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George Orwell’s special Olympics message: Sports are bunk
02.10.2014
04:41 am

Topics:
Sports

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George Orwell

George Orwell
 
In 1945, as all combatant nations were recovering from World War II, a notable “friendly” football (soccer) match took place in England. Football had been put on ice since 1939, and fans and athletes alike were eager for a resumption of the action. A Russian armed forces team had scored impressive victories over both its British and French counterparts, and the time had come for a top Russian team to take on a top British club. And thus it was that on November 13, 1945, FC Dynamo Moscow arrived at Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea FC. The attendance was officially listed at 74,496, but the true attendance is usually estimated to be between 100,000 and 120,000. Chelsea led at halftime 2-0, but the Dynamos were able to make it 2-2, and each side tacked on another goal each before the end of play. (Four days later, the Dyamos walloped Cardiff City 10-1.)
 
Chelsea-Dynamos
A Chelsea shot narrowly misses against the Dynamos.
 
About a month after FC Dynamo Moscow went home, a prominent (but hardly famous) journalist for the Tribune named George Orwell published an acid reflection on the nature of nationalism and athletics. In the piece, titled “The Sporting Spirit,” Orwell argued that, contrary to all assurances that nation-based sports competitions foster brotherhood and understanding among the peoples of the world (you will hear endless statements from Sochi over the next two weeks), such events, if anything, generate a modicum of ill will among national groups. The whole thing, according to Orwell, has the flavor of the jingoism that is whipped up before all wars.

Orwell clearly had little interest in sports and is missing part of the picture of fandom for a national team (or even a regional team like our pro squads), but the part he gleaned is instructive, and the entire essay is worth reading. Here are some of the choice bits:
 

Now that the brief visit of the Dynamo football team has come to an end, it is possible to say publicly what many thinking people were saying privately before the Dynamos ever arrived. That is, that sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will, and that if such a visit as this had any effect at all on Anglo-Soviet relations, it could only be to make them slightly worse than before….

As soon as strong feelings of rivalry are aroused, the notion of playing the game according to the rules always vanishes. People want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated, and they forget that victory gained through cheating or through the intervention of the crowd is meaningless. Even when the spectators don’t intervene physically they try to influence the game by cheering their own side and “rattling” opposing players with boos and insults. Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting….

If you wanted to add to the vast fund of ill-will existing in the world at this moment, you could hardly do it better than by a series of football matches between Jews and Arabs, Germans and Czechs, Indians and British, Russians and Poles, and Italians and Jugoslavs, each match to be watched by a mixed audience of 100,000 spectators.

 
Orwell’s bleak conception of sports wouldn’t change over the years. A few years later, in his novel 1984, the following sentence appears: “Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.”

Here’s a brief Russian report on the Dynamos-Chelsea match. Note the throngs of spectators crowding along the sidelines.
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Buy the scarf George Orwell was wearing when he was shot in the Spanish Civil War
09.25.2013
10:16 am

Topics:
History

Tags:
George Orwell

George Orwell and his neckerchief
 
The Spanish Civil War was the primary turning point of George Orwell’s life. During the conflict, Orwell made a clear emotional commitment to socialism, and his writing afterward took on a focus and a purpose that it had previously lacked. As he wrote in his classic essay “Why I Write” in 1946, “The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.” Orwell’s greatest period as a writer (in my opinion) came after 1936 (although I do have a soft spot for Down and Out in Paris and London and some of the early essays).

Orwell was shot by a sniper in the neck while he was in Spain—unlike Hemingway, who was really there as a famous writer, Orwell, as an ordinary conscript, was in the trenches like any other soldier, alongside people who were almost certainly very unlike him. Curiously, given Orwell’s later status as a massive literary icon, his wounds in Spain play surprisingly little role in the creation of the myth (although it certainly didn’t hurt).

Here is Orwell’s description of being shot, from Homage to Catalonia:

I have been about ten days at the front when it happened. The whole experience of being hit by a bullet is very interesting and I think it is worth describing in detail.

