Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Cruel and Unusual Part2

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday August 13 2014.

 

Colman's Column3

An examination of  issues relating to capital punishment, continued from last week.

What Do the Philosophers Say?

Immanuel Kant wrote: “But whoever has committed murder, must die. There is, in this case, no juridical substitute or surrogate that can be given or taken for the satisfaction of justice. There is no likeness or proportion between life, however painful, and death; and therefore there is no equality between the crime of murder and the retaliation of it but what is judicially accomplished by the execution of the criminal.”

Nietzsche recognised cruelty in Kant’s position. Cruelty can be, and often is, masked as morality. Base pleasure in inflicting cruelty can be, and often is, rationalised as moral duty. “Whence comes this strange hypothesis or presumption of an equivalence between two such incommensurable things? What can a wrong and a suffering have in common?” Nietzsche sees the origin of this “strange hypothesis” in commercial law – “debt, the market, the exchange between things, bodies and monetary signs, with their general equivalent and their surplus value, their interest.” Commercial contracts provide a model for the social contract, which requires that humans undergo an internalisation of their aggressive drives. This has a psychological effect causing what Freud would call a neurosis. Nietzsche describes it as that “serious illness that man was bound to contract under the stress of the most fundamental change he ever experienced – that change which occurred when he found himself finally enclosed within the walls of society and of peace”. Nietzsche warns that this psychic formation (or deformation) brings the risk of the subject becoming her or his own executioner.

Nietzsche suggests that abolitionists are not immune to cruelty. By preferring imprisonment to the death penalty (protracted cruelty, that is, over immediate death) they are making an aggressive attack on aggression which paradoxically preserves, or redoubles, aggression even as it seeks its eradication. As I mentioned last week, Yanna Brishyana, when sentenced to death in the Colombo High Court, appealed to the court to have her executed immediately.

Victor Hugo was a staunch abolitionist. He travelled across Spain as a young boy. Along the roadside, heads of convicted robbers were displayed as warning to others; one man had been dismembered and re-assembled in the shape of a crucifix. As Voltaire put it: Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres. In his short novel, The Last Day of a Condemned Man (1829), written when he was 27, Hugo writes about a man who has been condemned to death by the guillotine in 19th century France. He writes down his thoughts while awaiting his execution. Hugo had witnessed executions and told a story about the blade sticking halfway through a condemned man’s neck. The man freed himself and stumbled off holding his spurting head in place with his hand. The executioner’s assistant jumped on his shoulders and finished hacking his head off with his pocketknife. Baudelaire did not agree with Hugo. The poet celebrated capital punishment as a supremely sacred and religious proceeding.

Albert Camus deals with the “eye for an eye” trope: “But what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared? For there to be equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.”

Jacques Derrida addresses Baudelaire’s criticism of Hugo’s abolitionism. Hugo argues that the death penalty should be opposed because the right to life is absolute. Derrida says abolitionists “are afraid for their own skins, because they feel guilty and their tremulations are a confession; they confess, with the symptom of their abolitionism, as it were, that they want to save their lives, that they tremble for themselves because … unconsciously, they feel guilty of a mortal sin… ‘I want to abolish the death penalty because I am afraid of being condemned.’”

Derrida tries to expose the way that the abolitionists are implicated in the death drive, suggesting that opposition to the death penalty can quickly be converted into its opposite, unleashing a celebratory affirmation of its destructiveness. He suggests that abolitionists are like anti-pornography campaigners who end up exciting their supporters with their graphic descriptions of pornography. Derrida himself opposed the death penalty, but could still ask whether some abolitionists are committed to other forms of cruelty that are masked by elegant moral formulations, ones that rationalise prolonging the time of cruelty and the tenure of sadistic delight. Abolitionists have made sure to promote the punishment of life without parole as the alternative to execution, taking care of the question of the worst of the worst being allowed out to commit fresh crimes.

Democracy and Death Penalty

Edmund Burke, told his 18th century constituents in Bristol that, while he would attentively listen to their opinions, he would reject any talk of “authoritative instructions” or “mandates issued” which he might be expected to obey. The death penalty is normally cited as the classic example of the disconnect between politicians and the people they represent. I have written often about the lack of democracy in the EU. The EU has made abolition of the death penalty a condition for membership of the club. In every Western democracy that has scrapped the death penalty, politicians have acted against the wishes of a majority of voters. A European politician running on a platform of restoring capital punishment would be wasting his and the voters’ time, unless he was willing to leave the EU as well.

In the UK, a majority of MPs have consistently opposed the death penalty and a majority of the public consistently supported it. It used to be over 70%, but these days roughly half of the UK population support the death penalty for “standard” murder. Overall US public opinion remains clearly in favour of the death penalty, with around 60% or more of Americans saying they want it retained as a punishment for murder. Michael Dukakis’s opposition to capital punishment in a televised debate sank his 1988 presidential run.

The most combative abolitionists openly assert that they know better than their voters, and are saving them from themselves. Former governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, defended his position: “Capital punishment raises important questions about how, as a society, we view human beings. I believed as governor, and I still believe, that the practice and support for capital punishment is corrosive; that it is bad for a democratic citizenry and that it had to be objected to and so I did then, and I do now and will continue to for as long as it and I exist, because I believe we should be better than what we are in our weakest moments.”

Cuomo could only block capital punishment until he left office – it was reinstated. Yet in states whose state legislatures have voted in recent years to abolish it, after long debate, there are no signs of it being brought back on to the statute books.

It is a strange state of affairs when politicians are moral arbiters acting in our best interests and keeping us on an ethical path.

 

 

Writers [sic] Bureau

I posted a version of this on Open Salon on January 4 2010.

 

Over many decades I have made desultory attempts to do writing courses by distance learning. I think the first time I tried this was when I was still at school, when word processors and e-mails were not even a fantasy. I was using an antique and extremely heavy Remington which you wouldn’t want to drop on your foot. PCs hadn’t been invented and computers filled huge rooms.

The Director of Studies of the first organisation I tried seemed like a character out of Evelyn Waugh or Anthony Powell. His name was Athelstan Ridgway (which sounded fictional) and the brochures carried pictures of him carrying a cane and looking languid and bored wearing a large-brimmed hat, and flowing cape. (X Trapnel from Dance to the Music of Time springs to mind?!) I have recently done a Google search on the name and he did actually seem to have existed. His books (thrillers and historical novels) are advertised on antiquarian book websites. He also seemed to have served in some editorial capacity at the Everyman Library.

I did not persist long with the course. I tried another one in the 70s and again a few years ago. Over those many decades, the modus operandi of these courses has changed very little. One is set a number of assignments, which involve looking at publications which one might like to submit to and analysing their style and requirements. Generally speaking, the tutors say that one’s work shows great promise.

On my most recent foray I made enquiries of an organisation that advertised frequently in The Guardian, a newspaper I generally trust.  Once I had contacted them, they bombarded me with promotional material. One of the things that persuaded me to give it a try was this claim: “Finally we come to what, in our view, is the most important point of all –YOUR PERSONAL TUITION. This is the individual advice, help, guidance and encouragement that you receive from your tutor … Many students come to know their tutor as a real friend. Through this firm but gentle approach your tutor will do everything possible to help you develop your writing skills…Within the overall context of the course, your study path can be flexible to your own requirements and circumstances.”

I was persuaded to sign up and made the full payment. The amount did not break the bank but I could have got a book published by x libris for less. Nevertheless, it would have been a bargain had the promises made in the brochure not proved to be hollow.

Four months after making the full payment, I had still not received the course material. Snail mail usually takes less than a week to get to me in Sri Lanka from the UK. Every time I mentioned non-receipt of the course material, the Director of Studies told me to be patient. I had received and completed the first assignment by e-mail and was anxious to get on, but could not do so without the course material. I asked the Director of Studies to scan and e-mail the relevant pages. She was not willing to do this and made the excuse that I lived in a remote place. Eventually, I received a replacement pack and a disk with the two relevant pages arrived on the same day. Later she boasted about the trouble they had taken delivering the material to Sri Lanka.

I noted that nearly all the testimonials that came with the promotional literature came from outposts of the old British Empire. There used to be a show on the BBC Light Programme in my childhood hosted by a dance band leader called Victor Sylvester (“slow, slow, quick, quick, slow”). The suave, silver-haired and silver-tongued Victor would read out requests for music that was very different from Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. The natives of the colonies and the colonial administrators desired less dangerous fare. The addresses he read out were very similar to the testimonials for this organisation. When one reads the testimonials more carefully one realises that these people in Malaysia, Zimbabwe and Burmuda (sic) are not boosting the success they achieved by doing the course. They are merely saying that they hope it will help them to writing success.

The late John Diamond once wrote in The Spectator about a correspondence course run by The Writers [sic]  Bureau:

 

“Mr E H Metcalfe has written from Manchester to tell me that if I send him £189 “The world can literally be your oyster.”

 

A test then:

  • Does E H Metcalfe know what the word “Literally” means?
  • Does E H Metcalfe know what an oyster looks like?
  • What do you think are the chances of my becoming a well-paid and successful writer under  Metcalfe’s tutelage

 

Mr Metcalfe is principal of The Writers Bureau (no, I don’t what’s happened to the possessive apostrophe either) of Dale Street, Manchester…. [P]ersevere (‘The most important quality you require is not brilliance, but perseverence’ (sic) confides Mr Metcalfe) and eventually the literal thing with the oysters will start to happen.”

Metcalfe

I will now reveal that it is of the Writers (sic) Bureau that I write. This will not be the last time you see the word “sic” in this essay. I foolishly signed up and paid more than £189 – I got most of it back after a struggle.

 

As my first assignment, I was asked to write a brief descriptive piece and also set out what I wanted from writing and from the course. This is what I wrote:  “I was greatly encouraged by teachers and family and friends who thought I could write, but I let them down and drifted. Apart from contributions to the school magazine that were forced out of me by supportive teachers, I did not complete much. Now I have the time and the material, I have no excuse for avoiding writing. Signing up for this course will, I hope, provide an incentive and a discipline.”

I wrote a descriptive piece about Badulla market where I do my shopping. My tutor commented “excellent…I am sure we are going to get along.” He also wrote “Here is your first mared (sic) assignment.

Kinchin

My tutor was one David Kinchin. A great deal was made in the promotional material of the fact that I could expect personalised tuition from a tutor who was a successful and experienced freelance writer. A great deal was made of the concept of flexibility. I expected the tutor to use the biographical – or “bibliographical” (sic) as he put it- information I provided in order to tailor the tuition to my needs and desires.

He got my name wrong.

He had no fault to find with my writing in this first assignment but confused me by going on at great length about the mistakes I could have made (but hadn’t) and rewriting my piece the way he thought it shouldn’t be done. I spent many years as a staff trainer and this approach violated a fundamental principle: don’t confuse the student by doing it wrong.

