Monthly Archives: May 2016

Liam Young and Guileless Political Optimism

Something is happening to opinion journalism. Never an entirely reputable business in any case, the format has witnessed a severe degradation in recent years. Doubtless the proliferation of new media and social media – where everyone can and must have an opinion on everything, with the most extreme and partisan voices often emerging as the most popular – has something to do with this. It has made household names of a few nobodies, but it has done more than that: it has given hope of similar advancement to a whole crowd of mediocre would-be writers. Continue reading

An Old Devil

When Kingsley Amis, author of the indispensable classic Lucky Jim, produced The Old Devils in 1986, a great number of people – among literary critics and also the reading public – thought he was past it. He and his associates were frequently called ‘fascist’ because of their perceived and actual Right-ward shift – they gloried in the term, holding ‘fascist lunches’, for example – and the man himself was caricatured as a misogynistic bore, whose talent and energy had been sapped by the over-application of drink and whose capacity for human warmth and lightness had decayed accordingly. How wrong they were; how wrong they turned out to be. Continue reading

The Experience of Martin Amis

In Martin Amis’s memoir, Experience, he includes verbatim reproductions of letters he sent as a teenager and young man, primarily to his father, to add depth to his own character and to provide an interesting dual-track narrative, which runs parallel to the more conventional course of the book. He confesses fairly early on in his contemporary account that the letters were written by a person he does not recognise, someone who is not even perceptibly him – though this could of course be the product of reflexive embarrassment at observing his youthful precocity after all of the years which had passed. Continue reading

The Holocaust and State Destruction

In Timothy Snyder’s new book, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, one of the most essential themes is that of the destruction of states by the Nazi regime, and the perils which can befall innocent groups – minorities and even those comprising majorities – when state destruction takes place. Continue reading

Civil Strife in Spain and Ukraine

There is said to be something which binds together instances of conflict and strife throughout the human experience. Maybe it is the suffering such things cause, which is a pain all societies experience and which is never entirely distinct from previous iterations; perhaps it is the required impulses of savagery – temporary though they may be – which are necessary in war; possibly this includes the fact that war shapes and forges societies, even if it does not affect their borders, simply by the force of its trauma and the fact of its happening at all. Continue reading

Decline and Fall?

The continued popularity and influence of Edward Gibbon’s classic work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire represents something of a conundrum. Long included as part of the canon of great historical writing (if such a thing can be said to exist), it is hardly perfect; indeed, there are many reasons – superficially at least – why it should be disregarded by contemporary students. Continue reading

A Specialist in Failure

Jeremy Corbyn’s term as leader of the Labour party has not been terribly accomplished. Short as it is, it already contains examples of staggering incompetence, which is almost as much of an obstacle to some voters as his inflexible ideology. In this he is not atypical; all politicians make mistakes, and all who aspire to government are capable of failing to exploit certain situations to their utmost. But Corbyn in many ways is a special case; he is almost uniquely unable to exploit favourable circumstances, to build up political momentum in any way. Continue reading