-snip-

Roughly speaking it was the sensation of being at the centre of an explosion. There seemed to be a loud bang and a blinding flash of light all around me, and I felt a tremendous shock—no pain, only a violent shock, such as you get from an electric terminal; with it a sense of utter weakness, a feeling of being stricken and shrivelled up to nothing. The sandbags in front of me receded into immense distance. I fancy you would feel much the same if you were struck by lightning. I knew immediately that I was hit, but because of the seeming bang and flash I thought it was a rifle nearby that had gone off accidentally and shot me. All this happened in a space of time much less than a second. The next moment my knees crumpled up and I was falling, my head hitting the ground with a violent bang which, to my relief, did not hurt. I had a numb, dazed feeling, a consciousness of being very badly hurt, but no pain in the ordinary sense.

 
On Monday it was reported that the “neckscarf and two neckerchiefs” Orwell was wearing when he was shot are being put up for auction at Bloomsbury Auctions. The auction takes place on October 3, and the final price is expected to be £1200 (a little less than $2,000). I would be very surprised if it doesn’t go for a great deal more.

The neckwear looks rather handsome, don’t you think? I wouldn’t mind draping that around my neck.
Orwell's neckerchiefs
 
Here’s Bloomsbury’s description of the item:

A collection of 4 scarves and neckerchiefs belonging to George Orwell, accompanied by strong provenance, all with anti-facist images and colours, 2 c.400 x 400mm., 1 c.210 x 210mm. and 1 c.1120 x 190mm., this last with small hole and blood being the one worn by him near Huesca on 20/5/1937 when he was shot in the neck by a sniper, accompanying letter of provenance from Kathleen [Wigham] to Don [Bateman], the father of the vendor, describing how the items had been given to her husband Wilfred Wigham by Hugh Patrick O’Hare who had treated Orwell in the aftermath of the shooting, and had removed them prior to Orwell going to hospital

 
Here’s some rather silly footage from the BBC with actor Chris Langham pretending to be Orwell in grainy footage of Spain. It is a bit informative, though.

 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
The CIA funded the famous animated film of Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ you saw in school
09.11.2013
01:14 pm

Topics:
Animation
History

Tags:
George Orwell
CIA

image
 
Until videotapes replaced 16mm film projectors in the classroom in the mid-1980s, there was a very good chance that if you were British or American, that at least once, if not twice or more, you were going to see the animated 1954 version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm during your education. I can vividly recall being absolutely incredulous during a post-film discussion in high school, that the teacher we had seemed to have no idea, as in none at all, that Animal Farm was quite specifically a satire of the Russian revolution and the rise of Joseph Stalin. After I raised my hand to object and explained, no doubt with the cocky annoyance of a teenaged autodidact, that “Old Major” was a Karl Marx/Lenin figure, that “Napoleon” was Stalin, “Snowball” was Trotsky and so forth, she blithely dismissed what I said (she clearly had no idea of what I was talking about and so therefore had nothing to add) and remarked that “it could be one theory.”

No my dear, that would be the only fuckin’ theory. If you think American public schools are bad now, I put it to you that they’ve always been pretty shitty…

Animal Farm was directed by the husband and wife animation team of John Halas and Joy Batchelor. It is considered one of the greatest British films, something akin to a “serious” work from Disney. The film does not follow the events of the book very closely, especially the “hopeful” ending that Halas felt necessary to tack on. Orwell’s book ends with the animals numbly resigned to their exploitation by the porcine politburo in cahoots with the humans. This was considered too bleak and Halas wanted an upbeat ending. “You cannot send home millions in the audience being puzzled,” he said about the film in 1980.

But there is an interesting back story of how Animal Farm came to be made that most people are probably unaware of: The most famous British animated film ever made was in fact financed by the American CIA in an effort to encourage a negative view of the Soviet Union.

In 1951, using American taxpayer dollars, the CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination carried out obtaining the rights to the book from Sonia Orwell, the author’s widow, in an operation run by future Watergate criminal E. Howard Hunt. Two members of the Psychological Warfare Workshop staff who were working in undercover in Hollywood made the arrangements. To thank Mrs. Orwell, the CIA arranged for her to meet actor Clark Gable.