 

I had described the fish stall and tried to make the point that the tuna was a big brute of an animal not like those dainty little chunks you get in a tin. He corrected me and helpfully pointed out that the tuna was a fish not an animal.

 

I hope the following does not sound arrogant because I do not mean it to be. I may not be infallible when it comes to English grammar and usage but I feel fairly comfortable about it and have lots of reference works and check with when I am uncertain. I did not need the Writers (sic) Bureau to tell me about spelling and punctuation (especially when they seemed so ill at ease with it).

 

I have spent many years writing official reports, letters to the public, briefing and speeches for government ministers. I have written decent university essays and had research reports published by HMSO. I am experienced in researching archive documents and the internet. I have had my poetry published alongside Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon.

 

My main purpose in signing up was to learn how to approach publishers and to find out which publishers might be interested in what I could do.  How to write a query letter would be the epitome of this. What does it tell me in the Writers (sic) Bureau material? See Module 6. Book 2, page 50. There is a letter concerning a trite idea about dogs biting postmen (postmen biting dogs would have been more interesting) followed by the remark “That may not be the best query letter ever written…”

In a short article in an old edition of Writer’s Market, there are just a few pages giving much more helpful guidance from real editors on how to write a query letter. There are examples of good and bad practice. The article refers the reader to a book on the subject. The book is available from Amazon for less than 10 GBP. Moreover, advice on query letters from the book can be called up on the screen and saved for future reference free of charge.

For my second assignment I wrote about cholesterol, discussing doubts that some people have about whether it is a myth conjured up to make profits for Big Pharma. I posted a version of this on OS and it got a huge response including favourable comments from both Dr Amy and Dr Jeff. My tutor was not impressed by my effort. He said he was very disappointed in me and I felt like a chastened infant. I started the article in what I hoped to be an amusing way by describing the hypochondria of Sri Lankans and my own experience of participating in a famous study carried out by Professor Sir Michael Marmot. My tutor at first said he liked the opening. Later on he said: “This is all about you. You keep using the word ‘I’” I only used it in the first two paragraphs which he said he liked.

“You attempt a little subtle humour on one or two occasions but it doesn’t really work”.  At one point he commented “You are now confusing me.  I actually think that is what you are trying to do here, but I am not sure that is a useful exercise”. “You need to aim you (sic) sights a little lower, maybe looking at weekly and daily publications which take fillers and feature length pieces.”

There was a consistent thread of trying to persuade me to aim low. I analysed Reader’s Digest as a market and did an article based on that. My tutor said: “you have picked a very awkward market in Reader’s Digest.  RD only take (sic) fillers and fully commissioned articles.  They commission their pieces by inviting experts and well known names to come and write for them.  I don’t really see you getting onto their pages with a feature article such as this – they just don’t work like that.” I acknowledge what he is saying and I have not been published by RD yet but I did manage to establish a friendly first-name correspondence with the editor- in-chief for RD Asia and he said: “Send whatever stories you have to me. I’ll have a look “. He also described one of my pieces as very well-written. (I did get paid by RD for a filler many years ago.)

On another occasion, Kinchin advised me to remember that even jokes on snack packets are written by someone. Perhaps there is just as much of a chance of being rejected by the snack company as by Reader’s Digest, and the experience wouldn’t have been so worthwhile. He sent me something he had written called “The Perfect article”. It was an article from a parish magazine. Oh, what a fate to aim low and miss!

I accepted his point about my article not flowing well. I thought this was because I felt restricted by the format imposed by the assignment. I asked him if he would look at a longer version and advise me. He responded that looking at “extra” work is “something which us (sic) tutors are told by the Bureau not to do.”

For assignment three, I wrote about the mass slaughter of streets dogs in Sri Lanka and the campaign to find more humane ways of combating rabies. Again, I concede that the article did not flow too well and I took too long getting to the point. My attempt to build up a little suspense at the beginning was misguided.

I tried to describe the tea- growing country in which Bandarawela is set. I said, “if you look at the map” in the sense of “if you read a guide book”. He picked on this and went off into a personal fugue. “You mention a map or maps at the beginning.  You need to known (sic) who owns the copyright of any such map and whether they will allow it to be reproduced in this publication.  You may get lucky and find that you can reproduce it for free (sic)if you state where it comes from – but you still have to get that permission before it goes into print.  The editor will, no doubt, be very hot on copyright law as his job may be on the line if things go wrong.” I had no plans to reproduce any copyright map!

His response to the piece I submitted as Assignment 4 was: “The trick with any short filler article, or any letter to the editor, is to reach the heart of your writing as quickly as possible.”  I was not attempting to write a filler or letter to the editor. I thought I had the option of writing a piece suitable for Adoh! – the magazine I had analysed. Assignment 4 did give an option OR “Write one short article (between 500 – 750 words) on any subject of your choice for this magazine.”

Nadin

By this stage, I had realized that the course was not working for me and I wrote to Diana Nadin, the Director of Studies. Initially, she agreed with me that the tutor had made a gaffe banging on about the copyright of maps when I had no intention of reproducing a map in my article. She later retreated from this position and said: “When I re-read assignment 3 I did not find his comment about the map either odd or irrelevant.  Even if you had no intention of offering the editor a map as illustration for your work it was valuable information that any writer might find useful at a later date in his career.  You might be surprised by the number of queries we receive from students about the vexed topic of copyright on illustrations that they wish to use with their work.”

She proceeded to rubbish all my work. Of assignment 4 she said it: “has nothing new to say and the points David made were valid – I would be rather surprised if you managed to sell this piece of work.  David has been frank but encouraging and I don’t think anyone could have said anything better or provided a more personal and individual approach to your work.” Kinchin himself had said: “It has the feel of an editorial.  That is the sort of style you have used, but you are not the editor of the magazine, you are just an (sic) noncommissioned (sic) writer trying to write a piece to sell.  I don’t think you have quite got the right style or content here.”  Adoh! published and paid. The editor described it as “fantastic” and begged me to send her more articles.

When Assignment 5 came along and my task was to write something for a men’s magazine I lost the will to live and asked for a refund. Ms Nadin persistently misunderstood the nature of my gripe. ”I suspect that you wish to withdraw from the course because David has been more critical of your writing than you expected.  He would not be doing his job properly if he did not give necessary and appropriate feedback.”

She also got my name wrong!

My wife jokes that I welcome “constructive criticism” by which I mean “unstinting praise”. My complaint against the Writers (sic) Bureau was not that they were finding fault with my work but that they were not providing what the brochure promised –“individual advice, help, guidance and encouragement that you receive from your tutor … Many students come to know their tutor as a real friend. Through this firm but gentle approach your tutor will do everything possible to help you develop your writing skills…Within the overall context of the course, your study path can be flexible to your own requirements and circumstances.”

Rather than going out of their way to meet my individual requirements they seemed more interested in telling me what they were NOT prepared to do. While I was waiting for several months for the course material to arrive, they were not prepared to scan a few pages from the booklets for me so that I could make a start.  I expected that I would be able to give articles to my tutor in order to get an in-depth analysis and advice on potential markets for these articles. My tutor told me that the Bureau frowns upon this and that he can only consider specific assignments. When I asked for his advice on markets, he responded: “I am not your agent”. When I persisted, his response was along the lines of “I’ll give it some thought” followed by “I can’t think of an answer”.

I had strong doubts about the bona fides of the Writers (sic) Bureau personnel. All my life, I have been a voracious reader and still subscribe to countless print and online magazines. I had only heard of one of the tutors. My own tutor claimed that he “regularly submits material to editors in North America using e-mail.”  As I was keen on exploring American markets myself, I asked him where his work had appeared. I could hear a loud gritting of teeth in his response: “It is good to see that you are checking us out and making sure we are who we say we are.”

When pressed further by me he responded: “I have written for Law & Order and for Corrections Technology Management and also for some other titles in that line.  I have done casual pieces for Best of British and some health pieces for some jounrals (sic) whose names escape me for the moment. I did do a play for a theatre publishers, called Deadline but that hasn’t sold terribly well over there.”

Best of British was not a publication I knew so I checked it out. It was certainly not a North American magazine. The editor at the time, Linne Matthews, said “Sorry, but that name does not ring any bells with me.  We have had many hundreds of contributors over the years, but I don’t have any record of that name.”  I sent Linne an article about Skiffle, which she loved and published and paid me for. I later sent them an article on my father and the Royal Pioneer Corps. They published that as a three page centre spread illustrated by an oil painting and archive photographs. They paid me for it. I maintain a friendly e-mail correspondence with Linne.

I did find some small items contributed by David Kinchin to a US publication called Law and Order but they were about seven years old.

The biography of David Kinchin provided in the Writers (sic) Bureau pack is rather like the “testimonials”; it deals with aspiration rather than achievement. “David’s current ambitions are to finalize his novel Bluewater Two (but there is never enough time) and to write some situation comedy.” It seems odd to be telling us about what he has failed to achieve.

What are David Kinchin’s qualifications to advise beginners on how to publish non-fiction articles? His main field of expertise is clearly PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder); his work on that may well be admirable. His biography does not convince me that he is a successful freelance writer in other fields. According to his biography, “He is also keen to explore any new technology which might assist his writing and regularly submits material to editors in North America using e-mail. His philosophy is to try something new whenever the opportunity presents itself”.

“His philosophy is to try something new whenever the opportunity presents itself.” This could be translated as “can’t settle to anything and complete it successfully”. “In 1999, David was appointed as the editor of the quarterly counselling journal, Counselling at Work. However, he decided that editing was not for him, and stepped down from this post in 2001.”

At one point he said to me : “you are working through the assignments fairly swiftly… Sometimes the Directors of the Bureau check on the progress of students, particular if they think students are rushing ahead a bit quickly. Just a piece of advice not to go too quickly and to share your time between assignments and other work.  Remember there is no time limit to this course.”

Soon after that, despite totally undermining my confidence, Kinchin wrote to me saying: “I think you may now be reaching the stage where work (sic) should be of a standard suitable for submission.”

I realise now that it was foolish of me to expect Ms Nadin to support the paying customer rather than a WB employee. I have since discovered that on Linkedin that both say they live in Oldham. She helps out on his PTSD courses. They seem close. This is how she defended him:

“Moving on to the work that David has had published.  I think that David has been trying to reassure you that he earns his living from writing – not boasting.  (I didn’t suggest he was boasting – he seemed to be LYING) Many colleges use tutors who earn their living from tutoring – not from writing.  We don’t do this. (My main point was that I had doubts about his ability to earn a living from writing)  I have known David since the 1990s when he was one of our students.  He was the Association of British Correspondence Colleges’ Student of the Year for his success on the Writers (sic) Bureau course.  He then joined us as a tutor.  We like to employ ex-students as tutors because they are familiar with the course, they can empathise with the problems of distance learning students and their success usually provides motivation for others. Since that time David has been published regularly in a wide variety of magazines on topics that interest him (police and law enforcement – he was a policeman – PTSD, religion, transport etc (sic)).”

