Struggling Activist

Gotta Keep Trying

I Miss Reading

I have a confession. I haven’t been doing much reading lately even though I have tons of spare time. Nothing grabs me anymore and TV and the internet seems to be so much more appealing/easier. I haven’t enjoyed a book since Umbrella by Will Self and even that was filled with mixed feelings.

I have tried to get into some books but nothing has that bite which drags me in. I just seem so disinterested in what I’m reading at the minute. I might just have to subject myself to Dan Brown just to get me hooked. God, I hope I don’t have to subject myself to that.

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A Review: Bring Up The Bodies

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Historical fiction can be historically bad. You only have to speak to a Medieval History professor about The Da Vinci Code to witness the anger it can cause. Common misrepresentations of the past can cause some historians to foam at the month, like the belief that witches were burnt at the stake (they weren’t, they were hung). It’s unusual, then, that a historical book emerges that is praised as brilliant from historians, literary figures and the general public alike, and this has what’s happened with Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies.

The book is a sequel to Wolf Hall, which won the Man Booker prize, as did Bring up the Bodies, making Hilary Mantel the first author to ever win the prize for two consecutive books, and also the first female to ever win the prize twice. It has won Costa Book of the Year and is nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. So it’s had a hell of a lot of attention and praise given to which, for me, is all certainly deserved.

First off there is the fact that she takes the Tudors, an era which has had endless interpretations, and manages to make it truly exciting. Bring up the Bodies follows the fall of Anne Boleyn, her rise having been depicted in Wolf Hall, through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell. You feel the mood turn against Boleyn and the fear in the court as the King’s mood starts to change and everyone becomes a potential headless victim. Its depiction of Cromwell as Machiavellian might seem over-done, but Mantel’s brilliance is in showing that this was the only way to survive during the reign of a temperamental king.

Mantel’s writing style also helps build the mood. Everyone knows that Boleyn, along with several of her allies, end with their heads been chopped as a result of the King wanting to be free of her,  yet Mantel’s frequent use of the present tense helps to keep the tension up. We might know what’s going to happen but the characters certainly don’t, and the present tense helps us remind us of this.

One of the scenes in the book sticks in my mind, like only a masterful constructed scene can. Cromwell has gone to visit Katherine of Aragon, who is being kept under house arrest and separated from her daughter and friends for her refusal to let the King go. Mantel manages to paint the scene with an eerie sense of foreboding; this might be because we know that Boleyn’s fate is much worse but Mantel also makes it clear that Katherine knows the King and knows he will get bored of Anne. Mantel makes us see it and also makes Cromwell see it. It’s one of the most striking scenes I can remember.

Historical fiction is sometimes said to be an oxymoron. Mantel manages to make something that sticks with most historical facts and still manages to entertain. She makes the public understand that faction played part in the Henrican Court whilst also showing the childishness of Henrys decisions. In truth, the historical and literary genius of the work doesn’t really matter. Just get lost in the mood of the work, as it is a truly amazing achievement that deserves all the praise it can get. If there is one flaw, it’s that it ends. But don’t worry, the fall of Cromwell is coming.

Back to business… again?

Back to business… again?.

My view point on Africa explained by someone who is there. How many more people do we need to tell us that aid is more damaging than anything?

The Prime Minister’s Revenge: Sharif Charges Former General Musharraf With Treason

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When General Pervez Musharraf vaulted to power in a 1999 military coup, the man he overthrew was hurled into a cell in a 16th century fort near Islamabad. Some months later, Nawaz Sharif, the deposed Prime Minister, was convicted on what his supporters say were trumped-up charges. He was sentenced to life behind bars. It was only later, at the insistence of the Saudis, that he was released and dispatched into exile. In his absence, Musharraf became Pakistan’s absolute ruler.

Now, the tables have turned. The vanquished has returned to power, and his onetime tormentor faces the prospect of taking up a spot in the cell he vacated. Sharif recently became Pakistan’s first third-time Prime Minister. After barely a month in power, he told Parliament this week that his government will prosecute Musharraf for “high treason” for violating the constitution when the then military ruler imposed a state of…

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Engage, Engage, Engage

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The real problem with politics is not that it’s led by posh people who come from an exclusive club. They may not know the price of milk but at least they know about politics. The real problem is the lack of engagement from the grassroots, a local level from local people. The real problem of politics is that most ordinary people just aren’t engaged with it anymore and so a politician can really make any statement and it could be greeted with applause depending on how it is delivered or represented.

This means that people are simply accepting other people’s views, whether it is the view expressed in a newspaper or a family member. Without truly looking at the issues, views are immediately formed on the basis of a complete lack of information.

I watched Question Time and noticed something. It’s a British politics show that has a panel of MPs, newspaper columnist, and people generally involved in politics. Their given questions from members of the public on the most topical issues of the week. One of the questions this week was on the issue of welfare and the audience seemed to be applauding almost everything that was said. The views of the Conservative and Labour party are dramatically different yet, when they were expressed on the show, a huge round of applause greeted both. Is this just that they supporters were in the same number or are people generally confused?