Hunt chose as the film’s producer, Louis De Rochemont, the creator of the famed “March of Time” newsreel journalism films and De Rochemont had final say over all creative matters (Hunt worked for De Rochemont when he was younger). Over 80 animators worked on the film, including three Disney animators who were not credited, probably because they didn’t want to piss off Uncle Walt. Two of them went on to work on Yellow Submarine and Watership Down.

Vivien Halas, the daughter of the film’s directors, believes that her parents were innocent of knowing that the CIA was involved with the project:

“I don’t believe that my parents were aware of any CIA involvement at the time. Frances reminded me that, in the early 1950s, the CIA was not regarded with the same scorn as today. My father dismissed the idea, but my mother felt annoyed.” John Halas and Joy Batchelor would go on to do the Jackson 5ive and The Osmonds cartoons. Louis De Rochemont became paranoid about the CIA bugging him late in his life.

The film was completed in 1954 and distributed worldwide the following year, the first British animated feature ever to be so widely seen. Prints were made for schools and libraries the world over by the United States Information Agency (USIA). If you are over the age of 35 and saw the film in school, there is a very high likelihood that US taxpayer’s dollars paid for the print you saw. The animated Animal Farm, due to the whole “pigs are unclean” thing, was also thought to be effective anti-Soviet propaganda in the Middle East.

On the flip-side, the Soviet spin on Orwell’s 1984 is that the book’s nightmarish depiction of constant state surveillance was about everyday life in America.

This is all so Orwellian, it’s making my head spin…

Read the full story in Orwell Subverted: The CIA and the Filming of Animal Farm

The cartoon that came in from the cold (The Guardian)

How Big Brothers used Orwell to fight the cold war (The Guardian)

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Party Hats for Big Brother on George Orwell’s 110th birthday


 
Festively decorated surveillance camera in Utrecht, Netherlands on Tuesday in honor of George Orwell’s birthday

Yesterday the Dutch city of Utrecht celebrated George Orwell’s 110th birthday by placing colorful party hats on surveillance cameras in the city center. Orwell’s novel 1984, published in 1949, describes a futuristic world in which the all-powerful government, Big Brother, keeps its citizens under close surveillance in public and in their homes.

Via Front 404

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Leave a comment
Writers on Writing: Martin Amis, Malcolm Gladwell, Joan Didion, Jonathan Franzen and more

etirwiyhw.jpg
 
Why I Write was George Orwell’s essay answering that perennial question asked of most authors and novelists.

Orwell was a 5-year-old when he first thought of becoming a writer. It was an idea he clung to throughout his childhood—writing stories in his head, rather on paper, imitating the styles of his favorite authors. Then, between the ages of seveteen and 25, Orwell attempted to abandon his vocation.

He joined the Imperial Indian Police. He affected a philistinism. Denounced literature, and literary magazines—in particular the Adelphi, which he considered ‘scurrilous,’ and used for target practice. Ironically, it was the Adelphi that later gave Orwell his first encouragement as a writer, publishing some of his early essays under his name Eric Blair.

It was only on his return to England that Orwell started writing in earnest. He apprenticed himself, writing every day, developing a style, and submitting articles to magazines.

Writing, he discovered, was something he had to do.

Most authors would say the same: writing is something they have to do.

It’s the having to do it that starts them off. But it’s the keeping to it that is the difficult part.

I once asked the playwright Peter McDougall, ‘How do you write?’ ‘You write about what you know,’ he replied. I told him I had been to half-a-dozen funerals before I was twelve. ‘There you go—that’s what you should write about.’

But I was scared, because it meant writing about how I felt, how I thought. It meant revealing something about myself that I didn’t necessarily want to share. And that’s a major hurdle for writers starting out—having the nerve to put down on paper their true thoughts and feelings.

The author Max Frisch once wrote, “a writer only betrays himself.” Which is true, for a writer must be honest enough to tell the truth no matter how painful. And that was something Orwell knew.