When the Writers (sic) Bureau was challenged over a claim that one of their students had received a 25,000 GBP advance for a novel, they produced as evidence a bank paying-slip which is, of course, no proof at all as anyone could have concocted it. Similarly, here they are making unsubstantiated assertions in response to my queries about the tutor’s qualifications. She is avoiding telling me, as Kinchin himself also did, about specific publications on which I can check.

“In addition he has taken breaks from tutoring to work on books which have been published (the books have indeed been published- I do not challenge that) and we were so impressed that we recently commissioned him to write a distance learning course for us. Most writers don’t get wealthy picking and choosing to write for magazines.  They have to use their talents and experiences to write for a wide variety of media – if they want to earn a living – and I can assure you that David has a broad experience of article writing, non-fiction book writing and course writing (sic).  He has also had plays broadcast in the past – though I suspect that this is not he (sic) favourite form of writing.  As you are currently on the non-fiction part of the course I would like to suggest that his fiction credentials are not really relevant at this stage.”

Here she glancingly raises, but does not address, an issue I was complaining about. I signed up for the course specifically so that I could be helped to write and publish non-fiction articles. Why then, does the instruction pack and the assignments cover Religious and Inspirational Writing, Writing a Novel, Writing Specialist Fiction, Writing the Short Story, Short Stories for Radio, Writing Radio Drama, Writing for Television, Writing for the Stage?

It seemed very odd to me that Ms Nadin seemed to be gloating about the fact that she did not think my writing was publishable. I had only just started taking a course that her organisation claimed would help me to get published. I did not claim to be a professional – that is why I was paying them to help me.

I did not prove to be such a no-hoper. In December 2007, I had an article published in Sri Lanka’s leading business magazine, Lanka Monthly Digest. (The article was about truth and lies.)They selected that article to be included in a compilation of Best of LMD which was published to launch a new Sinhala- language business magazine. I have been writing a regular monthly column for LMD since December 2007. Yesterday I was asked to do a second monthly column. I also write a regular column for LMD’s sister magazine, Living.

My work has appeared in all the English-language Sri Lankan newspapers. I have had articles in five consecutive issues of Serendib, the in-flight magazine of Sri Lankan Airlines. They come to me to ask me for articles. They pay me.

I also blogged regularly on Le Monde diplomatique. The editor described my work as “wonderful”. (Yesterday the former Sri Lankan ambassador to the UN gave me a plug in a Sunday newspaper.) My articles  from that blog get picked up by newspapers and websites all over the world and have been reprinted in, among others, the New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and the Scotsman.

I currently write two articles every week for Ceylon today and two articles every month for echelon, a business magazine

This has not brought me fame and fortune but it does indicate that I can write.

The Writers (sic) Bureau brochure carried a puff for one Christina Jones: “My first three novels are best sellers! The Writers (sic) Bureau made this possible for me. Within six months of enrolling on my course I was having work commissioned by editors. Now I’m writing novels for Harper Collins and my life has changed completely. Most of all, I’m earning my living doing what I love best.”

Rob Spence, an English lecturer from Manchester, decided to investigate this claim. “Hmmm… Funny that her name doesn’t appear in any list of bestsellers I’ve seen. Anyway, she’s happy – writing has changed her life. Odd then, that on her website, she attributes her success to meeting an agent at a Romantic Novelists’ Association event. She says she did the Writers Bureau non-fiction course a year later – so here’s someone who was already a published writer of fiction before doing the course, which wasn’t about fiction anyway…She also reveals that she’s still working as a barmaid at weekends. You’d think a bestseller would be beyond that, wouldn’t you?”

In the interests of balance please look at Christina Jones’s website

http://www.christinajones.co.uk/index.html

where she gives a great deal of detail about her “award-winning bucolic frolic romantic comedy novels” (I fought hard to resist adding the punctuation she omitted) and how successful her writing has been (much more successful than me) and thanks the Writers (sic) Bureau for her success. She also mentions that she filmed a series of TV ads for WB.

According to the Writers (sic) Bureau promotional literature, Jon Eagle received £25,000 as an advance for his first novel and has sold the film rights. He tells us he’s working on the script. “The success of Red’ is thanks in no small part to The Writers (sic) Bureau who offered very valuable advice.”  Rob decided to investigate. “Jon Eagle did publish a book called Red- but he published it in 1996, which makes you wonder why The Writers (sic) Bureau is using it as an example. Surely, they have more recent success stories? What’s more, according to the details on Amazon, it was published by Minerva. This notorious company was a shady vanity publishing outfit, and thus far more likely to charge the author than to fork out 25 grand as an advance. A BBC investigation led to their downfall…The IMDB doesn’t list the author as a scriptwriter, and none of the various films called Red seem to relate to his book.”

Rob took the case to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and they adjudicated on 7 November 2007.They judged that the Writers (sic) Bureau had breached codes on grounds of truthfulness, “We noted from the contract that Jon Eagle sold an exclusive option over the film rights to a production company for £1.  We understood from the contract that he would co-write the script, but only in the event that the production company chose to exercise its option.  We considered that the testimonial implied that a film based on the novel Red would definitely be made.  Because we understood that, almost 11 years after Jon Eagle told WB he had sold the film rights and would be co-writing the script, no such film had been made, we concluded that the claim could mislead by exaggerating the extent of Jon Eagle’s success.”

They also upheld the complaint in the case concerning Christina Jones. “We considered that readers of the testimonial were likely to interpret the claim ‘My first three novels are all best sellers’ to mean that Christina Jones’ first three novels were near the top of the sales list in a widely recognized book chart.  We considered that the top 80 was unlikely to be seen as near the top of the sales list.  We understood that a best seller list was compiled by examining cumulative book sales up to a given date.  We understood that a fast seller list, however, was an annual survey of the 100 top selling paperbacks published for the first time during a particular year by British publishers.  We noted The Publishing News targeted the trade, not consumers. Because the evidence did not support the likely interpretation of the claim, we concluded that it could mislead.”

The London Daily Mirror covered the story: “Perhaps Writers Bureau boss Ernest Metcalfe needs a refresher course from the National School of Salesmanship. It shouldn’t be hard to get a place – he runs it.”

As Rob Spence says, it is difficult make a decent living from writing alone and one should not believe claims from purveyors of writing courses that it is easy. My advice would be to read what successful writers like Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell have to say about working in the real modern world of PCs and Facebook rather than the Dickensian world of stamped addressed envelopes. Study websites like Writer’s Market and Writer’s Digest (note the correct use of the apostrophe) and Freelance Success.

Above all WRITE!

 

 

 

Will Scotland Go It Alone?

This article  appeared in the August issue of Echelon Magazine.

 

Billy Connolly said: “I don’t want to influence anybody so I shut up. I think the Scots will come to a good conclusion in the referendum. They’ll get what they deserve.”

 

Voters in Scotland will go to the polls on 18 September to answer the “Yes/No” question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Scotland has had its own legislature since 1999. The Scottish National Party, led by Alex Salmond, who is first Minister for Scotland, dominates the Scottish Parliament. Those arguing for full independence say the current arrangement does not allow sufficient powers to govern Scotland effectively.

Who Can Vote?

Residence is the important factor. Around five million people aged 16 or over living in Scotland will be able vote, while 1.15 million Scots who are living outside of the country, including dedicated Scottish nationalist Sean Connery, will not be allowed to vote. Certain foreign nationals living in the country can register.

Separatism

With independence, Scotland would leave its centuries-old political union with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, taking with it nearly ten percent of the UK’s population and one third of its landmass. Scottish soldiers, engineers, and merchants played leading roles in building the British Empire, for example, in establishing the tea industry in Ceylon. Edinburgh and Glasgow became global centres of finance and industry.

UK Education Secretary Michael Gove said Scottish independence would invigorate Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader would think the UK’s split puts him in a “stronger position” to dictate to the world. Enemies of the West would cheer a “Yes “vote because the “second principal beacon of liberty” in the world would become more unstable.

Spain will be watching the outcome in Scotland with interest. The EU has taken the position that issues such as those currently posed by Scotland and Catalonia are for member states to resolve internally.

Scotland’s New Status

The “No” camp sees dangers in Scotland going it alone. In international negotiations, it will, they say, be a small unimportant nation of five million, instead of being part of an important nation of 63 million. All agreements previously created were with the UK as a whole. Scottish independence will mean a need to renegotiate membership of NATO, the UN and the EU. The president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to join the EU. Spain may be reluctant to set a precedent for separatists in Catalonia. The “Yes” camp argues that independence will mean that Scotland will get a new seat at the UN, its own EU Commissioner and twice as many MEPs. Salmond insists that a newly independent Scotland would effortlessly take its place as the twenty-ninth member state in the EU.

Alistair Darling, leading spokesperson for the “Nos”, predicts that Edinburgh’s large financial sector will migrate south on September 19 because it will not want to remain in a country foreign to the 80 percent of its customers who live in England. Darling warns that the remaining UK might not keep paying for Glasgow’s Clydeside shipyard to build UK naval vessels.

Postive Aspects of New Status

Scotland did not buy into London’s abandonment of the post-war consensus of universalism and the welfare state. Scotland has only a few private schools. Its National Health Service remains in state hands, while, in England, the involvement of private companies in the provision of medical treatment has long been underway. The “Yes” camp believes Scotland has more in common with the high-tax, high-spend social democratic welfare states of Scandinavia than it does with the “greed is good” capitalism of the City of London. London and the southeast have effectively seceded from the rest of Britain and devised a post-industrial economy based on financial services and neoliberal tax policies. These which have caused a widening inequality that appals many Scots.

If even a strong Labour government in Westminster—one headed by two Scottish-born prime ministers, first Blair and then Brown—only made things worse, then maybe Scotland has to go it alone.

The “Yes” campaign’s manifesto, Scotland’s Future, promises “a transformational change in childcare,” the scrapping of London-imposed changes to welfare benefits, and, in the move most likely to attract international attention, the removal of the UK’s Trident nuclear weapon system from Scotland.

Alex Salmond wrote: “I’m going to argue that our international policy – like our domestic policy – should be governed by another enlightened Scottish idea – the one Adam Smith pursued in the Theory of Moral Sentiments – of enlightened self-interest. By helping others, we will help ourselves… We seek a Scotland where sustainable prosperity goes hand in hand with solidarity and fairness.”

The Economy

Salmond claimed: “The reality is Scotland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, more prosperous per head than the UK, France and Japan, but we need the powers of independence to ensure that that wealth properly benefits everyone in our society.”