I believe that people are generally confused. They are bombarded with information by the media and it comes attached with their very own viewpoint. Essentially they are been fed propaganda by both sides. Yet, because no one is engaged in politics anymore, this propaganda is not dismantled. The facts are never truly shown and people end up applauding both ends of the view point.

I’m not proclaiming that I have worked through the propaganda of both the left and the right. I simply do not know what I believe about the main issues of the day. The NHS, welfare, the EU. But I believed that if, in some way, everyone could begin to be engaged in politics then we would begin to arrive at some solution that we all want. People would stop spurting party lines and applauding propaganda, they would begin to govern for themselves.

I suppose what I’m talking about is grassroots organisations. In my view they isn’t enough. I haven’t heard about any in my area and my area is a prime target for one. It’s a working-class northern town where issues of welfare will be most felt. I think this needs correcting, but who to do it?

Forgetting About Kundera, Forgetting About History

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I recently started reading The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera. I loved the Unbearable Lightness of Being, it been one of my favourite books for some time, but I have unfortunately forgotten much of what happened. So I decided to pick up another of his to read, one which was mentioned in some of my History lecture last year.

Its mostly that reminds me of one of the cruel things that happens to history. It gets mixed with personal memories and interpretation which, as the novel shows through several stories that are linked with themes, changes over time.

It links strongly with one of my favourite quotes, I mentioned it in both my personal statement and based an essay on it. George Orwell wrote “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” In Kundera’s work the setting is the Czech Republic during the communist years, with the Prague uprising been one of the centres of the novel. Of course, its an obvious choice. From this point on the history of the nation had to be slowly rewritten to bring it closer to the USSR. In other words, other people began to be in control with the present and so they changed the past so that they could control the future.

This topic will always fascinate me. Our cultural identity shapes so much but memories are not perfect. Even academic history will never arrive at a truth, let alone truths. Seem as cultural identity is shaped on our sense of history how can we possibly precede?

In other words, Kundera is a definite most read for me. I fall in love every time.

Swimming Home: To A Review

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It’s weird. Whenever I finish a book I feel I haven’t quite gotten I think that I’ll do a blog post about it. Write down my thoughts about the novel and I’ll somehow arrive at a conclusion. With Swimming Home I get  this feeling.

The novel is tight, finely crafted and beautiful written. Through out the novel I got the sense that something else was going on below the surface, something seemed to be itching to get out. It made me feel like I was missing something, yet perhaps I wasn’t.  Perhaps the novel is crafted in a way to try and make you feel as if there is always something under the surface trying to get out.

The novel itself is about a family who arrive at their holiday destination only to find a woman swimming naked in their villa’s swimming pool. Kitty Finch is her name and she is slightly strange. However she seems to be the way in which the author explores her major theme of the depression and mental illness. Yet Levy also paints a picture of a family that has supressed. In other words, that the feeling I got of something itching below the surface might just be the feeling that the family has themselves.

On such example of this is that Isabel, wife to Joe and mother to Nina, invites Kitty to stay with them in the villa. Why? Well the answers seems to be so that she can split up her marriage which has always been too distant and too fragile to last. Its seems a ploy by her to finally give her a reason to escape it. Is this the reason? Well it is certainly a compelling one but even with that explanation it still seemed as if their was more to explore.

Its fascinating the way in which the novel works. I was constantly left hunger for more depth and explanation and, in a way, I think this reflects the characters. They search for meaning and explanation but are presented with now. They seem lost and defenceless as they are hurtled towards a conclusion. Its a novel that doesn’t come with a definite recommendation but if you do read it, you might just enjoy it.

In other news, I am now Social Sec of UKC Amnesty International. Which means I get to organise parties whilst campaigning for human rights. I think that’s progress to at least been more involved in something meaningful?

A Baffled Review of V. By Thomas Pynchon

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I recently finished this book and let me start by saying that, whilst I may have got something’s, I certainly didn’t get everything and, if you decide to read this novel, you should forget everything I have said. It’s a novel that will give something completely different to every reader and you may walk away from it with something completely different. Let me also say that, whilst I enjoyed and admire this novel, I don’t necessarily agree with it.

So what’s the novel about? It’s about a search of V. What is V? Well, that’s part of the fun. You don’t really know. One of the main characters is Stencil who has slowly become obsessed with tracking down V. The novel is interlaced with chapters hinting at what V. might be; some are deadly serious whilst others provide a whimsical approach.

It’s this mix that some might find confusing but is one of the reasons I enjoyed the novel. If you spend too much time trying to figure out exactly who, what or where V. is then you will miss some of the enjoyment of the novel. It’s a novel that is fully enjoyed once you forget about “getting” everything and just truly focus on the enjoyment on it.