In this short selection of interviews conducted by Charlie Rose, authors Martin Amis, Zadie Smith, Malcolm Gladwell, Joan Didion, Jonathan Franzen and Fran Lebowitz give their answers to the question ‘How do you write?’ They also answer that other favorite, ‘Where do ideas come from?’ and explain how best to write successfully.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘George Orwell A LIfe in Pictures’: Essential documentary on the author of ‘1984’

george_orwell_typing
 
There is no footage of George Orwell, no recordings of his voice, just assorted photographs, and of course, his writing, his brilliant writing, which forms the basis of this Emmy award-winning documentary George Orwell - A Life in Pictures.

This documentary recreates Orwell’s life through a series of imaginary film clips, fictional archive news stories, and the sort of documentary films Orwell may have made. Chris Langham is Orwell and he brings a warmth, intelligence and humanity to the role.

Best known for his star performance in The Thick of It, and his work with Spike Milligan and The Muppets, Langham has become a controversial figure of late as he was sent to gaol in 2005 for downloading hard core child pornography. He said he did it for research, for a character he was playing on a TV series. Well, you would, wouldn’t? You’re not going to say it was just for the hell-of-it or, you wanted to knock one out, are you? But Langham has served his time and accepted responsibility for his actions. However, this knowledge can make this excellent documentary problematic to watch, though Langham’s performance is superb, and the content of this documentary - George Orwell’s writing -  essential viewing.

Though this all perhaps raises a bigger question, as to whether creative works can be viewed separately from the lives of its creators? Can we read William Burroughs without considering the senseless murder of his wife, or his use of young boys for sex? Can we read Philip Larkin’s poetry without thinking about his racism? Or, look at Eric Gill’s vast output - from religious sculpture to typeface - without thinking he sexually abused his daughters and fucked the family pets? Unlike these reprobates, Langham has served his time, and all we can do is to be aware of what has happened, before choosing our own response to it.

Ultimately, the issue is perhaps subverted by the importance and quality of Orwell’s writing, which Langham brings brilliantly to life.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Shameless Tory Lies?: A spoonful of Twaddle helps the Clap-trap go down

a_spoonful_twaddle_alan_rogerson
 
It was George Orwell who explained that “Political language. . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Well, there’s certainly been a lot of wind expelled by the Conservatives this week in their lap dog press.

The Daily Twaddle-graph has been putting about a bogus claim that two-thirds of British millionaires have become tax exiles because of the last Labour government’s introduction of a 50% tax on salaries over £150,000.

The paper quotes Tory MP, Harriet Baldwin who claims the 50p tax led to a “cull” of millionaires and has cost up to £7billion in lost revenue.

Since most of us have never heard of Ms. Baldwin, let me explain who she is: “the backbencher with blond hair and a brown nose,” who once presented “a magnificent display of oleaginous toadying” during prime minister’s questions when she inquired of Mr. Cameron, ‘Can I praise the prime minister’s staunch support …?’

Ms. Baldwin’s tax claims are loosely based on figures released by the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs, which apparently reveal a disparity between the number of millionaires paying tax on their incomes.

The figures show that more than 16,000 people declared an annual income of more than £1 million for the 2009-10 tax year.

But after the previous Labour government introduced the new 50 pence in the pound top rate of income tax shortly before the 2010 General Election, only 6,000 people declared an annual income of more than £1 million.

This figure has now risen to 10,000 after current Chancellor George Osborne announced in his budget speech in March 2012, there will be a reduction in the top tax rate to 45 pence commencing in April 2013.

Sniffing the whiff of a story, the Conservatives seized on this information to claim that “increasing the highest rate of tax actually led to a loss in revenues for the Government.” As the Daily Telegraph reported:

It is believed that rich Britons moved abroad or took steps to avoid paying the new levy by reducing their taxable incomes.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, announced in the Budget earlier this year that the 50p top rate will be reduced to 45p from next April.

Since the announcement, the number of people declaring annual incomes of more than £1 million has risen to 10,000.

However, the number of million-pound earners is still far below the level recorded even at the height of the recession and financial crisis.

