantity of radioactive material to decay is precisely that predicted by
theory, by any measurement we can make, the process itself is random. And
admittedly, on the basis of mere supposition, this aimlessness hardly seems true
of the individual human activity. No collective rule or pattern seems quite to
apply. We may speak of a baby-boom, or a suicide-wave, but only by the
deliberate resort to free will, the reasoned determination of persons pursuing
their own fate, can one define individuality.

And yet, the supposition is wrong: collective behaviour displays
symmetry with a rate of conformity proportional to numbers!

In their aggregate capacity, when large collections of people are
considered, free will plays none but a statistical role. Human behaviour is
fundamentally pattern-forming. Indeed, as soon as one begins to look into the
subject, one is confronted with the idea of co-ordination of human activity by
means of systems of impersonal or collective patterns, within which alone
spontaneous situations may arise. Beyond that, the question of free will does
not admit of a single exception. And once this is realized, it is difficult to
avoid the conclusion that single events, by the inevitable pressure of numbers,
must occur with a predictability so close to certainty as to appear an


Monday, 15 September 2008


Sarah Palin: the most underqualified vice-president ever?

“It is a farce. It is absurd. It is an insult to all intelligent
people. It is a sign of a candidate who has lost his mind. “

“McCain has rendered himself unfit to run a branch of Starbucks, let
alone the White House. “

“She had no idea what the Bush Doctrine was – the central and most
controversial foreign policy innovation of the past eight years.”

“Then we have the now mountain of lies that follow Palin everywhere she
goes, lies she keeps repeating as if they are not subject to factual scrutiny” -
etc. etc. ad infinitum

There you have him, Andrew Sullivan, Sunday
correspondent, and - for reasons that elude me - “one of America’s most influential commentators“, frothing at the mouth.

Needless to say, the courtesy of the political journalist is usually
inversely proportional to his common good sense. More pertinently, they often
lose sight of the difference between wishful thinking and a reasoned conclusion.
And Andrew is no exception. For if, instead of quarrelling over how many angels
can dance on the top of a pin, he’d taken a single step backwards, he would
clearly have discerned that denying the truth does not change the facts. For
even though the racial mix of America is altering as immigration fuels
population growth, Obama is, in fact, at this moment in time, unelectable. And
so, for that matter, is McCain - pickled, as he is, in Botox and walking like
the Golem of the Ghetto. Let us not pretend otherwise. In fact, it is hard not
to admire what either Obama or McCain achieved, but the histrionic conduct of
their thousands of helpers also suggests that an element of ever more desperate
self-deception has long since pervaded their respective electoral campaigns.

So with the electorate caught between a rock and a hard place. Sarah
Palin is, in truth, the answer to a prayer. So far from being “a massive,
unforgivable, inexplicable decision by someone who has either gone insane or is
managerially unfit to be president of the United States“
, she is, in all
probability, the single most effective recruiting agent ever to be nominated for
the vice-presidential responsibility. A stroke of immaculate conception, in
other words, rather than an act of Biblical savagery.

But, of course, when a media war is waged on someone thought to have
done wrong, the executor in the one instance can easily become the victim in
another. And if you really have a problem with women being nominated to the Vice
Presidency while not knowing the Bush Doctrine, she seems to me to be a
prophetess of the changed world one so longs for. She doesn't know, as yet, what
the eyes of the dead are like. For here's the point. The perniciousness of its
ideology can easily be acquired, whereas a guiltless personality is a divine

Or think of it this way, Andrew, at least when she’s kissing them, we
know she’s been the mother of, rather than murdering, babies...


Thursday, 11 September 2008


All Shook Up: “We have no ideals left to which we can be asked to aspire to
on an inherently, almost subconscious, level. Our idea of Britishness is rooted
in the notion of history and a sense of belonging by birthright to a superior
tribe - it's not one which can easily be extended to incomers. Much as we might
be uncomfortable with this fact, and wish to reinvent it...we've thrown out our
Land of Hope and Glory and can't find its successor.”