Alex Salmond told a US audience: “Scotland’s economy is highly competitive – it’s one reason why we outperform the rest of the UK on inward investment. We are confident of our ability to succeed in the international marketplace. … Our prosperity is bound up in the wellbeing of others. We should see ourselves as a partner to other nations, not just a competitor.”

Oil

If oil revenue had been put into a Norwegian-style sovereign wealth fund (for the whole of the UK) rather than squandered on tax cuts, there would probably have been no referendum. Salmond says North Sea oil revenues would boost Scotland’s economy. Mr Darling underlined that while oil revenues currently accounted for about 15% of Scotland’s tax income, the North Sea’s reserves were in decline.

Pooling of Sovereignty

Idealists in the “Yes” camp are hoping for a new kind of country, not a nineteenth-century nation state, with hard borders and an army. They are looking for a state that embraces the pooling of sovereignty, as committed to interdependence as to independence.

Through the British Irish Council and the Common Travel Area, the Irish Government; UK Government; Scottish Government; Northern Ireland Executive; Welsh Government; Isle of Man Government; Government of Jersey and Government of Guernsey all work together. The SNP propose an expansion of these ties. A “yes” vote is a chance to balance out power across the archipelago.

Some in the “Yes” camp favour closer ties with Scandinavia. The Shetland Islands are closer to Oslo than London. Nordic Horizons is an informal group of Scottish professionals who want to raise the standard of knowledge and debate about life and policy in the Nordic nations. What can Scotland learn from the innovation systems in Sweden and Finland to support Scotland’s economy?

Who Is For, Who Against?

The SNP has the sharpest, most effective political machine in Scotland. Salmond is a wily strategist and a charismatic speaker. Scottish Labour’s biggest talents made their careers by leaving for London long ago. The Spectator has observed, “Alistair Darling’s ‘Better Together’ campaign seems quieter than a Stornoway playground on the Sabbath”. Darling’s association with Blair and New Labour taints Darling. He was the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer who presided over the 2008 recession and predicted it would be “over by Christmas”. He is also very dull. Most of Scotland’s artists, writers, and musicians lean towards “Yes”, as do the young. Sixteen-year olds will have a vote. It is not cool to say “No”.

What if the Answer Is “No”?

Privately, well-placed Nationalists are girding themselves for a narrow defeat. They are sanguine about this. If the “Yes” side gets more than 40 percent then, they say, a new process of negotiations about devolution will begin. What has begun in Scotland is a rebellion against the highly centralized Westminster state, which still hands Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the English regions a “block grant” of cash rather than letting them raise and spend their own funds as they see fit.

Conclusion

The Nationalist campaign has not been a sentimental business about tartanry and Braveheart. It has lacked even the faintest hint of anti-Englishness. The case for “Yes” has been presented in mild, technocratic terms. For the Nationalists, Scotland has become a land of social democratic consensus. The Conservative Party is now negligible as a political force in Scotland. In the 1955 election, the Tories won more votes in Scotland than any other party did, but decades of decline followed, culminating in the disaster of 1997. Today, of the fifty-nine members of Parliament Scotland sends to Westminster, just one is a Conservative.

Salmond speaks of the “democratic deficit” that still afflicts Scotland, and indeed the UK as a whole. It is ironic that a “Yes” vote for Scottish independence would have a drastic effect on England. If Scotland no longer sends fifty-nine MPs to Westminster, many of whom represent safe Labour seats, then Labour’s chances of forming a UK government diminish sharply. An England-dominated UK could be a one-party state, a permanently Conservative polity.

Cruel and Unusual Part 1

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on August 6 2014

 

Colman's Column3

Two recent news reports caught my eye and stimulated me to re-examine the issues relating to capital punishment.

Couple from a Country Beginning with “U”

At the Colombo High Court on July 15 2014, Trial-at-Bar Judges Devika de Livera Tennakoon and Wimal Nambuwasam sentenced to death a couple found guilty of a double murder committed in 2010. Mashour Eugene and Yanna Brishyana murdered Jason, a six-year-old child, and a housemaid, Daisy Manohari, at Nawala on February 23, 2010. Some reports describe the guilty pair as Ukrainian; others say they are from Uzbekistan.

The killings took place at the Galpotta Road home of Victoria Kim, who had been Eugene’s partner in a call girl business, but she later became his competitor and rival. He had visited her on February 21 to try to arrange a truce. This was not successful. He returned unexpectedly two days later while Victoria was getting Jason ready for school. Jason tried to call his father on his mother’s mobile phone. In trying to get the phone from the child, Eugene hit him several times and inflicted stab wounds. Victoria and Daisy wrestled with Eugene. Jason died immediately. Victoria was stabbed in her stomach and Daisy was dragged into the bathroom and stabbed to death. Yanna Brishyana, was outside in a three-wheeler with two gallons of petrol which she had bought at a filling station in Nugegoda. The plan was to set fire to the bodies.

When the death sentence was read out, sex worker Brishyana, who claims to be the mother of an eight-year-old child, appealed to the court to have her executed immediately.

Long Time A-Dying

The second news item was about an execution in the USA. Joseph Wood was executed in the state prison in Florence, Arizona, on Wednesday July 23 2014. It was a long drawn out business. Wood was sentenced to death in 1989 for murdering his girl friend and her father. After waiting a quarter of a century, Wood had to wait a little longer to die. At 1.52pm, the lethal drugs began coursing through the tubes leading to a vein in his arm. Ten minutes later witnesses reported seeing his jaw drop and his chest start to heave as his lungs battled for air more than 600 times. He was finally declared dead at 3.50 pm. Executions by lethal injection are meant to take no more than 20 minutes, not one hour and fifty-seven minutes. This was the third badly botched execution this year.

Global

Of the 193 independent states that are UN members, 51 per cent have abolished the death penalty. Four per cent retain it for some exceptional crimes and 25 per cent permit its use for ordinary crimes, but have not used it for at least ten years. Some, such as Sri Lanka, have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions, and 20 per cent of UN members maintain the death penalty in both law and practice.

 

For and Against

 

My own stance on capital punishment has changed. I made a feeble attempt at writing a novel when I   was 15. Inspired by news coverage of crowds protesting outside prisons during executions, the subject was murderers getting more sympathy than victims. My views had changed by the time I was in the sixth form, to the extent that I fell out with my girl friend when we attended a debate on capital punishment at Kings School, Gloucester Cathedral. She was for capital punishment and I was irritated that she could not see the obvious logic of the arguments against it. Henry VIII founded Kings School. Henry used capital punishment as a substitute for marriage guidance counselling.

 

Death Penalty in Sri Lanka

The death penalty is still part of the Sri Lankan penal code. Some reference sites say the last execution was in 1977, others say 1976. Bogambara Prison in Kandy was the go-to place for judicial murder. It had gallows where three could be killed at the same time. HG Dharmadasa was the Superintendent at the prison in the 70s. He says he had the “misfortune” to officiate at the last few executions. Mr Dharmadasa is adamant that the last to be hanged was DJ Siripala alias Maru Sira in 1975. Maru Sira may actually have been already dead when they hanged him, as he was limp and unconscious when they took him from his cell. After the body was exhumed his spinal cord was found not to be fractured and excessive traces of drugs were found in his system. The USA does not have a monopoly on botched executions.

Bogambara Prison closed on 1 January 2014 and is now open to the public. There is speculation that it might be turned into a boutique hotel.

Accurate figures are hard to come by, but it seems there are at least 405 convicts in Sri Lanka on “death row”. The Sri Lankan state still likes to have a hangman available, just in case. Unfortunately, the Prisons Department is having trouble filling the post. In March 2014, a new appointee had had second thoughts. Chandrarathna Pallegama, commissioner general of prisons said: “we gave him one week’s training, but he resigned after seeing the gallows.” The new hangman, the third most qualified from 176 applicants, was appointed after two hangmen chosen last year failed to show up for work.

I recall reading reports of a cabinet meeting when Ranil Wickremasinghe was prime minister. The then minister for power and energy suggested that the noose be replaced by the electric chair. Ranil quipped: “But with all these power cuts, can you guarantee that there will be electricity available?”

Many people argue that the death penalty should be implemented because of the rise in child abuse, rapes, murders, and drug trafficking. I recall reading an editorial in a national newspaper calling for public executions of child molesters.

Considering that the Sri Lankan constitution gives a special place to Buddhism, it is more than a little odd that the death penalty remains on the statute book and that some self-proclaimed Buddhists demand that it be used. What happened to panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami?

Deterrence

According to a study published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, eighty-eight percent of the leading criminologists in the US do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to homicide.  Similarly, 87% of the criminologists believe that abolition of the death penalty would not have any significant effect on murder rates. In addition, 75% of the respondents agree, “debates about the death penalty distract Congress and state legislatures from focusing on real solutions to crime problems.”

US politicians in favour of abolition point to the fact that death-penalty states (which are mostly in the south) have higher murder rates than non-death-penalty states (many of which are in the northeast).

 

 

Privatisation of Punishment for Profit

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on June 30 2014.

I have written before about the American prison system. Those articles were prompted by the irony of American politicians and NGOs criticising Sri Lanka for keeping 350,000 displaced people in camps in 2009. There are more than 2.3 million people in US prisons, more than any other nation on earth, a half million more than China, which has a population five times greater than the US. America has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. African-Americans account for 12% of the US population, but 40% of the US prison population. In 2005, 8.1% of all black males aged25 to 29 were in prison.

Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

Americans are locked up for crimes that would not warrant incarceration elsewhere. One is shocked to read in Dickens or Hugo about people being executed or transported to Australia for stealing a loaf of bread. Bill Clinton’s “three strikes” law means that a lengthy sentence can be imposed for stealing a slice of pizza. The law made it necessary to build 20 new federal prisons. One prisoner received three 25-year sentences for stealing a car and two bicycles.

More than 200,000 youths are tried as adults in the US every year, and on any given day, 8,500 kids under 18 are confined in adult prisons. Only 34% of those in juvenile detention are there for violent crimes; many are confined for running away from abuse at home. 12.1% of young people questioned in a survey said that they had been sexually abused at their current juvenile detention facility during the preceding year. Rates of HIV/AIDS are several times higher inside US prisons than outside, just as they are much higher among black Americans than white. As rape is a common in US jails, incarceration for trivial offences can amount to an unadjudicated death sentence.

The Prison-Industrial Complex

The US prison system is a multimillion-dollar industry with its own trade exhibitions, conventions and websites. At least 37 states have legalised the contracting of prison labour by private corporations, including Microsoft and IBM, to operate inside state prisons. The number of prisoners in private prisons tripled between 1987 and 2007. By 2007, there were 264 such prison facilities, housing almost 99,000 adult prisoners. Prison bonds provide a lucrative return for capitalist investors such as Merrill-Lynch, American Express and Allstate. Prisoners are traded from one state to another for profit.