Last night, Harriet Baldwin, the Conservative MP who uncovered the latest figures, said: “Labour’s ideological tax hike led to a tax cull of millionaires. Far from raising funds, it actually cost the UK £7 billion in lost tax revenue.

“Labour now needs to admit that their policies resulted in millionaires paying less tax and come clean about whether they would reintroduce this failed policy if they were in power.”

This is a case of 2 + 2 = 5.

Which is something we may come to expect from Harriett Baldwin who, as a novice MP, has previously been corrected on her spurious claims about workless households.

But it’s not just Baldwin, the Daily Telegraph has to take a good part of the blame for printing such a “bizarre”, “bogus” and misleading story.

As Richard Murphy, at Tax Research, points out that although there was indeed 16,000 millionaires in 2009-2010, and only 6,000 a year later, this is because:

...£18 billion of income was ‘forestalled’ from 2010-11 unto 2009-10 to avoid the 50p income tax rate. That meant income was simply shifted from the later year into the earlier year to get round the additional tax charge.

In round sums the above data shows those earning more than £150,000 paid tax of £33 billion in 2010-11, implying taxable income of about £88 billion, based on the data (not all will be taxed at 50%, of course).
The previous year the income of those earning over £150,000 was about £121 billion.

Forestalling would explain maybe £18 billion of this change. Even the Treasury agreed that. But remember that means an adjustment is needed to both years. In other words 2009-10 was overstated by £18 billion. It should have been £103 billion as a result. And 2010-11 was understated by £18 billion. It should have been £106 billion after the forestalling effect was removed.

So there was actually an increase in income in 2010-11 for those earning over £150,000 but for a massive and one off exercise in tax avoidance. And there was no impact at all of people leaving the country.

And the Telegraph story is utterly bogus.

The Tory government was aware of this forestalling on the £18 billion of income, and as far back as March 2012, Faisal Islam explained this in his his report on George Osborne’s budget speech for Channel 4 News:

Here’s an amazing fact. Apart from the leap in the personal tax allowance, what was the largest annual tax cut today? Expected tax avoidance this year.

In fact you may have missed the mini fiscal stimulus at the heart of this Budget. There will be a £3bn fiscal loosening over the next year, followed by a £3bn tightening in the following years. What may be surprising is that this is almost entirely caused by £2.4bn of tax avoidance from Britain’s rich this year, that is then unwound in later years. Yes, this is the OBR’s expectation in this financial year that the rich will not pay out £6.5bn of dividends and bonuses in this tax year, but shift it into April 2013 when it attracts the 45p tax rate. Perfectly legal.

This follows on from that truly amazing staistic that I revealed on Channel 4 News on Monday. The Chancellor confirmed in his speech that Britain’s rich moved a staggering £16bn of dividends and bonuses. The HMRC report says £16-£18bn. My report on Monday put this “forestalling” at £18-20bn.

So the fact remains that the decision on the 50p rate was made on the basis of one year’s highly distorted data. Now the chancellor’s take on this was that avoidance at this level shows that the tax didn’t work. But what he didn’t say was that the forestalling effect was a one-off. The HMRC report does try to strip out the impact of forestalling and analyse other “behavioural impacts”.

Harriet Baldwin’s comments are not only misleading they are actually false.

There has been no “cull” of millionaires.

Two-thirds of British millionaires have not become “tax exiles.”

It is in fact - shock horror - Harriet’s party, the Conservatives who are helping Britain’s millionaires avoid tax, by allowing them to forestall until the 45p tax rate arrives in 2013.

This means the any lost tax is solely down to the forestalling of taxes due on £18-£20 billion.

So, it the Tories’ “policies resulted in millionaires paying less tax” NOT Labour’s 50p tax rate.

Worse, while the Tories allow their rich chums to forestall on paying the correct rate on tax, they are brutally cutting financial support to essential welfare services.

All of this tax avoidance may be legal but it hardly sits with Cameron’s view of “Big Society”, and his hopes to make “poverty history.” Well he’s certainly a long way from ever achieving this fantasy, when he supports tax cuts for the rich and welfare cuts for the poor.