Having said that, the novel seems to paint a bleak picture of the future. One in which meaning is lost and we slowly all become like the Whole Sick Crew, people who just talk about ideas and art without actually doing anything. It seems to be that this is Pynchons take on an era.

The Whole Sick Crew form the other main focus of the novel. The second character is Benny Profane and his involvement in the Crew. The Crew itself is much like ones found in such American classics as On The Road. A Crew which has refused to put roots down anyway and seems obsessed with getting drunk. It’s this that Pynchon, and certain characters attack. The Gang seem to have vast amounts of knowledge and are able to debate philosophical ideas, but what are they supposed to do with it?

That’s why V. has no identity, as we are slowly losing ours due to the flood of information that the modern age is filled with. For me, that partly explains why the novel is filled with so many snapshots of complex historical moments. Is he trying to confuse us into forgetting about the novel itself, to lose sense of the true plot and its characters?

This novel fits in to the whole postmodern thing, an obsession with the disappearance of self with the rise of the technological age. Pynchon paints a bleak picture of the future and I just cannot agree with it. The novel is superbly written, the ideas worth thinking about, but it falls short at convincing me of its arguments. Like I said, though, I may have simply misread the novel, perhaps you will emerge with a different view. Or perhaps you will emerge agreeing with the novel. I just think that you should give it a go.

All This Talk of Gender Roles Misses the Point

 

 

There is no doubt that the role of gender is society has radically and permanently changed over the last few decades. Women have more freedom now than ever and they are slowly edging towards true equality. At least that’s one view. Some are now saying that a patriarchy no longer exists at all and instead a matriarchy is rising. Others say that equality, let alone a matriarchy, is still a long way off. Both have strong support but are entirely polarized so I’ve decided to throw my two pence in.

So the patriarchy is gone, long live the matriarchy? The proponents of this view point to the destruction of key masculine industries like construction. They say that the global crisis has hit these harder, stripped men for any last grip they had on been head of the household and relegated them to having the wife as the head of the household. It goes on to say that this is because women seem to be adapting better to the changed circumstances and different work environments. It paints a very depressing picture for most men, outlined here (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/sep/30/hanna-rosin-end-men-extract?CMP=twt_gu).

It’s a position I’m uncomfortable with for many reason, the first been that I simply don’t believe that women have achieved true equality let alone surpassed men. Instead, as this article points out (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/30/opinion/sunday/the-myth-of-male-decline.html?pagewanted=2&_r=4&ref=opinion&), the figures are lying. Men still control the most important jobs and industries. How can anyone seriously argue that women have achieved equality when you look at the current Cabinet and the number of women MPs in the House of Commons as a whole? It verges on ridiculous to be talking about a matriarchy when the median wage of women managers is just 73% of that of their male counterparts? To quote the New York Times article “what we are seeing is a convergence in economic fortunes, not female ascendance.”

Another reason I’m uncomfortable with the idea that we now live in a matriarchy is that it just shows how desperate we are to divide. To not truly accept equality and talk about the world not been gendered at all. Instead, some women leading households is greeted with arguments that traditional male roles are dead. They are not. They simply just exist in a different place, the particle couple you point to have simply chosen not to live like that anymore. You might turn to another couple and find that the opposite is true, that the man is still the bread winner and the woman the home maker. That doesn’t mean they live in some patriarchal, backward nightmare but simply that they are both happy doing this.

What true equality needs to be about is eliminating the very definitions that we have for masculinity and femininity. For how can we have a truly equal society if we still say that certain things are masculine and others are feminine? That divides society and puts people in boxes. Once people are in these boxes they are open to discrimination, to simple be placed somewhere and be forgotten about.

Everything Seems So Exclusive

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The Olympics inspired me. Well, that’s not strictly speaking true. What it did was show me what could be achieved if you push yourself to the limit. But the athletes that did it seem to belong to a exclusive world and it almost seems impossible for anyone I know to enter that world. Its made me feel like I should be doing something but I just don’t know how to do it.

I suppose this might just be another moan. Okay, it is a gigantic moan as I’ve kind of sidelined a lot of stuff as work has taken over. Its just so time consuming, anyone else noticed that? I’ve barely looked at any opportunities to volunteer over the past few weeks and its almost time to go back to university, which means I haven’t volunteered all summer. Oops.

Although, to be fair to me I did get an email from my local Lib Dem MP saying that some opportunities will be available in September. And I also got a letter about an email I sent to my Labour MP about a campaign I became interested about. So that two letters from my MPs about campaigns I’ve signed up to. That’s progress.

This might be something I tell myself every new semester, but it will also be easier to volunteer and get involved in politics and stuff when I’m back. I suppose if I actual focus on it I might achieve something.

I suppose this is just a post to say that I’m still thinking about things and wanting to do something.

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