The bearing of these remarks, I should surmise perhaps, is a mere
summing up, and not as might wrongly be supposed, in any spirit of support for
an imperial philosophy of state. Nor, in the name of an idea, would it be
presumptuous to assert that England is a very different nation today, or that
in her case one might consider the really decisive loss to have been
virtues, which are, in a quote, “something that is inborn, and subtle , and
everlasting...something like a solid principle, and masterful like an instinct -
a disclosure of something secret - of that hidden something, that gift of good
or evil that makes racial difference, that shapes the fate of nations”

Joseph Conrad, who thus endeavoured to formulate the conditions, was
peculiarly perceptive on this point. Unfashionable though they may sound to us
today, his words nevertheless make it clear, if only for rhetorical purposes,
how completely the genius of those who once took pride in the thought that they
were God‘s Englishmen has become diluted by egalitarian ideologies implying
that we have ceased to be British, ceased to be the defenders of invincible
Armadas, the “pugnacious and unconquerable bulldog race.”

There is an old biblical saying that God rejects the proud and gives
grace to the humble. Humility, therefore, is doubtless a praiseworthy thing. But
- to the best of my belief - if the evolution of the civilized world depended to
a considerable degree on English national or racial ingredients, it is
nevertheless the case that their chief and foremost contribution to it has been
the long and fortuitous history of a Charmed Life, rather than the humility of
those who can surrender themselves, for the sake of pity, to pacific or passive
influences. There are further considerations, of course, which point in the
direction of development which, in a country the size of Britain, is not perhaps
at liberty to desist, but essentially it is England and the English spirit for
which we mourn.

“A nation behaves like itself,” it has been succinctly said. And
accordingly, in a contribution to the 1939 edition of The English Genius, its
central doctrine could still be expressed as follows: “What pleases us we take
from Europe, what displeases us we leave to Europeans; for only accidentally to
we consider ourselves as such.”
Few, even a short while ago, would have liked to
read this differently. But we live in the age of “Confederalism” and its
mastering doctrine abdicated, the new policy of this country and its
discontinuity with her old traditions has become quite unmistakable. And to the
extent this is an issue, not of national polity but of the logic of events, it
must clearly lead to results that are in profound contradiction with the age-old
assumption that its own inherent genius is the soul and body of a nation.

But whether we admire it or not, and regardless of whether or not it is
to be subsumed under a confederate ethos, this , at all events, is the very
genius which conquered the world, ’Hellenised’ it and formulated the conditions
under which the greatest possible happiness for the greatest possible number was
actually going to be achieved. Imperial or not, one might as well admit that
it has brought into existence laws and rules of behaviour that we now recognize
as universal; liberties not so much of Englishmen as of all men; rights that are
constituent elements of our very own time. And that, in fact, is why we are
compelled to say, when brought face to face with the enduring quality of certain
unalterable codes of British conduct, with “that perfection”, finally, “of
moral, intellectual, and professional qualities” which Trevelyan called “The
Nelson Touch”, that This was their finest hour...!


Tuesday, 9 September 2008


The value of Tracy Emin's Bed is said to have risen to more than £1m. And still, I wouldn’t swap it for my own. Which is how, this very morning, I came to
realize the truth of the fact that the value of money is measured not by what it will buy, but by the number of monetary units you can append to it.

Nor does it matter in which order the 000.000s are placed.

Buying “art” is a numbers game - a commercially inspired misnomer. And much more widely spread around the world than in the 1980's when it was largely dependent on American wealth and irresponsible Japanese speculation. Meanwhile,
the rulers of Qatar have paid tens of millions of pounds for works of British art. The al-Thani family are trying to build up their collections in the Gulf
state. Accordingly, Francis Bacon’s Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X was
acquired for £26m and a Damien Hirst sculpture for just under £10m.

I wish I could feel this deeply about art!

Hirst the artist - as he is often mistakenly called - is compulsively common with his vocabulary. And with the bearing of a ravenous rent-boy plus the technical know-how of an
entrepreneur, he has reduced artistic creativity to a marketable formula: Gilded Trash!
A fascination with carcasses pervades his work, adding a commercial element of
horror to an otherwise conventionally manufactured production line. But in a
market that refuses to yield to the logic of an international recession, the
real horror is, of course, the ongoing serial production of artefacts for a
collector’s market almost hysterical with anticipation.