Let’s not forget as the Guardian has pointed out, Cameron has already sanctioned a series of £20 billion welfare cuts by 2014 that will, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies:

...throw 80,000 children back into poverty each year, or 300,000 over the lifetime of the parliament. The Department for Work and Pensions puts the number of children currently in poverty at 27%, or 3.6 million children, two thirds of them living in working families; by 2020 it will be 4.2 million.

...

The IMF global outlook reported [in October] that for every pound that is cut, GDP will contract by up to £1.70. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says the annual cost to the UK’s GDP of child poverty is £25bn, while only £200m will be saved by limiting child benefit to two children. If it sounds like madness, it is.

If the Tory press has to stoop to publishing “bizarre” and “bogus” stories to convince the public that the Rich should not be taxed, then the Conservatives are not only morally bankrupt, they are NOT fit to govern any country. And that’s the real story the Daily Telegraph should have published.
 
Illustration (and inspiration for headline) by Alan Rogerson.

You can see and buy more of Alan’s excellent work at his site Baggelboy.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Global Crisis: the Convergence of Marx, Orwell and Kafka


 
A guest post from our esteemed, super-smart friend, Charles Hugh Smith, publisher of the Of Twos Minds blog and author of the new book, Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change
 
The global crisis is best understood as the convergence of the modern trends identified by Marx, Orwell and Kafka. Let’s start with Franz Kafka, the writer (1883-1924) who most eloquently captured the systemic injustices of all powerful bureaucracies—the alienation experienced by the hapless citizen enmeshed in the bureaucratic web, petty officialdom’s mindless persecutions of the innocent, and the intrinsic absurdity of the centralized State best expressed in this phrase: “We expect errors, not justice.”

If this isn’t the most insightful summary of the Eurozone debacle, then what is? A lawyer by training and practice, Kafka understood that the the more powerful and entrenched the bureaucracy, the greater the collateral damage rained on the innocent, and the more extreme the perversion of justice.

The entire global financial system is Kafkaesque: the bureaucracies of the Central State have two intertwined goals: protect the financial Elites from the consequences of their parasitic predation, and protect their own power and perquisites.

While Marx understood the predatory, parasitic nature of Monopoly Capitalism, he did not anticipate the State’s partnering with Cartel/Crony Capitalism; in effect, the State has appropriated the appropriators, stripmining the citizenry to protect the financial sector from the consequences of their “business model” (leverage, fraud, embezzlement and the misrepresentation of risk). But the State doesn’t merely enable (“regulate”) the predation of financiers; it also stripmines the citizenry to fund its own expansion into every nook and cranny of civil society.

This is where Orwell enters the convergence, for the State masks its stripmining and power grab with deliciously Orwellian misdirections such as “the People’s Party,” “democratic socialism,” and so on.

Orwell understood the State’s ontological imperative is expansion, to the point where it controls every level of community, markets and society. Once the State escapes the control of the citizenry, it is free to exploit them in a parasitic predation that is the mirror-image of Monopoly capital. For what is the State but a monopoly of force, coercion, data manipulation and the regulation of private monopolies?

What is the EU bureaucracy in Brussels but the perfection of a stateless State?

As Kafka divined, centralized bureaucracy has the capacity for both Orwellian obfuscation (anyone read those 1,300-page Congressional bills other than those gaming the system for their private benefit?) and systemic avarice and injustice.

The convergence boils down to this: it would be impossible to loot this much wealth if the State didn’t exist to enforce the “rules” of parasitic predation. In China, the Elite’s looting proceeds along somewhat different rules from the looting of Europe and the U.S., but the end result is the same in all financialized, centrally managed economies: an expansive kleptocracy best understood as the convergence of Marx, Orwell and Kafka.

This has been a guest post from Charles Hugh Smith, publisher of the Of Twos Minds blog and author of the new book, Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The Inner Man: A review of the first biography on J G Ballard

jgballardshepperton
 
I wonder what imagined slight led John Baxter to write such an insidious biography on J G Ballard? Does Baxter, a failed science fiction writer, who started his short-lived career around the same time as Ballard, have some deep-seated grudge against the guru of suburbia that his new biography The Inner Man - The Life of J G Ballard was aimed to settle? From its opening introduction, which begins with Baxter describing Ballard soliciting ‘automobile porn’ from his Danish translator, one wonders what exactly is Baxter’s intention, other than to diminish Ballard’s talent and originality.

