The Wounded Healer

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The Wounded Healer – Ministry in Contemporary Society
By Henri J. M. Nouwen
Darton, Longman & Todd – £10.99

For a Christian, Jesus is the man in whom it has indeed become manifest that revolution and conversion cannot be separated in a man’s search for experiential transcendence. His appearance in our midst has made it undeniably clear that changing the human heart and changing human society are not separate tasks, but are as interconnected as the two beams of the cross.

For a refreshingly new and perhaps radical interpretation of the modern ministry, this altogether inviting book by Dutch priest and author, Henri J. M. Nouwen, certainly tells and re-calls it as it truly ought to be told and re-called.

Indeed, The Wounded Healer – Ministry in Contemporary Society will undoubtedly make one think, if not reflect upon one’s beliefs and (and sometimes questionable) approach to everyday living. That said, what’s written within these 104 pages, absolutely isn’t as stoic and draped within a language riddled with the utmost of spirituality as one might initially think: ”[…] when man’s historical consciousness is broken, the whole Christian message seems like a lecture about the great pioneers to a boy on an acid trip.”

Such nuanced thinking and words may well partially account for Nouwen’s rather substantial back catalogue (his best selling books include The Return of the Prodigal Son, The Inner Voice of Love and Bread for the Journey), which, for all intents and overtly readable purposes, can only be a good thing.

Prime reason being, more people may be drawn, if not feel compelled to read more such books of a similar persuasion. For where else – with the exception of some of Bob Dylan’s more spiritual writing(s) – would one stumble upon such robust one liners as:

There is no reason to live if there is nobody to live for.

Love not only lasts forever, it needs only a second to come about.

In brief, Henri Nouwen always believed that ministers are essentially called upon, or at least, need to be called upon, in order to identify suffering in their own hearts.

The recent Broken drama/television series on BBC1, touched upon as much; wherein said suffering was all the more realistically brought to bear by the actor Sean Bean. The quintessential difference being, the author of The Wounded Healer got there first (this book was after all, originally published in 1994).

David Marx

Europe Since 1989

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Europe Since 1989 – A History
By Philipp Ther
Princeton University Press – £27.95

The Brexit campaign succeeded because it insisted there is an alternative, even if it is detrimental to large parts of the population and might in fact lead to the dissolution of the United Kingdom.

Who’d have thought that back in 1989 – when Germany was still (just about) divided into two parts and the dreadful Margaret Thatcher was still at the helm of British politics – that less than thirty years later, Westminster would bestow the entire country’s future upon the neanderthalic shoulders of rabid nationalism?

Whether it’s the inexorable bumbling oaf that is actual Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson (who, along with the vile Nigel Farrage, the more than accommodating playwright, Alan Bennett, has since described as ”not having a moral bone in his body”), or the tumultuous hordes of racist empty heads from Newquay to Newcastle – the United Kingdom is indeed on a dissolutory slope to unspeakable disaster.

As one reads through the ten chapters of this altogether compelling book, one very much comes to realise as much. Especially as Phillip Ther, who is Professor of Central European History at the University of Vienna, hurls a menagerie of political punches – almost all of which land right upon the wide-open face of current-day, populist posturing.

To be sure, since the initial inception of Europe Since 1989 – A History, Britain has a new Prime Minister in Theresa May, while both the US and France have new Presidents; but the all round general essence of what is written amid these 337 pages (excluding Preface, Acknowledgments, Notes to Chapters, Selected Bibliography and Index), makes for more than robust reading.

Not to mention, profound common sense.

In the final chapter (‘The Roads Not Taken’) for instance, Ther refers to the liberal, Oxford-based sociologist, Ralf Dahrendorf, who, in relation to ”Japan, South Korea and Taiwan […] having generated wealth before introducing democracy,” he quotes as having rejected ”the use of the term ”revolution” in the context of 1989. In his view of history, revolution always caused more harm than good, especially on an economic level. To him, 1989 was, instead, a ”transition” to a liberal democracy and market economy, which he hoped the West would assist, as actively and sympathetically as possible.”

