In Sebastian Faulks’ novel Engleby, a significant scene occurs early on, during a university interview. Faulks’ protagonist, the titular character, is the interview candidate. Engleby is a prospective student of literature; a discerning one, to his own mind. And in the course of things, he is asked to make a comparison between the writing of T. S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence. Engleby, an abrasive, arrogant young man, does not believe there is much to compare. Continue reading
Review – This Is Not Propaganda by Peter Pomerantsev
We live in a golden age not of fact, but of fiction. The possibilities of new media have led to an embarrassment of riches. Where once there was a lack of information, there is now overabundance, with half of the world’s population possessing access to the internet, and the sum of human knowledge accessible from a device most in the rich world carry in their pockets, and replace for an almost trivial sum when its screen gets scratched. Continue reading
Recently, and for the first time, I read a copy of Lewis Carroll’s famous book for children Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Its pleasure was undimmed by my (relatively) advanced age, and the whole experience was genuinely delightful. I immediately read Through the Looking-Glass, its successor. Continue reading
‘It is important for the historian not only to write, but to write well.’ Thus ran a particularly controversial essay title which was recently put to history students sitting their Finals at one of our most ancient universities. This question provoked what might at first glance seem a surprising level of controversy. Continue reading
Review – Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev
For a generation such as mine, which attained political consciousness after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet system in the last century, it can sometimes seem strange that the iron fist of dictatorship persists in this era. New technologies have made speech, dissent and discourse practical possibilities for many in nations previously in thrall to tyranny. Satire and dark humour thrive in the shadow of oppression and even horror – much can be made funny even when contemplating the rise and expansion of Islamic State, for example – and dictators are, or so we believe, ever fearful of the destructive power of a joke.
Occasionally, however, we must update our perceptions. Russia has seen the creation of a postmodern dictatorship, one which uses the tricks and pitfalls of new media – the unpleasantness, the clamour, the tendency among many to eschew authority in pursuit of the “real story” – to advance its stranglehold at home and to proliferate its propaganda abroad. Continue reading