If we are to believe Baxter then Ballard was an ad-man who got lucky, a psychopath scarred by childhood experiences as a prisoner of war, his whole life and career merely an exercise in skillful “image management”.

While in person Ballard had “the voice of a born advertiser, paradoxically preaching a jihad against commerce: the contradiction at the heart of Jim’s life”. Even his ambition to become a science-fiction writer could be seen as “an aspect of his psychopathology, for it echoes the hostility of someone trying to hide a physical or psychological dysfunction - epilepsy, dyslexia, illiteracy”.

Baxter continues:

In person, Jim presented a veneer of good-fellowship, slick as Formica and just as impermeable…

...This reflexive affability disguised a troubled personality that sometimes expressed itself in physical violence…

...Jim never denied that his psychology bordered on the psychopathic.

Really? But he never admitted it either. And as for the “physical violence” Baxter supplies no evidence, no eye-witnesseses, other than a now refuted quote from author Michael Moorcock. So what are we to make of Baxter’s book?

There is something interesting going on here, Baxter has created a fictional biography filled with factoids - things that look like facts, sound like facts, but are in truth fictions. It’s the kind of technique mastered by the likes of Adam Curtis or the Daily Mail, where unrelated facts are linked to support strange or spurious arguments.  Sadly, The Inner Man is riddled with such factoids, with Baxter concluding:

Jim’s skill was to speculate and fantasize, evade and lie. ‘Truth’ was not a word he regarded with much respect, least of all in describing and explaining his life. In its stead, he deployed the psychopath’s reverence for the instant present, for frenzy, for the divine, and for those forces, natural and unnatural, that are forever slipping beyond our control.

The whole biography is like an ident-i-kit photograph constructed by a man suffering from the worst affects of a bad acid trip - the image may contain likenesses of eyes, nose and mouth, but the whole is disturbingly inhuman.

There is no warmth to his vision of Ballard, everything is seen as a cynical ploy by a man who is cast as an “intellectual thug”, and whose “paramount skill was his ad man’s ability to remarket himself.” There is no explanation as to how he coped with bringing up 3 children after his wife’s tragic death while on family holiday in Spain. How he buried her in a little Spanish cemetery, then drove home with the children, having to “pull over to weep uncontrollably.”

Not surprisingly, Ballard’s children, and his partner Claire Walsh, did not take part in Baxter’s cut and paste assemblage. Moreover, there are no quotes from any of Ballard’s books, only brief synopses, which only reminded me of Terry Johnson’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe from his play Insignificance, where the glamorous star can recite Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but hasn’t a clue what it means. Baxter can sub Ballard’s novels, but he has no real understanding of what they are about.

There are also some glaring mistakes - Eduardo Paolozzi was not a “burly Glaswegian” but was born in Leith, Edinburgh. It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said, “When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you,” and not H. G. Wells. If Baxter (and his editors) can’t get the verifiable facts correct, why should we believe him on any of his unsubstantiated assertions?

This is why Baxter’s biography fails.

He also fails to see Ballard and his work within a wider cultural perspective. Before Ballard and his family were imprisoned at the camp in the Lunghua, George Orwell predicted the world that Ballard was to write about and make his home for most of his life, in his 1941 essay “England Your England”:

The place to look for the germs of the future England is in the light-industry areas along the arterial roads. In Slough, Dagenham, Barnet, Letchworth, Hayes - everywhere, indeed, on the outskirts of great towns - the old pattern is gradually changing into something new. In those vast new wildernesses of glass and brick the sharp distinctions of the older kind of town, with its slums and mansions, or of the country, with its manor houses and squalid cottages, no longer exist. There are wide gradations of income but it is the same kind of life that is being lived at different levels, in labor-saving flats or council houses, along the concrete roads and in the naked democracy of the swimming-pools. It is a rather restless, cultureless life, centering round tinned food Picture Post, the radio and the internal combustion engine. It is a civilization in which children grow up with an intimate knowledge of magnetoes and in complete ignorance of the Bible. To that civilization belong the people who are most at home in and most definitely of the modern world, the technicians and higher paid skilled workers, the airmen and their mechanics, the radio experts, film producers, popular journalists and industrial chemists. They are the indeterminate stratum at which the older class distinctions are beginning to break down.