The highest-paying private prison company is CCA (Correctional Corporation of America). CCA’s prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for “highly skilled positions”. For any infraction, CCA inmates get 30 days added to their sentence, which means more profits for CCA. Between 1982 and 1994 the prison population of the USA rose 2.7-fold and most of the newly convicted were fit young people, mainly unemployed. Was this coincidence or was the increase in the prison population deliberately engineered to provide a large but very cheap work-force to meet the needs of labour-intensive industries?

There was certainly one example of a judge who was a major shareholder in a private prison who had no compunction about sentencing young men to work in his prison to increase his profits.

Reducing Prison Population

However, things may be changing. In the past few years, politicians from both major parties have begun to turn against mass incarceration. Attorney General Eric Holder has routinely condemned the “inadvisable and unsustainable” policies that have made America’s prison population by far the largest in the world. Even Republican presidential contenders are having a rethink. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie has denounced a “failed war on drugs that believes incarceration is the cure of every ill.” In Texas, Governor Rick Perry has redirected two billion dollars from the prison economy toward alternatives like drug treatment. Incarceration rates have slowly declined since 2010; conventional private prisons may no longer be a growth industry.

Offender-Funded Justice

There are still ways to turn a profit. Sarah Stillman, (who once vividly described the plight of Sri Lankan migrant workers in the Middle East) in an excellent article in the New Yorker, recounts the tale of a woman who was arrested and jailed for a string of traffic tickets that she was unable to pay.

(http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/06/23/get-out-of-jail-inc).

A judge sentenced the woman to two years of probation with Judicial Correction Services, a for-profit company. She would owe JCS the sum of two hundred dollars a month, with forty of it going toward a “supervision” fee. She paid whatever she could, but when she lost her job, she often could not pay. Her total court costs and fines soared from hundreds of dollars incurred by the initial tickets to $4,713, including more than a thousand dollars in private-probation fees.

Federal law in the eighteen-thirties abolished debtors’ prisons. However, people across America are routinely jailed for fees and fines that they are too poor to pay, fines and probation that are supposed to be an alternative to prison.

Many courts allow probation officers to decide whether an offender possesses the financial means to pay their fines and probation fees. When that probation officer is the employee of a private company, this creates a direct conflict of interest. A probation company’s revenues are entirely derived from the fees probationers pay them. Companies’ financial interests are often best served by using the threat of imprisonment to squeeze probationers and their families as hard as possible.

 

Profitable Alternatives to Prison

Private-prison corporations themselves have seen the opportunity for profit in alternatives to prison. The industry aims to shift the financial burden of probation directly onto probationers. Often, this means charging petty offenders for a government service that was once provided free. These probationers are not just paying a court-ordered fine; they are typically paying an ever-growing share of the court’s administrative expenses, as well as a separate fee to the for-profit company that supervises their probation and enforces a payment schedule.

Correctional Healthcare Companies claims that it deals with the “full spectrum” of offenders’ lives: “pre-custody, in custody, and post-custody.” The GEO Group runs private prisons all over the world (including the UK). There have been many deaths in their premises. They are now expanding into “community re-entry services”, treatment programmes and electronic-monitoring. In 2010, Judicial Correction Services made the magazine Inc.’s list of “the fastest growing private companies in America,” for the third year in a row. JCS’s fees included $240 for a course in something called “Moral Reconation Therapy.” CCA bought a California-based enterprise called Correctional Alternatives.

Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch recently published a harrowing survey. The report was based largely on more than 75 interviews conducted with people in the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi during the second half of 2013. It describes patterns of abuse and financial hardship inflicted by the “offender-funded” model of privatised probation that prevails in well over 1,000 courts across the US. It shows how some company probation officers behave like abusive debt collectors.

 

http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/us0214_ForUpload_0.pdf

Blood from a Stone

 

The courts issue thousands of arrest warrants for offenders who fail to make adequate payments towards fines and probation company fees even though the original offence carried no real threat of jail time. In Georgia, Thomas Barrett pleaded guilty to stealing a can of beer and was fined US$200. He was jailed for failing to pay over a thousand dollars in fees to his probation company, even though his entire income—money he earned by selling his own blood plasma—was less than what he was being charged in monthly probation fees.

 

Legal Challenges

Legal challenges to “offender-funded justice” are mounting, amid concerns about abuse, corruption, conflicts of interest and the use of state penalties to collect private profits. In a wide range of cases, “offender-funded justice” may not result in justice at all.

The business of many private probation companies is built largely on the willingness of courts to discriminate against poor offenders who can only afford to pay their fines in instalments. It is a blatant conflict of interest when the companies making a profit are allowed to determine how much an offender can afford to pay. Financial incentives colour their judgement.

In Alabama, people know the town of Harpersville as a speed trap, a stretch of country highway where the speed limit changes six times in roughly as many miles. Traffic fines were the biggest business in the town of 1,600. In 2005, the court’s revenue was nearly three times the amount that the town received from a sales tax.

In July 2012, Judge Hub Harrington of Shelby County, Alabama halted Judicial Correction Services’ aggressive pursuit of fines owed the Harpersville Municipal Court. He stated:”From a fair reading of the defendant’s testimony, one might ascertain that more apt description of the Harpersville Municipal Court is that of a judicially sanctioned extortion racket.”

Gesture Politics and the European Parliament

A version of this article appeared in the June issue of Echelon magazine.

 

Parliamentary Privilege to Pry- Members of the European Parliament have little power but have licence to meddle.

 

At the time of writing, I do not know the results of the May 2014 elections to the European Parliament (EP). Writing about the elections for the April 2014 issue of Echelon, my researches showed that, although real power in the EU lies with the European Commission and the European Central Bank, this does not deter the EP as a body, or members as individuals or groups, interfering on a global scale and having an opinion about everything under the sun.

Sri Lanka

Back in October 2011, GOSL refused Paul Murphy, an MEP representing Dublin, a visa to visit Sri Lanka. He wanted to teach Sri Lanka about democracy. “The whole of the working class, poor farmers and poor people, Sinhala and Tamil, are victims of this repressive government in my opinion.” As well as complaining that he was refused a visa, he raised the issue of an Irish citizen, Gunasundaram Jeyasundaram,  whom he said had been held prisoner by the Sri Lankan authorities without charge for four years.

Soon after Paul Murphy’s fulminations against GOSL, I had dinner at the Gallery Café with a delegation from the Irish Development Authority. They were keen to improve business relationships with Sri Lanka in order to further Ireland’s recovery from the economic crisis.

At the time GOSL refused Murphy a visa, he had been an MEP for only eight months and was 28 years old. Murphy was already supporting striking Kazakh oil workers, trade unionists in Columbia, Syrian revolutionaries, Bahraini and Chinese dissidents, oppressed Palestinians (he took part in the flotilla to Gaza); he protested against a high speed rail link in Italy.

Murphy certainly has no mandate from the Irish people to take on the entire world’s problems. Mind you, he does not have a mandate from the Irish people to address domestic issues either. He has no electoral mandate at all. How many people voted for Paul Murphy? None. Joe Higgins of the Irish Socialist Party handed the Dublin EP seat to Murphy when he was elected to the Irish national parliament.

Africa

I read recently in the Somaliland Sun (I read it constantly) that the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the EP has scolded the government of Ethiopia accusing it of using humanitarian aid as a political tool. The MEPs said that the EU should use sanctions against Ethiopia to stop human rights abuses against Ethiopian and Ogaden civilians. This may be a worthy cause, but the comment thread in the Somaliland Sun shows that this is a more complex situation than MEPs think.

In April 2014, an EP delegation planned to visit Morocco to assess the human rights situation there but the government refused them entry.

 

Syria

The EP, in its last plenary session before the May 2014 elections, adopted a resolution expressing its concern on the latest developments in Syria. The resolution specifically condemns the attack against the Armenian town of Kessab. The resolution also takes note of the rich diversity of ethnic and religious communities in Syria and expresses concern about the Al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front capturing a number of Christian and Kurdish villages on the Turkish border. Some MEPs wanted the resolution to mention Turkey’s role in the attack against Kessab and in doing so raise again the issue of the Turkish genocide of Armenians in 1915. This may not be the best way of handling the complexities of Turkish-EU relationships.

Iran

On April 3, the EP passed a resolution expressing grave concern over the human rights situation in Iran and the “continued, systemic violation of fundamental rights” in the country, and called on the members of the EU to “mainstream human rights in all of its relations with Iran.” The resolution claimed that the presidential election in Iran in July 2013 did not conform to European standards. Whatever about EP opinion, world opinion generally regarded the election of Hassan Rouhani as a positive step.

The Iranian government was not too pleased about this. An Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman described the resolution as “unfounded and unacceptable” and other senior figures accused the EP of “blatant intervention in Iran’s internal affairs” and called on the Iranian government to reject the EP’s idea of establishing an office in Tehran.

Destabilising Influence

Is it sensible for a body that has little democratic legitimacy, no army, and no tax-raising capability to conduct foreign policy through gesture politics? There is no common EU interest when it comes to foreign policy.

European politicians grandstanded on the Ukraine crisis. This was destabilising rather than helpful. The EU won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. Nevertheless, it is not a force for peace if it pursues interventions divorced from differing national interests based in different histories, economies, geography and territorial relationships. If Ukraine were in NATO, EU countries and the West would be obliged to go to war over the Crimea. What European would want to die for Sevastopol?’ Many Russians would be prepared to die for the Crimea.

It was bizarre and rather alarming that Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, could blithely admit to Putin’s face that Ukraine’s membership of NATO could be “part of the process”. The prospect of Ukraine joining NATO has long been recognised as impossible on geopolitical grounds. Ukraine was considered too close, historically and economically, to Russia, and home to strategically important Russian military bases. Putin told Rompuy that he was playing geopolitics.

Russia has effectively integrated Europe into its system of crony capitalism and corruption. Most European capitals, especially London, depend on vast amounts of Russian money for their financial systems to thrive. Ukrainian membership of NATO and sanctions against Russia would not be good news for the City of London.

 

Conclusion

In a non-binding resolution (aren’t they all?), the EP called on the EU authorities to impose immediate sanctions on Russian energy providers in the European market. The EP called for a freeze on the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline, which serves to ensure the supply of Russian gas to Europe, bypassing Ukraine. All the countries along its line – Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, Italy – want South Stream because they know that it is the best way of guaranteeing cheap gas supplies.

At a time when a new president of Iran is thawing relations between his country and the US, is it wise for a powerless body to irritate the Iranians? Iran has the world’s second largest natural gas reserves after Russia – about 15.8% of world’s total reserves. Iran is one of the few countries capable of supplying much larger amounts of natural gas in the future. Iran’s overall gas exports in 2009/10 reached a record high of 6.8 billion cubic meters, increasing 44% over the previous year. Is this a good time to be annoying Iran as well as Russia?