“I’ve definitely had the goal to make the primary market
more expensive”

Noticeably eager to please, he is putting up 223 new works for a series of auctions at Sotheby’s beginning Monday, Sept. 15th. Not - if I’ve got this right - his wisest executive decision. No Sir, at
the end of the day, they’re bound to smell a rat and the jig will be up.
Compulsive shopping, on the other hand, is not a specific mental disorder.
Indeed, some experts see it as an addiction associated with low self-esteem, and
it is significant, is it not, that that buyers are not expected to come from
either Europe or America, but such forthcoming places as Qatar and Brunei where,
fired, perhaps, by feelings of cultural inferiority, they’re willing to buy a
jackass’s take on British art complete with an enormous price tag. It will be
one of the things we'll remember them by.

But enough of jackasses and the rest of that garbage! I’m with Toulouse
Lautrec on this one. "The ones who say they don't give a damn, do give a
damn, because if they really didn't give a damn they wouldn't bother to say they
don't give a damn."

Elementary, my dear Toulouse! Elementary!


Sunday, 7 September 2008


“McCain stands in front of a great green screen that makes him look like the undead, which in so many ways he is. The years in captivity, the cancer and age have made a mess of him. He can’t lift his arms above his shoulders. He walks like a man who’s been bayoneted in the groin. He is a man who’s been bayoneted in the groin. But most worrying is his head, which behaves like a rejected muppet.”

Thus, in today’s Sunday Times, the incomparable AA Gill. One of AA’s amazing qualities is the scholarly precision he applies to even the meanest personal detail - and no one put this aspect of the presidential election more brutally than he. It may seem cruel, but it’s long overdue. Let’s face it, unlike Hirst’s Cow in Formaldehyde, McCain put
himself on stage. And this is no pygmy-minded giant-slaying but the honest, if
heart-rending truth.

Stupidity, though, is a different matter:

Not of his appearance or manners necessarily, but of the surfeit of mental rigour and of the free-flowing absence of wit. For AA also speculates that McCain, exemplifying as he does
the spirit of uprightness and integrity, is painfully unprotected against the
conniving nature of political trolls. A symptom of his downfall. And as far as I
am concerned, if Robert E. Lee had had McCain at Gettysburg the outcome might
well have been different. But, now, it just so happens that “He stands there, stiff
and twitching, with his skull grin, a good man, a decent, humane and committed
man, fated by bad luck. It is his destiny to be in the wrong place at the wrong
time, to fall from a great height into the hands of bad people.”

Perplexed? You ought to be, and here's why:

Actually, I'm all for Obama - powerful, charismatic and a natural
talent. But in a predictable reversal, McCain will be elected, precisely because
in America nobody with the name of Barrack Obama can ever enter the White House.
Nor will McCain see the end of his own administration. Washington will endure a
major psychological crisis before 2010 is out. There’ll be rumours of hernias,
rheumatism, melanomas, goitre, scrofula, convulsions, cerebral paralysis and a
riot before the end of his term. He’ll have his head pickled in Botox, and
nothing will move. He’ll then retire on health-grounds, and Beauty Queen Sarah
Palin, the legitimate heir to the throne of America - and now the title proves
prophetic - will be sworn into office...

Gosh, don’t you just love a fairy-tale...


Friday, 5 September 2008


“Civilian or at least non-military interventions are
at the heart of sustainable progress - hence the emphasis in Anglo-French
discussions of the need for a political surge in Afghanistan, led by the Afghan
government at national and local levels.”

“Sixty children were among 90 civilians killed in an American airstrike in
northwest Afghanistan according to a United Nations investigation. More than 700
civilians have died this year!”

The Spanish Civil War was the most conspicuous, perhaps, of its kind to witness the launching of the great Communist lie that the republicanos were fighting for democracy. Idealists from
all over the world joined the International Brigades, led and organised by the
Republicans, and made up of young believers whose common goal lay in fighting
Fascism. They included Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Andre Malraux, Arthur
Koestler and many others, while the Nationalists received the support of the
major European powers, such as Italy and Nazi Germany. Of course, the Taliban
don’t even pretend they are fighting for either freedom or democracy. Albeit
that news of British recruits among the Taliban strongly suggests that the war
in Afghanistan, like that in pre-fascist Spain, has become a magnet for
International Brigades determined to fight the infidel. For as an amalgam of
veterans and press-ganged extremists trapped in ideological circumstances, they
too, from their own particular perspective appear to be fighting for freedom.

