Monday, June 27, 2005

Listening to Mr Eliot's sermons

T.S.Eliot seems to be utterly out of fashion which is most unfortunate. Of course the long story of his reputation is in itself highly interesting: his place, the way his place has been seen in the modernist pantheon is an independently fascinating cultural theme. The way the Waste Land seemed to speak directly to the 1920's high brow reading public, that clear, triumphant and pure poetry of J. Alfred Prufrock in the middle of Europe's hideous collapse in 1917. And not least Tradition and Individual Talent, its perverse but forcefully put and highly misleading arguments - a romantic praising classicism (in Eliot's terms, that is). Also highly interesting is his complicated, even tortured relationship with his poetry, his tendency to mislead and hide his path. His conservatism, his Christianity, his very unpleasant anti-semitism, his definite anti-postmodern thinking (ceaseless hankering after authority) have likely caused this present disfavour. All this seems nevertheless quite beside the point: you still listen with high enjoyment and respect to this strange music and strange thoughts, this eye witness to the death of a civilization: "I had not thought death had undone so many."

Monday, June 20, 2005

A touch of Betjeman as the evening comes

There is nothing like verse from Betjeman to lighten up your mind – listen to this:

Kirkby with Muckby-cum-Sparrowby-cum-Spinx
Is down a long lane in the county of Lincs,
And often on Wednesdays, well-harnessed and spruce,
I would drive into Wiss over Winderby Sluice.

A whacking great sunset bathed level and drain
From Kirkby with Muckby to Beckby-on-Bain,
And I saw, as I journeyed, my marketing done
Old Caistorby tower take the last of the sun.


Suicide on Junction Road Station after
Abstention from Evening Communion in North London

With the roar of the gas my heart gives a shout -
To Jehovah Tsidkenu the praise!
Bracket and bracket go blazon it out
In this Evangelical haze!

Jehovah Jireh! the arches ring,
The Mintons glisten, and grand
Are the surpliced boys as they sweetly sing
On the threshold of glory land.

Jehovah Nisi! from Tufnell Park,
Five minutes to Junction Road,
Through grey brick Gothic and London dark,
And my sins, a fearful load.

Six on the upside! six on the down side!
One gaslight in the Booking Hall
And a thousand sins on this lonely station -
What shall I do with them all?

Or a what about this - Group Life: Lechforth - such wicked, wicked satire:

Tell me Pippididdledum,
Tell me how the children are.
Working each for weal of all
After what you said.
Barry's on the common far
Pedalling the Kiddie Kar.
Ann has had a laxative
And Alured is dead.

They may say he is a minor poet, but one does wonder... When he was not sentimental he was amazing.

The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel

He sipped at a weak hock and seltzer
As he gazed at the London skies
Through the Nottingham lace of the curtains
Or was it his bees-winged eyes?

To the right and before him Pont Street
Did tower in her new built red,
As hard as the morning gaslight
That shone on his unmade bed,

I want some more hock in my seltzer,
And Robbie, please give me your hand -
Is this the end or beginning?
How can I understand?

So you've brought me the latest Yellow Book:
And Buchan has got in it now:
Approval of what is approved of
Is as false as a well-kept vow.

More hock, Robbie - where is the seltzer?
Dear boy, pull again at the bell!
They are all little better than cretins,
Though this is the Cadogan Hotel.

One astrakhan coat is at Willis's -
Another one's at the Savoy:
Do fetch my morocco portmanteau,
And bring them on later, dear boy.

A thump, and a murmur of voices -
( Oh why must they make such a din?)
As the door of the bedroom swung open

Mr. Woilde, we'ave come for tew take yew
Where felons and criminals dwell:
We must ask yew tew leave with us quoietly
For this is the Cadogan Hotel.

He rose, and he put down The Yellow Book.
He staggered - and, terrible-eyed,
He brushed past the palms on the staircase
And was helped to a hansom outside.

These amazing lines from his early poetry - light yes, but light does not mean unserious. This is not to say that he was serious, but there is high seriousness in great skill. And greatly skilled he was.

What is to be done or a quietist alarmed by modern politics

Something originally written in my diary at DailyKos:

At first 1989 seemed like the defining moment: walls came tumbling down. Muscular liberalism was vindicated: Kennan, Truman, Marshall. And even Churchill, Eisenhower and Adenauer backed up of course by domestic social democracy and strong labour movements. American forcefulness and European engagement had worked their overwhelming combination against the hostile pseudo-stalinist structures in the East. Maybe history was not ending but it seemed as if the first baby steps were being taken towards ending history. Visible progress in front of our very eyes - reason and enlightenment finally on the march.

But now the defining moment seems actually to be Monica Lewinsky and the morally bankrupt and cynical response towards the psychopatic attack of 9/11 as encapsulated in the presidential election of 2004, the scary symbol of our times. If you would rationally evaluate Kerry and Bush campaigns from the loosest of common perspectives: some sort of arrangement of market economy, the most basic liberal democratic values of liberty and equality, a respect for the right to pursuit happiness - if you would do only that, there would still be no competition. The Kerry campaign did not have all the answers and it had many very bad answers, but no comparison: if reason and information would be the determing factors, Kerry would have annihilated Bush even more throughly than Johnson destroyed Goldwater. But Kerry lost. Faith prevailed over reason, passion conquered rationality, blatant disinformation was more effective than genuine information.

For me as a liberal (more in the classical European sense though in local politics I am a sort of pragmatic, agnostic social democrat) the election was a sickening process. The Bush administration's policies after 9/11 have been a horrible moral bankrupty, the rational and effective Euro-Atlantic alliance is now broken, the centre cannot hold any longer. How did the original theory go? That people are fundamentally rational and enlightened and need only to be liberated from the reactionary structures and they would then establish a humane society based on compassion and reason? But this is clearly not so. History seems to be not only a crime but a punishment for a crime: reactionary structures are not only a cause, they are also a concequence.