Orwell could have been describing Ballard’s future vision of Shepperton - a world of swimming pools, airmen, film producers, industrial chemists, who live on the arterial roads, on the outskirts of a great town.

J G Ballard deserves a good, solid, informed biography, unfortunately, John Baxter’s The Inner Man - The Life of J G Ballard is not it.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Postcards from J G Ballard


 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Edwardians in Color

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The long summers of Edwardian England were a product of the 1920’s imagination, when those who had been children during that decade looked fondly back to a time of seeming innocence. This in part became a theme central to a generation of British artists and writers - Christopher Isherwood, W. H. Auden, Nancy Mitford, George Orwell, Francis Bacon, Evelyn Waugh - all Edwardian children, who produced work that reflected the loss of certainty and identity caused by the Great War.

These photographs of Edwardians in color capture some of the wistful nostalgia that the ubiquity of cameras and film usage helped develop during the century.
 
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Previously on Dangerous Minds

Color Photographs of Russia from a Century Ago


 
Via How to be a Retronaut
 
More Edwardians in color, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
George Orwell’s recipe for Christmas pudding
12.23.2010
07:30 pm

Topics:
Food
Literature

Tags:
George Orwell
Christmas pudding

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1n 1946 George Orwell was commissioned by the British Council to write about food in Britain. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Britain was in the middle of a period of severe food rationing and Orwell’s manuscript, “British Cookery,” was seen as being a celebration of culinary extravagance at a time of enforced austerity. It was never published.

In this excerpt from “British Cookery,” Orwell shares a recipe for Christmas pudding. Suet is a critical ingredient in this particular pudding and there’s really no substitute for it. Butter or lard just won’t do. Unfortunately, obtaining suet may be difficult in your neighborhood. You can find it at some butcher shops. Good luck.

In the second half of the midday meal we come upon one of the greatest glories of British cookery—its puddings. The number of these is so enormous that it would be impossible to give an exhaustive list, but, putting aside stewed fruits, British puddings can be classified under three main heads: suet puddings, pies and tarts, and milk puddings.

Suet crust, which appears in innumerable combinations, and enters into savoury dishes as well as sweet ones, is simply ordinary pastry crust with chopped beef suet substituted for the butter or lard. It can be baked, but more often is boiled in a cloth or steamed in a basin covered with a cloth. Far and away the best of all the suet puddings is plum pudding, which is an extremely rich, elaborate and expensive dish, and is eaten by everyone in Britain at Christmas time, though not often at other times of the year. In simpler kinds of pudding the suet crust is sweetened with sugar and stuck full of figs, dates, currants or raisins, or it is flavoured with ginger or orange marmalade, or it is used as a casing for stewed apples or gooseberries, or it is rolled round successive layers of jam into a cylindrical shape which is called roly-poly pudding, or it is eaten in plain slices with treacle poured over it. One of the best forms of suet pudding is the boiled apple dumpling. The core is removed from a large apple, the cavity is filled up with brown sugar, and the apple is covered all over with a thin layer of suet crust, tied tightly into a cloth, and boiled.”

Recipe after the jump…

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
‘We Know Who You Are’
05.04.2010
09:58 pm

Topics:
Current Events

Tags:
George Orwell

 
Orwellian tax amnesty commercial as seen in Pennsylvania.

Thank you Stephen M. Foland!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Kabul’s Big Brotherization

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“The suspect is followed from camera to camera, from every angle of view—until they’re identified as a threat or not.”  Spotted over at Wired’s Danger Room, the shape of the Afghanistan to come:

Surveillance cameras have a pretty lousy track record of fighting terrorism and crime, here in the West.  But that hasn?

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment