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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

This week I shall mostly be suffering from a filthy cold just when I wanted to be finishing my teaching prep for next week and getting various other things out of the way before term starts. Just after I’d returned from a refreshing break, too… But if I was going to have to come down with something, I suppose it’s better this week than next. And I’m taking the optimistic view that underlying the current floods of snot and phlegm I am actually in a better place, mentally speaking, than I have been for a while, because despite the thickness of my head I have actually come up with an Idea this morning, or if not an idea then a pithy phrase that encapsulates a particular kind of contemporary political discourse. Googling suggests that no one has previously proposed this characterisation, so I might at some point develop it further, but for the moment I just wanted to scribble it down for the record… (more…)

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The abuse of so-called ‘history’ for political purposes is as old as Herodotus’ invention of it a couple of years ago. Recently we have seen concerted campaigns to rewrite the history of Athenian democracy so as to undermine communal solidarity, our sense of achievement and total superiority over all other Greek states, and even our basic legitimacy. The foundational story of Athenian autocthony that expresses the deep connection between the pure indigenous inhabitants and their land is rationalised and rewritten in order to promote a multicultural, pro-migrant agenda that threatens to undermine our collective identity. Figures central to our history like the heroic Tyrannicides are stigmatised as self-interested and incompetent, and our noble leaders in the present are mocked and caricatured. Athens’ civilising mission is cast in negative terms as a mere exercise in power and self-interest. (more…)

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Roots and Culture

It’s an interesting coincidence that this week I happen to be re-reading Marshall Sahlins’ Apologies to Thucydides. Sahlins explores the contrast between the idea of a monolithic, predictable and universal ‘human nature’, such that behaviour is assumed to be determined by a limited number of normative principles (an idea he associates, slightly unfairly, with Thucydides; it’s rather a feature of one tradition of the modern reception of Thucydides), and the idea of ‘culture’ as innately human but also endlessly various, highlighting the many different ways in which one might understand and relate to the world, society, other people etc.

What is striking about UK government pronouncements about the lifting of coronavirus restrictions, echoing most of their rhetoric throughout the pandemic, is their combination of these two positions: a rigidly absolutist concept of national culture. (more…)

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Across the Barricades

Obviously one always hopes one’s work will be read by people working on relevant topics in other disciplines – not just because of wanting to have as big an audience as possible, but with a quiet sense that perhaps extra-disciplinary readings will be somehow purer and more objective, rather than conditioned by prior knowledge and expectations. (And, for some of us, a vaguely optimistic “a prophet is not without honour…” hope that surely sooner or later someone will get what we’re trying to do). It’s fair to say, I think, that we do anticipate particular secondary audiences, and so there is always the possibility of being taken completely by surprise that someone else has actually come across our work, and apparently liked it. (more…)

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The discipline of Classics considered as an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The Institute of Ancient Wisdom, one of the oldest and most prestigious organisations in Sunnydale, comes to the school to deliver some curriculum enhancement activities and recruit new members. Willow is entranced by their erudition and sophistication, and the promise of, well, ancient wisdom. Cordelia is attracted by the aura of power and social status. Xander is suspicious and hostile at first, but then they explain that he too is an inheritor of their great traditions, simply by virtue of being himself, and so he should help defend them. (more…)

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I suspect that for a lot of people the joy of the Handforth Parish Council Planning & Environment Committee Zoom meeting (video here, if somehow you haven’t already seen it), besides the entertaining spectacle of chaos and surrealism, is the discovery of a bizarre, alien world where the question of whether someone is a Proper Officer or who actually has The Authority In This Meeting is a matter of high political drama. For me, it was a nostalgia trip. I should stress that Castle Cary Town Council was never anything like this bad, even at its worst moments, but it’s easy to see the potential that existed for such a breakdown, and there are other councils in this area whose Zoom meetings would probably be equally comedy gold. And, given that the video leaves out a significant amount of context, it was great fun to revive my once intensive knowledge of local government procedures and standing orders, to work out what must be going on and who actually did have the Authority, if not Jackie Weaver… (more…)

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One of the things I always do in the Christmas vacation is catch up on the year’s music that I’ve missed. Partly it’s a matter of having a little bit more leisure to try out the unfamiliar, that might throw me off my stride or drive me up the wall, rather than sticking to things that I know will relax me or offer a suitable background for lecture prep or marking. Partly, though, it’s because of the End of Year lists – not so much those of the mainstream press, but something like The Spill, for its random eclecticism and the fact that I know that if contributor X likes something then it is at least worth a listen. It’s how the Spotify algorithm ought to work: a selection of people from across the globe with very different tastes, just presenting what they thought was great. Especially this year, when my involvement in composition classes means I’ve been listening to much more jazz and much less of anything else, this is invaluable in giving me a sense of what else is out there. (And I now have some new marking music – strong recommendation for the latest album from Ulrike Haage, not to mention her soundtrack to the recent Berlin 1945 series).)

And that is what I aim to do with this post every year: (more…)

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Bad Company

In 1924, the Croatian writer Miroslav Krleža was travelling on a night train from Riga to Moscow, and fell into conversation with a Lithuanian schoolteacher of German heritage who was reading Oswald Spengler’s Prussianism and Socialism. She had, she said, become interested in him when he held a lecture in Riga the previous year at the invitation of the Courlandic German Bund.

“But everyone was disappointed with the gentleman. He is a boring, elderly professor with illusions of grandeur, who earned a pretty fee with his lecture. The Courlandic German Bund had to pay for his trip in a sleeping car, first class, all the way from Munich to Riga and back, and on top of that even the door receipts, and then he came, read from his papers for half an hour, and at the banquet did not speak a single word with anyone the whole evening. A disagreeable, opinionated fool!”

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Mr Pitiful

There’s a lovely moment at the end of Goodbye Lenin!, after Alex has finished his elaborate attempt at persuading his mother, through fake news footage, that Germany has reunited because of the desperation of westerners to flee to the east. “Wahnsinn,” she says, and the first time I saw the film I took it in the sense that Alex takes it: that’s incredible, that’s crazy, wow! Later viewings – and this is a film that bears repeated viewing; watching it last night for perhaps the twentieth time, I saw some things I hadn’t noticed before – make it clear how far there are substantial gaps between how Alex interprets his world (and tries to control it and the people in it), and the reality. (more…)

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Pretty well all my mental bandwidth at the moment is taken up with teaching – learning new computer systems, recording lectures, correcting auto-captions (the variants on ‘Thucydides’ – Through CDC, These Sedatives, Civil Liberties – are a marvel, but isn’t the bloody AI capable of learning from my constant corrections?), checking online discussion fora and wondering why no one is participating, waking at 3 am to worry about the fact that no one is participating… So, an exchange of tweets with the great Shadi Bartsch is pretty well all the intellectual engagement I can currently muster. Even there it’s taken me nearly a week to work out what I actually think, by which point it would seem weird and even rude to push the conversation further (plus, I realised that I was doing this as the Thucydiocy Bot, which is a not-terribly-secret identity but nevertheless not immediately identifiable as me…). (more…)

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