At first it seemed that capitalism necessitated liberalism and that liberalism in turn necessitated social democracy which would then control the worst excesses and instabilities of the markets. But we gravitate towards power structures, not towards reason: what best protects capital has always proven to be the most successful historical arrengement. For a time it was Protestantantism, then followed an upgraded version with Enlightenment and Liberalism and during the dark times of the early 20th century capitalism's inherent instability even required social democracy for its protection. But those times are long over now.

Now we have the mindless entertainment industry (backed up by a very unequal and steadily worsening educational system) and morally and intellectually castrated fundamentalist religion to safeguard capital which is and has been for the last 600 hundred years the highest form of power in our civilization. In the election intelligence and information pointed to one direction and one direction only, there was no comparison: Kerry was infinitely the better answer intellectually and rationally than Bush. But intellect and reason do not guide the mankind as a collective: blind passion and fear do. Stupidity is programmed to overcome intelligence.

So, what is to be done? Who would actually know? History is a chaotic process and no-one can determine the long term concequences of action. But we do have a moral imperative to act even if perpetually outnumbered and outgunned. For me personally the immediate reaction has been a sort of political radicalization and re-examination of my previous cold war liberalism. Fundamentally my values are still the same: to me anti-communism is still exactly as heroic and self-evident than anti-fascism and Joe McArthy the greatest gift ever to Soviet Union (a state founded and governed by terror and torture) - but it seems that what I thought was the fundamental engine of the postwar era, was not the fundamental engine.

The military- industrial complex is a self-perpetuating machine: it was a lucky co-incidence that the Soviet empire happened to be as brutal and as anti-liberal as Nazi Germany, but the most important thing was that it was also hostile to capital and private investment. And now there are no Trumans or Kennedys needed to guide and lead the West. What we have now left is the naked power and unreason, no velvet gloves necessary any more: Bush and Cheney with their short sightedness, with their distructive and self-defeating policies, their moral bankruptcy, their blind agency of global market structures. The sheer irrationality and emptiness of capitalism which I now fear is not a cause but a concequence. So, what is to be done?

Friday, June 17, 2005

Why English?

To be honest, I prefer it in some ways to my native Finnish. Though I do think it largely gets wasted on the native speakers: for them it is relatively boring routine, it is also routinely raped by hundreds of millions of business users every day. But it is the language of Shakespeare, the scariest, most comprehensive writer I know - and of an amazing and quite unique literary tradition. The thing I most love is the vocabulary with its immense choice of nuance and tone. This is due to another lovely quality: the open nature of English, any word can be absorbed into it, almost anything goes. This is not to say I don't love Finnish: it is a beautiful strange language, dark, heavy, emotional. English is to me a light, intellectual and rational language - in many ways the opposite of Finnish, always more flexible but sometimes more emotionally shallow language. Purely subjective opinions, of course, and as a non-native speaker my relationship with English is more distant, more aesthetic, more intellectual, more humorous also which naturally colours my understanding of it. It simply exhilarates me!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The way we live now

Back at home after a busy day of doing nothing - luckily there is a broadband connection subsidized by my company to enable doing nothing also here. Today happens to be my birthday: 37 years now. Could not have imagined this society, this way of living during those slow years in the middle of the quiet Finnish countryside in the 70's. Often darknesses at noon, but often also bright days in the midst of a settled society, settled, secure ways of living. By my own standards I have succeeded, I have found my person and my place, my voice, private happiness in this transitory age and in this superficial, busy, stressful society. Still, there is so much to do, or so much not to do; as far as I understand the only worthwhile thing to do is to slow down, to stand still, to contemplate the long views, this beautiful but cold landscape. In this I haven't succeeded yet - there have been other priorities, more immediate, and at times desperate, goals. Such a lovely season to be born in: the subarctic nature joyfully bursting into life, the sun making everyone mad and energetic, celebrating the short high season. So, discordant, contradictory notes even here, even today, no harmony yet reached: the way we live now.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Botanist on Alp

Why Wallace Stevens, you may ask. Well, his early poems are beyond words: such amazing lightness of language handling such profound themes - uniting irony and humor and dancelike, capricious rhytms with deep cultural observations. Naturally the academia has more or less sidestepped the poetic side of his poetry and concentrated on his "meaning" and "message" whether in a post-modern or in more old fashioned format. I suspect that the thing that unites academic critics is an intense dislike of all good literature and any virtuosity in writing.

Hmm, enough of me - listen to this:

"No more phrases, Swenson: I was once
A hunter of those sovereigns of the soul
And savings banks, Fides, the sculptor's price,
All eyes and size, and galled Justitia,
Trained to poise the tables of the law"...

or to this:

"That would be waving and that would be crying,
Crying and shouting and meaning farewell,
Farewell in the eyes and farewell at the centre,
Just to stand still without moving a hand."

By far the greatest of that great first modernist generation - maybe also in some way the least modern of them and least dated. Or not at all dated when it comes to this amazing, serious, light hearted music of his early poetry.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The first post or Lions in Sweden

No more phrases, Swenson: I was once...

Somehow I doubt that I will be much interested in updating this blog. Blogs seem to be about broadcasting - I'm more of a reader than writer, an attendant lord, at most, and I doubt if my personality is of interest to anyone else but myself and maybe for a few other people who will not need a blog to stay updated. But perhaps a venue for some occasional public thoughts, more a discipline for thinking than in the sense of being in any real way "public". We'll see.