In response to this, one can only agree that most of the West has assisted, although the UK, it has to be said, has major problems with said assistance. Furthermore, due to the utterly absurd and long-forgotten ideology of Cool Brittania, the powers that be do not even want to reach out to Europe – let alone Asia.

Again, as the author makes clear in the Preface to this English edition: ”As Brexit shows, the old specter of nationalism is back again, and has greater popular appeal than the EU, which as been made the scapegoat for all sorts of social and economic problems. The populists promise to safeguard their ethnically defined nation from the ills of global competition, labour competition at home, rising criminality, foreign terrorists, and the decay of traditional national values.”

Hmm., ‘traditional national values,’ at the acute and detrimental expense of everything it supposedly holds dear, and dare I actually say it: values.

For further substantiation and background, read this exceedingly well-researched book.

David Marx

Why The UK Voted For Brexit

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Why The UK Voted For Brexit –
David Cameron’s Great Miscalculation
By Andrew Glencross
Palgrave Pivot – £37.99

I’m still exceedingly hard pressed to think of at least ONE iota of a good thing to have emerged as a result of the referendum on Brexit. But am alas, inexorably stumped beyond profound shock, disbelief and tumultuous frustration.

The cacophonous hordes, who from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, continue to reside amid the myopic charge of far too many immigrants (supposedly coming over here, nicking our jobs and changing our way life) is so astonishingly adolescent; were it not so utterly detrimental for all concerned – in the extreme might I add – it would be nigh laughable.

The (laughter and) latter of which, the most concise Why The UK Voted For Brexit – David Cameron’s Great Miscalculation both touches on and reflects upon without any undue flim-flam nor skimming around the immense political disaster that Brexit invariably is.

And will continue to be for many, many years to come.

As Andrew Glencross, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations and author of these six chapters writes: ”The over arching purpose of this book is […] twofold. It seeks, firstly, to shed light on how the UK came to vote for Brexit; secondly, it evaluates the implications that this decision has for the country’s international relations as well as for its domestic politics.

What the referendum outcome probably demonstrated most clearly was how far public opinion was out of step with the government’s cost-benefit argument for EU membership. Confident of winning the referendum on the basis of a pragmatic, bean-counting evaluation, David Cameron’s gamble proved a great miscalculation.”

If nothing else, such words are a great understatement.

Economically alone, Brexit will prove devastating for the country, as Glencross continues: ”It ranks amongst the major political blunders of British Prime Ministers and has sent shock waves across Europe and the North Atlantic.”

Very readable and very to the point, Why The UK Voted For Brexit is a brave and altogether timely book, which absolutely needs to be read by anyone and everyone who actually cares about Britain and it’s future.

David Marx

Alexander Gardner

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Alexander Gardner –
Visionary Photographer of the American Civil War
By Keith Steiner
Matador – 25.00

How does a camera lie? In this naming of parts, the ways are legion. Most would not question the facts of the doctoring, editing, adjusting of photographs in the modern age of sophisticated airbrushing. The term to ‘photoshop’ is synonymous with contemporary photography in the same manner as to ‘hoover’ is synonymous in domestic management. The alteration of photographs either pre or post exposure is now commonplace, and is not broadly regarded as a breach of ethical standards. The new trope takes its place in a world teeming with smartphone and tablet authored photographs. These photographs engage in stylised composition and promulgate a number of common tropes. Their number renders their imagery indistinct and sometimes invisible.

                                                                                                        (‘The Fallen Man’)

With the advent of fake-news currently marauding the airwaves like an out-of-control tyrant from fake-hell; just as much could readily be applied to photography – could it not?

Along with every schism and trajectory thereof.

Just two, highly in-depth qualities which Keith Steiner address, head on might I add, throughout  Alexander Gardner – Visionary Photographer of the American Civil War.

 

A rather lavishly put together book, which takes both the reader as well as the fan of the photograph on something of a magical mystery tour that’s deeply embedded within some of the most perplexing confines of politics, psychology and photography.