I am against sin. I would not argue that the EP should ignore human rights violations but there is a danger that the EP’s meddling could be counter-productive and destabilising. Doing business with dodgy regimes might be more effective than isolating them through

Beautiful Bristol – Based on Smuggling , Sugar, Smoking and Slaves

A shorter version of  this article appeared in the June issue of Echelon magazine.

Much of Bristol’s wealth historically came from dodgy dealing.

bristol-1

The London Sunday Times recently named Bristol number one in its Best Places to Live in Britain poll. Bristol, it said, has “one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, varied and beautiful housing stock, decent schools, buzzy culture and night life and access to some fantastic countryside”. The city also has strong transport links, and by 2017, even faster rail networks will cut journey times to London to just 80 minutes.

Victoria_Rooms_(750px)

I was interested to read this news, as I know Bristol well. I was born only 30 miles away in Gloucester. When I was a child, my parents took me to Bristol Zoo to ride on Rosie the Elephant. I took my first plane flight from Bristol Airport. Bristol was the go-to place for we yokels to enjoy nightlife and daytime shopping. The city’s Colston Hall played host to big name artists like Bob Dylan and this month presents Jeff Beck and Don Williams among many others. Bristol has a vibrant musical culture – Portishead, Massive Attack, Tricky.

Warp and Woof

In order to get a sense of the warp and woof of Bristol life in 2014, I have been undertaking an exhaustive study of the local press, mainly the Bristol Post and the BBC’s local Bristol radio station. Here are some of the exciting things that I found.

Woof. A police inquiry is to begin into an incident in which a police dog bit a man as he was being arrested.

Warp. A man from Mexico who murdered his former girlfriend at her home in Bristol has been jailed for life.

There were 2,028 burglaries in Bristol between April and March this year – 430 fewer than the previous year.

Bristol is now a major housing hotspot. With demand far outstripping supply in the some of the most popular parts of the city, many properties are being sold within a matter of days.

Bishopston Fish Bar, based on Gloucester Road, owned by Nick Lomvardos, has made it into a list of the top 50 fish and chip shops across the UK compiled by Fry magazine. Nick said: “I work very hard and do a lot of hours. We have a slogan here – Cooked with Passion, Served with Pride – and that says it all. I’m so passionate about what I do and try to give the customer the best experience possible.”

Famous Bristolians

cary grant

Cary Grant was born Archibald Leach in Horfield, Bristol, Grant’s first role in theatre was working at the Bristol Hippodrome. Bristol unveiled a new Cary Grant statue in Millennium Square.

Dave Prowse (Darth Vader) was brought up on the Southmead housing estate in Bristol, winning a scholarship to Bristol Grammar School. His voice was not used because of his Bristol accent. (Bristol natives speak with a rhotic accent, in which the post-vocalic r in words like car and card is still pronounced, having been lost from many other dialects of English.)

John Harvey started a wine importing business in Bristol in the 19th Century, before creating a new blend of sherry, Harvey’s Bristol Cream, available today across the world.

Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor was born in Bristol and lived there for most of her life.

Samuel Plimsoll (1824 – 1898) was born in Colston Parade, Bristol. He campaigned against overloading ships with cargo, resulting in the introduction of the Plimsoll line on every ship to show its maximum load capacity.

Billy Butlin lived in Bristol as a small boy and attended St Mary Redcliffe School. He returned to Bristol as an adult and had his first taste of entertainment for the masses when he opened a hoop-la stall in Lock’s Yard, Bedminster.

Paul Dirac (1902 – 1984) was born in Bishopston, Bristol in 1902. He was considered to be one of the greatest and most influential theoretical physicists of his time. He formulated the Dirac Equation, and was responsible for leading the way towards the discovery of antimatter. He was a close friend of Albert Einstein’s, and during his life won a shared Nobel Prize in physics with Erwin Schrödinger.

Banksy, controversial local graffiti artist famed throughout the world for his street art. Some of his pieces have sold for hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Blackbeard the Pirate (Edward Teach)

My Facebook friend, the brilliant writer Julie Burchill, was born in Bristol and educated at Brislington Comprehensive School. Her father was a Communist union activist who worked in a distillery. Her mother had a job in a cardboard box factory.

Bristol’s musical output has been varied:

 

Acker Bilk.

Portishead

Massive Attack

Tricky

Russ Conway

The Cougars – they played at our school dance.

Adge Cutler and the Wurzels

Roger Greenaway

Nellee Hooper

Nik Kershaw

Roland Orzabal

Rip, Rig and Panic

Andy Sheppard – brilliant jazz sax player whom I have seen many times.

Fred Wedlock

 

Speaking Bristol

Bristol natives speak with a rhotic accent, in which the post-vocalic r in words like car and card is still pronounced, having been lost from many other dialects of English, notably BBC English, or “received pronunciation”. The unusual feature of this accent, unique to Bristol, is the so-called Bristol L (or terminal L), in which an L sound appears to be appended to words that end in an ‘a’ or ‘o’. “Area” becomes “areal” or “areaw”.

Current Economy

The economy of Bristol fared comparatively well during the Great Recession of 2008-10 and continued to grow while most cities shrank. Compared with other major cities, Bristol enjoys the fifth highest GVA in the UK (Gross value added is a measure in economics of the value of goods and services produced in an area, industry or sector of an economy).

Bristol is the largest centre of employment, culture and education in the South West region. The city’s economy is reliant on the aerospace industry, defence, information technology, financial services, tourism and the media. Financial services employ 50,000 people in the city and the high tech sector has 50 micro-electronics and silicon design companies which employ around 5,000 people. The city houses the regional headquarters of BBC West, the BBC Natural History Unit and Aardman Animations.

 

Previous Economy

Bristol was particularly associated with the noted Victorian engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He designed the Great Western Railway between Bristol and London Paddington and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. He also designed two Bristol-built ocean going steamships, the SS Great Britain and SS Great Western.

brunel

At Filton, the Bristol Aeroplane Company built the World War I Bristol Fighter, and Second World War Blenheim and Beaufighter aircraft. In the 1950s, it was a major manufacturer of civil aircraft, with the Bristol Freighter and Britannia and the huge Brabazon airliner. In the 1960s, Filton played a key role in the Anglo-French Concorde supersonic airliner project. On 26 November 2003, Concorde 216 (G-BOAF) made the final Concorde flight, returning to Filton.

Bristol is still the headquarters of Imperial Tobacco Group, the world’s fourth largest international tobacco company. In 1901, Sir William Henry Wills et al formed Imperial Tobacco from a merger of WD & HO Wills with seven other British tobacco companies. The Wills tobacco company began as a shop in Castle Street, Bristol in 1786.

(c) Bristol Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Economic Foundations

Bristol’s geographical position at the confluence of the rivers Avon and Frome gave it easy access to the Atlantic. When John Cabot arrived in England from Venice, Bristol was the only English city to have had a prior history of undertaking exploration expeditions out into the Atlantic. From 1480 onwards, several expeditions had been sent out to look for Hy-Brazil, an island said to lie somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. There was a legend that Bristolians had discovered the island and then mislaid it. From Bristol, Cabot made voyages to Canada, looking for a North West Passage. Although he failed in that endeavour, John Cabot claimed North America for England, setting the course for the imperial rise to power in the 16th and 17th centuries.

john cabot

Fishermen from Bristol had fished the Grand Banks of Newfoundland since the 15th century and began settling Newfoundland permanently in larger numbers in the 17th century establishing colonies at Bristol’s Hope and Cuper’s Cove

Bristol merchants’ trade to Spain and its American colonies included the smuggling of ‘prohibited’ wares, such as foodstuffs and guns, to Iberia. The scale of the city’s illicit trade grew enormously after 1558, to become an essential component of the city’s economy.

By the 18th century, sugar was Bristol’s most lucrative traffic but sugar refining industry drifted into relative recession after about 1780. In 1800, Bristol’s merchants failed to foresee the utter ruin of the sugar industry in the West Indies that was to occur during the next fifty years. The city continued to concentrate on trade with the West Indies where many of her most important citizens had large capital investments, and so it was that Bristol’s prosperity declined along with that of the West Indies.

Slavery

Bristol’s hospitality industry caters for nine million visitors each year. Tourists who admire Bristol’s elegant houses should reflect on the misery behind their establishment. Guinea Street, a terrace of five-storey houses on the dockside, was home to the slave traders and owners Edmund Saunders and Joseph Holbrook. Nearby is Queen Square, with Georgian houses built by slave traders. The Sugar House hotel was one of many refineries that processed sugar harvested by slaves.

Colston Hall, Bristol’s major music venue, was named after Edward Colston, a philanthropist and merchant who paid for several schools, churches and hospitals. Much of Colston’s wealth came from the slave trade. The Bristol band, Massive Attack, pledged never to play at the venue until its name is changed.

edwardColstonColour

The city’s involvement with the slave trade peaked between 1730 and 1745. Bristol, along with Liverpool, became a centre for the Triangular Trade. In the first stage of this trade, manufactured goods were exchanged for Africans. The Africans were then, in the Middle Passage, transported across the Atlantic in brutal conditions. Then plantation goods such as sugar, tobacco, rum, rice and cotton were brought to Bristol. Slaves were sold to the aristocracy as house servants.

It is estimated that Britain transported more than three million African people across the Atlantic (500,000 on Bristol ships alone), an epic trade that involved some 10,000 voyages and swelled the coffers of the owners. By the Victorian era, as many as one in six of the wealthiest Britons derived at least some of their fortunes from slavery. Few seemed to have any qualms. Quakers, for example, had been enthusiastic investors. It should not be forgotten that the notable philanthropic families – Frys, Rowntrees, and Cadburys – made their fortunes from chocolate, which depended on slave labour.

What of the Future?

The European Commission named Bristol as the European Green Capital for 2015. Bristol will receive £7 million of additional funding to deliver a range of projects that will help Bristol remain at the centre of green investment and urban sustainability. A report, commissioned by Bristol city council, found the initial investment should generate around £215 million of additional economic activity for the UK, through inward investment, additional business turnover, higher exports and tourism.

cathedralsofsteam2

In the March 2011, Budget, Chancellor George Osborne announced the creation of 21 enterprise zones, including one in the area around Temple Meads railway station in Bristol. The idea was that relaxing planning and tax rules would attract businesses to regenerate areas. The West of England Local Enterprise Partnership has published a plan to create 17,000 jobs within the Temple Meads zone. The Engine Shed business centre opened in December 2013, following an investment of £1.7 million. A £7 million private sector investment created Temple Studios, which houses around 150 people working for architects, web designers, music producers and marketing agencies.

 

 

Delmore Schwartz Part 4

The Wound of Consciousness.

In his monumental survey Lives of the Poets Michael Schmidt wrote that Delmore Schwartz “of that generation” – Lowell, Berryman, Jarrell, Roethke- “flowered exuberantly earliest and faded fastest”. “Not quite enough literary success and personal failure brought him down”.

The Golden Youth

shwartzsmaller

Memoirs about the thirties tend to emphasize Schwartz’s noble features and dignified gait. As a young poet, he resembled Boris Pasternak, who, as Marina Tsvetaeva said, looked like an Arab and his horse. Dwight McDonald described how, “his open, ardent manner and his large, dreaming eyes, sensitive mouth, and proud good looks as of a newly fledged eaglet, made in him seem younger.”Schwartz made a dramatic appearance on the literary scene in 1937, when he was 24 years old, by publishing his most striking creative achievement, the short story ”In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.”

indreams

James Atlas in his biography Life of an American Poet, describes Schwartz as an aesthete, an enraptured, theatrical young man who could quote ”the whole of any Garbo script at will,” and liked to perform all the parts of The Cocktail Party. Schwartz spoke quickly and emotionally, his words often running together. He was once clocked talking for eight hours straight. Dwight McDonald: “He was a master of the great American folk art of kidding, an impractical joker—words were his medium—outraging dignity and privacy, present company most definitely not excepted, pressing the attack until it reached a comic grandeur that had even the victim laughing.” He amused his friends at the White Horse Tavern with a dialogue in which he played both himself and T S Eliot.

Atlas

Dwight McDonald recalled that “There was a genial shimmer over Delmore’s talk—as the Irish say, he knew how to put a skin on it—generous, easy and, no matter how outrageously exaggerated, never envious or malicious; like Jove’s laughter. He was egoistic without vanity: he was curiously modest, or perhaps “detached” or “objective” might be better words, about himself and his extraordinary talents.”

Mental State

Levine

McDonald wrote that Delmore could take it as well as dish it out. However, his delusional jealousy and suspiciousness sharpened the edge of the malice with which he gossiped about the private lives of literary figures whom he never met as well as of his closest friends. He was described as having a habit of attributing Machiavellian motives to those closest to him. In later life, he engaged in endless litigation in a futile attempt to regain the family fortune. His stories are filled with frustrated characters whose poverty ruined their lives.

Schwartz was until his death almost continually employed as a professor at quality schools; his work constantly appeared in the Partisan Review and other prestigious organs; he won the big awards and was invited to deliver the big lectures. He was friends with all the right people. Despite erratic mental health, Schwartz managed to hold teaching jobs at Harvard (1940-1947), Princeton (1949-1950), Kenyon College (1950), Indiana University (1951), the University of Chicago (1954), and Syracuse University (1962-1965). He was editor (1943-1947) and associate editor (1947-1955) of the Partisan Review and poetry editor and film critic for the New Republic (1955-1957).

There has been speculation that, despite being married twice and fathering a child outside marriage, Delmore was a repressed homosexual who coped with a fear of same sex affinity by affecting virulent antagonism to “faggots”. On June 14, 1938, Schwartz married his high school sweetheart, Gertrude Buckman. The marriage ended in divorce in 1943. A reading of Schwartz’s letters of the period indicates that the paranoia that was to rule his life for more than twenty years had begun.

On June 10, 1949, Schwartz married the novelist Elizabeth Pollet. He constantly accused her of infidelity and “grand larceny”. She obtained a divorce in 1957. During the last months of the marriage, in 1956, Schwartz had an affair with Eleanor Goff, a dancer who lived in Greenwich Village. From this romance, it appears, Schwartz fathered his only child, a daughter.

noone should look that unhappy

By 1945, Schwartz was drinking heavily and taking large amounts of Nembutal to combat insomnia. He soon he added amphetamines to his diet. John Berryman was a much heavier drinker and was frequently admitted to mental wards because of blackouts and erratic behaviour. Berryman had said, after his first meeting with Delmore, that he had never liked “anyone better on first sight”. Nonetheless, Berryman professed to be shocked by Schwartz’s behaviour on occasions. In Dream Song, Paul Mariani’s biography of Berryman, there is the tale of the police releasing Delmore to Berryman’s custody, only for Schwartz to lash out and escape. Back at his hotel, Delmore threw his girlfriend out when she expressed admiration for Berryman’s poetry. Berryman wrote that Delmore was truly “in orbit”. In earlier years Berryman had to intervene when, at a party at Saul Bellow’s house, Delmore seemed to be about to become violent accusing Elizabeth Pollett of flirting with the novelist Ralph Ellison.

On 29 January 1963, while Berryman was teaching at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, he had a surprise visit from Schwartz, who had taken a taxi from Boston and kept it waiting while he talked. He kept hinting that Nelson Rockefeller had been plotting against him. He tried to persuade Berryman to give up his job at Brown and go to New York with him. Delmore was having difficulty putting sentences together.

later

Disapproving reviews of his sloppy translation of Rimbaud’s Une Saison en enfer did not help his mental state. He continued to write reviews and critical essays of high quality well into the 1950s, but his powers as a poet and storywriter were gone by 1948, when the collection of stories called The World Is a Wedding appeared.

Critics

Dwight McDonald wrote a tribute in the New York Review of Books in 1966 after Delmore’s death. “In the fall of 1937, when Partisan Review was about to be revived as a non-Communist literary magazine, a writer with the unlikely name of Delmore Schwartz sent in a short story, ‘In Dreams Begin Responsibilities’, which I and my fellow editors had the sense to recognize as a masterpiece and to print in our first issue… It is as good as a story can be. I’d say after reading it again for the fifth or sixth time, comparable with Kafka, Babel, or Through the Looking Glass.” In 1938, Schwartz published his first book, a collection of poetry and prose. Allen Tate praised the book as “the first real innovation that we’d had since Eliot and Pound.” Time compared Schwartz to Stendhal and Anton Chekhov. Schwartz was never able to equal this bravura performance, and he came to be haunted by his early success.

Way back in 1978, Robert Towers, reviewing Atlas’s biography in NYRB, was sniffy about Schwartz. “I doubt, however, that there will ever be a cult of Schwartz among persons other than the nostalgic members of his own generation, for…the amount of first-rate work which he left is too small to form a lasting pedestal for such a cult-figure”.

Towers writes: “It seems to me that the permanently valuable residue consists of five or six frequently anthologized poems (all written by 1938), one later poem (“Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon Along the Seine”), perhaps three short stories (“In Dreams…,” “America! America!” and “The Child Is the Meaning of This Life”), and a dozen or so reviews and critical articles.”

Death

“To know you is a calamity,” a college friend once told Delmore Schwartz–but not nearly as great a calamity as being him. Schwartz died at the age of 52 in New York City, where he had been living in a seedy hotel. In the pre-dawn hours of July 11 1966, Delmore, dressed in bathrobe and pyjamas, left his shabby apartment at the Columbia Hotel to put the garbage out, wandered onto another floor and had a heart attack. During the last years of his life, Schwartz was a solitary, dishevelled figure, penniless and virtually friendless, his body worn out by years of drug and alcohol abuse. His body lay unclaimed in the city morgue for several days until an obituary appeared in the New York Times.

Berryman wrote in one of his Dream Songs of a “solid block of agony” that consumed him. “I can’t get him out of my mind”. Berryman had seen terrible changes in Delmore who, as a young man had been filled with “surplus love” and had thrilled Berryman with his “electrical insight”.

Tributes

Since his death, Schwartz’s reputation has enjoyed a renaissance, the result of strong, posthumously published works and of depictions of his life in Saul Bellow’s novel Humboldt’s Gift (1975) and in James Atlas’ biography Delmore Schwartz: The Life of an American Poet (1977).

Lou Reed’s 1982 album The Blue Mask included his second Schwartz homage with the song “My House”. This song is much more of a tribute to Schwartz than “European Son of Delmore Schwartz” on the first Velvet Underground album “. The lyrics of “My House” are about Reed’s relationship with Schwartz. In the song, Reed writes that Schwartz “was the first great man that I ever met”.

Delmore Schwartz had, wrote Alfred Kazin, “a feeling for literary honour, for the highest standards, that one can only call noble—he loved the nobility of example presented by the greatest writers of our century, and he wanted in this sense to be noble himself, a light unto the less talented…. So he suffered, unceasingly, because he had often to disappoint himself—because the world turned steadily more irrational and incomprehensible—because the effort of his intellectual will, of his superb intellectual culture, was not always enough to sustain him…. “

 

headstone

 

Delmore Schwartz Part3

This article appeared in the Mosaic section of Ceylon Today on Sunday July 6 2014

The Heavy Bear who Goes with Me

In this poem, Schwartz objectifies his own body as a separate entity:

The heavy bear who goes with me,   

A manifold honey to smear his face,   

Clumsy and lumbering here and there,   

The central ton of every place,   

The hungry beating brutish one   

In love with candy, anger, and sleep,   

Crazy factotum, dishevelling all.

This separate entity is somewhat gross, something of a burden and an embarrassment. I am reminded of Yeats’s image of old age as a tin can tied to a dog’s tail. Schwartz uses as an epigraph a quotation from the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead: the withness of the body”

Whitehead speaks of the “withness of the body” and observes that in daily life our bodies are the immediate environment of our lives.  As children, we learn about this withness in joyful ways; in adults it causes suffering.  Man is a dual creature; consciousness gives him a sense of time and of “otherness,” but at the same time, he is an animal like other animals. Human consciousness exists within a body that demands the same kind of life-sustaining materials and is subject to the same kinds of appetites—for food, for physical comforts—as other, lower creatures. The accompanying bear

Howls in his sleep because the tight-rope   

Trembles and shows the darkness beneath.   

—The strutting show-off is terrified,   

Dressed in his dress-suit, bulging his pants,   

Trembles to think that his quivering meat   

Must finally wince to nothing at all.

 

There is no room for vanity here:

 

A caricature, a swollen shadow,

A stupid clown of the spirit’s motive,   

Perplexes and affronts with his own darkness,   

The secret life of belly and bone.

This bear is not even under control. With his grossness, he endangers the poet’s relationships:

Touches her grossly, although a word

Would bare my heart and make me clear,   

Stumbles, flounders, and strives to be fed   

Dragging me with him in his mouthing care,   

Amid the hundred million of his kind,   

The scrimmage of appetite everywhere.

It is almost as if the body will not allow us to achieve what we really want.  No matter what our intentions, our aspirations, the body cannot travel in that direction. This is sad to read with the knowledge of Schwartz’s own inability to control his compulsions.

Themes

SchwartzDouble

The double or doppelganger is a recurring feature in literature – Dostoevsky’s The Double, The Victim by Schwartz’s friend Saul Bellow, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Stevenson. In fiction and folklore, a doppelgänger is a double of a living person and sometimes portrayed as a harbinger of bad luck. In some traditions, a doppelgänger seen by a person’s relative or friend portends illness or danger while seeing one’s own doppelgänger is said to be an omen of death. Heautoscopy is considered a possible explanation for doppelgänger phenomena. This is a term used in psychiatry and neurology for the reduplicative hallucination of “seeing one’s own body at a distance”. It can occur as a symptom in schizophrenia and epilepsy. The presence of the double causes conflict, as there can never be peaceful co-existence between a character and their second manifestation. In many instances where there is a double, it is the embodiment of a specific set of characteristics either that the original character desires to have, or a concentration of their worst characteristics, thus living up to the “evil twin” stigma.

SchwartzMirror

There are striking pictures of Schwartz looking in a mirror or as a double image. His protégé, Lou Reed, wrote a song called “I’ll Be your Mirror”.

loureeddelmoreschwartz_102612_620px

Schwartz is following in the doppelgänger tradition by dramatizing man’s dual nature. The only creature on earth possessing a sophisticated consciousness that gives him a moral sense and an understanding of the consequences of his actions, man is nevertheless compelled to exist in a material body that is really as much a part of him as is his higher intelligence. No matter how hard he tries, man is never able to separate his spiritual nature from his physical side.

Schwartz believed his name embodied a dualism. The surname is very Jewish and the forename a bit WASPy. There is a dichotomy between old world civility and new world philistinism, and generational differences between immigrants and their American-born offspring. Much of his work is about attempts to transcend what he saw as the inevitable disappointments and profound disillusionment of life.

There is also, as in Yeats, much about masks.

 

But tonight I am going to the masked ball,

Because it has occurred to me

That the masks are more true than the faces

Perhaps this too is poetry?

Now that I know that most falsehoods are true

Perhaps I can join the charade?

 

Schwartz often focused on middle-class New York immigrant families whose children are alienated both from their parents and from American culture and society. There is much talk of hope as well as despair.

How the false truths of the years of youth have passed!

Have passed at full speed like trains which never stopped

There where I stood and waited, hardly aware,

How little I knew, or which of them was the one

To mount and ride to hope or where true hope arrives.

The themes of separation and isolation run through Schwartz’s poetry and prose. The title piece of In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, and Other Stories (1938) is an account of an evening spent viewing a film about the narrator’s parents. Schwartz examines conflicts between the Jewish heritage and modern American culture. Jewish life in the United States is also the subject of The World Is a Wedding (1948), a short story collection that is a novella in ten sections. “The Child Is the Meaning of This Life” displays Schwartz’s interest in family relationships, the role of the artist, and feelings of alienation; “America! America!” focuses on a writer’s sense of isolation from his fellow New Yorkers, his family, and his Jewish heritage.

Delmore, although he was a Jewish writer immersed in Freud and Marx, was also interested in Christianity and there are strong Christian themes in his works. The inevitability of death was a common theme as were love, forgiveness and the inability to escape our past.

Summer knowledge is the knowledge of death as birth,

Of death as the soil of all abounding flowering flaring rebirth

 

He wrote memorable phrases about poetry and music.

For poetry is the sunlight of consciousness:

It is also the soil of the fruits of knowledge

In the orchards of being.

 

In his poem “Vivaldi”, he wrote:

 

This is the immortality of immortality

Deathless and present in the presence of the deathless present.

This is the grasped reality of reality, moving forward

Now and forever.

 

He was an essentially urban being being but could write about nature. The whole of the poem “A Little Morning Music” is quotable but here is a taste:

 

The birds in the first light twitter and whistle,

Chirp and seek, sipping and chortling – weakly, meekly, they speak and bubble

As cheerful as the cherry would, if it could speak when it is cherry ripe or cherry ripening.

 

Next week- Delmore’s decline and death.

 

 

Delmore Schwartz Part Two

This article appeared in the Mosaic section of Ceylon Today on Sunday June 29 2014.

 

Last week, I gave an introduction to the life and literary reputation of the American poet, short story writer and, Delmore Schwartz (1913-1966). This week, I will attempt a close analysis of a single poem by Schwartz.

 

Schwartz on Seurat

Georges_Seurat_-_Un_dimanche_après-midi_à_l'Île_de_la_Grande_Jatte

 

My favourite poem by Delmore Schwartz is “Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon along the Seine”, written in 1959, in which the poet examines Georges Seurat’s pointillist painting. The painting is usually referred to as A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The painting was also the inspiration for Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Sunday in the Park with George. The painting shows members of all social classes mingling in the sun and participating in various Sunday afternoon leisure activities. It took Seurat two years to complete this ten foot-wide painting, much of which time he spent in the park sketching in preparation for the work (there are about 60 studies). It is now in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago – which explains Schwartz’s reference in his poem to:

 

Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon along the Seine has gone away,

Has gone to Chicago: near Lake Michigan,

All of his flowers shine in monumental stillness fulfilled.

And yet it abides elsewhere and everywhere where images

Delight the eye and heart, and become the desirable, the admirable,

the willed

Icons of purified consciousness.

 

Schwartz dedicates the poem to Meyer and Lillian Schapiro. Meyer Schapiro (1904-1996) was an American art historian known for forging dynamic new art historical methodologies that incorporated an interdisciplinary approach, engaging other scholars, philosophers, and artists, to the study of works of art. Although an active Marxist, Schapiro was an expert on early Christian art. Schapiro was interested in the social, political, and the material construction of art works. He spent his entire career at Columbia, where he knew Schwartz.

 

The full text of the poem can be read online:

 

http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/citi/resources/423.pdf

 

 

Sunday is traditionally a day for Christians to do their worship. Perhaps it can also be a day for non-Christians and atheists to celebrate something. Wallace Stevens, in his poem “Sunday Morning”, stripped away Christian delusions in shimmering, flamboyant, rococo language.

 

 

What is divinity if it can come

Only in silent shadows and in dreams?

Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,

In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else

In any balm or beauty of the earth,

Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?

 

Those whom Schwartz sees in Seurat’s painting are enjoying “The comforts of the sun” and enjoying the freedom, albeit temporary, of a day off from quotidian cares.

 

They are looking at hope itself, under the sun, free from the teething

anxiety, the gnawing nervousness

Which wastes so many days and years of consciousness.

 

Schwartz seems to be asking: Is there a higher power, though? Is there a deus outside the frame of this picture?

 

 

The one who beholds them, beholding the gold and green

Of summer’s Sunday is himself unseen. This is because he is

Dedicated radiance, supreme concentration, fanatically threading

The beads, needles and eyes -at once- of vividness and permanence.

He is a saint of Sunday in the open air, a fanatic disciplined

By passion, courage, passion, skill, compassion, love: the love of life

and the love of light as one, under the sun, with the love of life.

 

There is permanence in the stasis caught in the frame, a permanence that defies the anicca we actually experience in real life outside the picture.

 

A little girl holds to her mother’s arm

As if it were a permanent genuine certainty:

Her broad-brimmed hat is blue and white, blue like the river, like the

sailboats white,

And her face and her look have all the bland innocence,

Open and far from fear as cherubims playing harpsichords.

 

This is the celebration of contemplation,

This is the conversion of experience to pure attention,

Here is the holiness of all the little things

Offered to us, discovered for us, transformed into the vividest con-

 

Schwartz refers to “supreme concentration”. Is there a hint there of a supreme being? WH Auden and Iris Murdoch both referred to the act of concentration, of paying attention, as being akin to prayer. Buddhism explores the concept of “mindfulness”. Concentrating on writing a poem can seem like praying. Reading a poem in an analytical way can be like praying. Schwartz examines Seurat’s picture in a prayer-like manner and suspects prayer-like qualities in the demeanour of the people in the painting.

 

 

If you look long enough at anything

It will become extremely interesting;

If you look very long at anything

It will become rich, manifold, fascinating:

If you can look at anything for long enough,

You will rejoice in the miracle of love,

You will possess and be blessed by the marvellous blinding radiance

of love, you will be radiance.

A prayer, a pledge of grace or gratitude

A devout offering to the god of summer, Sunday and plenitude.

The Sunday people are looking at hope itself.

 

Is the deus Seurat himself, the artist, the artificer?

 

 

An infinite variety within a simple frame:

Countless variations upon a single theme!

 

Schwartz uses internal rhymes and repetitions to create a mantra-like chant. Seurat is at once painter, poet, architect, and alchemist:

 

 

The alchemist points his magical wand to describe and hold the Sun-

day’s gold,

Mixing his small alloys for long and long

Because he wants to hold the warm leisure and pleasure of the holiday

Within the fiery blaze and passionate patience of his gaze and mind

Now and forever: O happy, happy throng,

It is forever Sunday, summer, free: you are forever warm

Within his little seeds, his small black grains,

He builds and holds the power and the luxury

With which the summer Sunday serenely reigns.

 

Seurat’s technique was to use tiny juxtaposed dots of multi-coloured paint allow the viewer’s eye to blend colors optically, rather than having the colours physically blended on the canvas. Meyer Schapiro had written about the painting and had described Seurat’s technique as being like an alchemist’s. An alchemist transmutes the mundane into the wonderful; an artist uses gross material or plain words to create the numinous.

 

Although God or the painter threaded permanence into the picture in the frame, the painter himself did not enjoy permanence; Seurat died at the age of 31. The cause of his death is uncertain, variously attributed to a form of meningitis, pneumonia, infectious angina, and diphtheria. His son died two weeks later.

 

the painter who at twenty-five

Hardly suspects that in six years he will no longer be alive!

-His marvellous little marbles, beads, or molecules

Begin as points which the alchemy’s magic transforms

Into diamonds of blossoming radiance, possessing and blessing the

visual:

For look how the sun shines anew and newly, transfixed

By his passionate obsession with serenity

As he transforms the sunlight into the substance of pewter, glittering,

poised and grave, vivid as butter,

In glowing solidity, changeless, a gift, lifted to immortality.

 

Perhaps the painter does live on, despite his early death, in the beauty he created in his work. To quote Stevens’s “Sunday Morning” again: “Death is the mother of beauty”.

 

This is the nervous reality of time and time’s fire which turns

Whatever is into another thing, continually altering and changing all

identity, as time’s great fire burns (aspiring, flying and dying),

So that all things arise and fall, living, leaping and fading, falling, like

flames aspiring, flowering, flying and dying-

Within the uncontrollable blaze of time and of history:

Hence Seurat seeks within the cave of his gaze and mind to find

A permanent monument to Sunday’s simple delight; seeks deathless

joy through the eye’s immortality;

Strives patiently and passionately to surpass the fickle erratic quality

of living reality.

In emulation of the fullness of Nature maturing and enduring and

toiling with the chaos of actuality.

 

At the end of the poem, Schwartz acknowledges the sense of escapism that art allows, and also the poignancy of the fact that it is impossible really to enter the world of the painting. This is the final line of the poem:

 

They all stretch out their hands to me: but they are too far away!

 

Next week, I will analyse some more of Schwartz’s poetry and discuss themes that run through his work.

Rick Lucke

Chasing Illusion, Living Lies

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