Yet, while Bush’s suspension of habeas corpus tainted liberal
democracy in America, even today in Western liberal circles the view that NATO
entered the fray in Afghanistan to defend democratic ideals remains pretty much
the unchallenged consensus. But can it really be upheld, that refractory
individuals, let alone entire tribal cultures, that do not accept these premises
are not worthy of equal protection in a liberal democratic world?

Ostensively, Anglo-America's policy is committed to the idea of
freedom, often aggressively so. But in reality, the civilisations of the
European enlightenment, of which Anglo-Saxon liberal democracy claims to be the
heir, can never own such cultural prerogative since Islamic societies, too,
exist in their own moral universe. Enclosed in a separate ethical biosphere,
Islam has its own hereditary values regarding the worth and dignity of
individuals. It is all a matter of perspective. And just how honestly can anyone
claim that the world promised by America is the best of all possible worlds. On
the one hand there is the promise of temporal freedom with its doctrine of
ever-present pleasure, on the other there is the essentially religious character
of all Islamic institutions. And as for that freedom America does propagate so
much, we have counted its blessings alone...

It is no doubt the case that by surrendering habeas corpus for enemy
combatants the US has lost the moral high ground and replaced it with a complete
disregard of legal process, a highly repressive system of state security, and
the idea of revenge uppermost on their minds. At the same time, on the critical
matter of individual liberty, President Hamid Karzei's cabinet has long since
approved the proposal to re-establish the notorious Department for the Promotion
of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which was first set up by the Taliban, so that
all that remains now is to make war on an entire Islamic culture in which
everyone is a Taliban at heart!

It’s madness!

Indeed, I have the most hideous premonition that the only possible
solution to the great American conspiracy to democratise Islam — and I’m looking
at five decades into the future here — is extraordinary rendition, deep
interrogation, indefinite detention, targeted killings
and all-out warfare
between Mecca and Rome.


Wednesday, 3 September 2008

MINIMUM AND MAXIMUM - A Post In Which Selena Plays Hostess To An Assembly Of Thinkers And Philosophers...

Jonathan: “Nothing is an ambiguous concept. Does nothing
mean no- thing, as in no particular thing and therefore rather potentially everything, or the 'all' (plenitude as the hidden face of void), or does nothing literally mean absence (of both subject and object, and anything else for that matter)?”

Crushed: The reality is, infinity is not a property
of the universe, but it must logically be a property of primary reality, where time and space do not exist, where are everything is both eternal and simultaneous, where everything is unbounded, yet takes place in zero dimensions.”

Gordon McCabe: “And then a third existential transition creeps upon us. The internal system begins to decay and fail. The reproductive drive shrivels. The layers of linguistic understanding erode, and eventually even the kernel of self-awareness becomes brittle. Thought
evaporates, and only feeling and experience remain. At the end, you are without
knowing that you are. Beyond, there is nothing.”

Poul Anderson: "Death! Nothingness! Not even the world can exist when one is dead. Not when you've no brain left to know about it. Just - nothing. As if you had never been! Haven't you ever been afraid of the thought?"

Nicholas of Cusa: “The absolute maximum is one
and it is all; all things are in it because it is the maximum. Moreover, it is
in all things for this reason that the minimum at once coincides with it, since
there is nothing that can be placed in opposition to it. By definition the
minimum is that which cannot be less than it is; and since that is also true of
the maximum, it is evident that the minimum is identified with the maximum.”

Very well argued!

In fact, it is impossible not to admire this comprehensive, truthful,
and indeed accomplished observation by Nicholas of Cusa. There can be no doubt,
that the point at which no further information can be added is the maximum and
that the concept most completely divested of meaning or content would have to be
the minimum. Applied to the ultimate synthesis - nothing can be placed in
opposition - both coincide. At any rate, de Cusa’s legacy has less to do with
the extent to which his line of reasoning is truthful or accomplished than with
the way in which it points directly to other far-reaching syntheses.

The minimum, essentially, is that which remains when every possible
qualification for meaning has been eliminated. We can, on the other hand, add
nothing to infinity. That is clearly impossible. Or take the concept of Space.
If the primary function of Space was to provide a fixed frame of reference, it
still required the reduction of content or meaning to the lowest possible level
consistent with nothing. Though it occupies a unique position in every
philosophical system, no one can see it, weigh it, or isolate any part of it.
Which eliminates at a stroke both definition and the measure that serves as a
basis for definition. Nor can we picture anything that has no boundary and no
definition. And yet, it is so fundamental a concept that it is impossible to
propose any scheme of nature from which it is entirely excluded.

This, however, is not a practical problem, only one of principle. The fallacy, in short, is to
mistake the ideal for the real. It has a serenity which is already beyond
comprehension. Hence it would seem that immortality is of two kinds: infinite
and incomprehensible. For in identifying the maximum with the minimum it also
emancipates non-being from the customary deception that the total absence of
comprehensibility should be a form of imperfection. The plenum and the vacuum
cannot possibly be distinguished.

Death has been robbed of its triumph!

It may seem odd to suggest this, but a brief indication of their
relative properties merely states that either must be infinite in substance and
total in extent. Nor can there by anything identifiable which limits it or
constitutes its boundary or origin. It simply does not answer to anything
recognizable. It owes nothing to human imagination. Not force, nor shape, or
measure. Nothing approaches consciousness. Time and place and plot and meaning
are all absent; yet none of this matters, by the measure invoked - Nothing is Everything!


Monday, 1 September 2008

NOTHING COMES FROM NOTHING - A Post In Which Selena Explains To Stephen Hawking That There Can Never Be A Theory Of Everything Because...

‘ would have to be something that was neither subject nor object, neither force nor matter, neither spirit nor soul: but shall I not be told that such a thing will resemble nothing so much as a phantasmagoria? ...Of course, it must resemble that and everything else which exists or could exist, and not only a phantasmagoria! It must have that dominant family likeness by virtue of which all that is recognizes itself as related to it.’

Here before us, in the unsuspecting tones of the nineteenth century philosopher, is the entire Theory of Everything. There is a consummate completeness about it. In fact, Nietzsche may have expressed the inexpressible better than the physicist. For whatever the physicist may have to say of it, everyone knows that once he sets himself to construct by pure mathematics, and without appeal to any empiricism, a theory which aims to be the only complete and essential form of knowledge, that it ‘must have that dominant family likeness by virtue of which all that is, recognizes itself as related to it.’

And to this extent, the significance of an eternal law of nature as
something divorced from man, is in fact identical with the idea of a completely
consistent and unified theory of the differential equations that would unite all
possible co-ordinates. And yet, it can hardly be a simple matter to show that
one single theory may explain the baffling complexity of infinitely divergent or
even opposite phenomena. Certainly, various attempts have been made to explain
the idea of unity as a pre-existing norm in terms of a logically consistent,
self-explanatory physical principle, this depending mainly on the mutual
conversion of electromagnetic and gravitational forces, but so far without
success. Efforts have also been made to combine general relativity and quantum
mechanics into a coherent hyper-dimensional theory, but inevitably, the
mathematical analysis that permits the physicist to use a terms like self-explanatory with any measure of precision is still incomplete, and we can only grasp it by grasping that it is causa sui, which is to say that it cannot have been caused by anything other than itself.

On the edge of large events in the evolution of the human mind, we have expanded the frontiers of knowledge beyond all intellectual grasp to include even ourselves. In this sense modern scientific enquiry is profoundly inclusive. Indeed, no one can have failed to notice that one of the greatest difficulties in the whole unification of physics is to arrive at any kind of objective measure of an isotropic law of nature as something which is divorced from man. Something whose attributes are therefore self-evident and not contingent.

Self-evidently therefore, and not contingently, it should be born in mind that
it must be deducible from its own essential nature as well as providing the
ground for every possible contingent deduction. For if it were not, it would in
some measure be limited to being a necessary consequence of our own essential
nature, rather than this unique all-inclusive totality which Spinoza called “God
or Nature” (Deus sive Nature), and which Kant referred to as “the thing in
itself” (das Ding an sich). Nor can we ever assign a higher degree of continuity
to such a theory than continuation in our thoughts - ex nihilo nihil fit... (nothing comes from nothing)!