The above quotation ought to send many a curious mind unto perpetual motion; the final terminus of which, as Steiner reminds us in the chapter ‘Reflections on a Looking Glass: The Tragedy of Lewis Payne: The Enigma of Identity,’ invariably reads: ”At risk are the very notions of personhood, selfhood, integrity, identity and personal agency. Readers may recall the blood freezing discarnate incantation which transfixed Orwell’s Winston Smith in Nineteen-Eighty-Four (1949) at his moment of greatest intimacy, privacy and personal realisation – ”You are dead.”

From the tragic Rose Woods of Gettysburg to the equally tragic destruction of New York’s Twin Towers, this book’s powerful assimilation of photographs (and I do mean powerful within the catafalque like context of poignancy), truly are something to behold.

If not believe.
If not try and eventually come to terms with.

As such, the 165 pages of Alexander Gardner – Visionary Photographer of the American Civil War are unsurprisingly special.

As Elizabeth Rigby (later Lady Eastlake) once said in 1857: ”Photography has become a household word and a household want… is found in the cell of the convict… and on the cold brave breast on the battlefield.”

David Marx

Scaffolding – Poems

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Scaffolding – Poems
By Elena Rivera
Princeton University Press – £13.95

tenderness passes by like mists in one’s head

                                                        (‘Nov. 24th (Finished Aug 3rd)

When I first stumbled upon the title of a book called Scaffolding, I have to admit to having my curiosity mighty piqued.

As the author of The Laughter of the Sphinx, Michael Palmer has since said, the book: ”represents a vibrant, exploratory addition to the venerable and diverse New York tradition of ‘city sonnets.”’ Although to what degree these eighty-two sonnets are wholly representative of one of the world’s greatest cities, is clearly paramount to readers objective, if not initial analysis and thought process of what New York fundamentally means.

It is in fact, polar to being: ”not ready to listen to one’s own nothing, ” the most grounded, albeit opaque sixth line of the poem ‘Dec. 4th (Revised N.D.).’

There again, it is some of this collection’s prime simplicity that tends to perhaps inadvertently home in the most. With such lines as:

”And when you least expect it it all comes back
I’m at a window elated by the sky
the moment where lights branched out and I was small”
(my italics)

and:

””by the fall of a shadow across the ground”
The ”pollution tolerant” Lindens and Oaks
witness our delusion, we work in the dark
(again, my italics)

one cannot help but feel lured in by something other – only to find that what ever that otherness is or was, punctuated by something we may have subliminally known all along. A poetic quality, which, for better or for worse, is what a certain amount of poetry is all about anyway.

That almost all of the poems are titled by date, eventually gets a tad wearing after a while; even if only from a premise of wanting a different vision from which to embark.

As is, these ”city sonnets” lean towards being far too mathematical – which to my mind at least, is a b-i-g shame. Reason being, some of Elena Rivera’s patterned randomness is truly beguiling:

”Clearly the idea of fairness was a sham
The failure of not being able to see

and most blindness turn to imitation not
being, the real fiction needs an audience”

The ‘real fiction’ does indeed need ”an audience,” and here’s hoping Rivera’s grows as a result hereof.

David Marx

The Potato Eaters

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The Potato Eaters
By Manuel Rivas
Small Stations Press 

When did her teeth start falling out? Has she always had the inklings of a moustache?

Having read most of Manuel Rivas’ books, I still have to say, if not fully maintain, that the brilliant Books Burn Badly is still my favourite. That’s not to say his books published since (The Low Voices, One Million Cows, From Unknown to Unknown) do not make for intrinsically interesting and occasionally captivating reading.

They absolutely do and The Potato Eaters is no exception.

From the opening gambit that evolves around drug addiction with a sense of humour – in which the protagonist is more than attracted to what sounds like a well-stacked nurse by the name of Miss Cowbutt (great name, somewhat reminiscent of Eddie Izzard’s Mrs Badcrumble) – the reader instinctively knows s/he is in for a quintessentially robust ride of a journey. The sort of which, one has come to expect from Rivas, of which the opening quote above is a most pristine example.

From a short piece simply entitled ‘The Umbrella,’ it is preceded by the altogether hooky, kooky summerisation of an endemically bonkers game show: ”Recordman today, it has been announced, is going to be more intellectual. It’s a question of using your head. The contestants, a couple of men who look like primates in their Sunday best, have to knock down a wall of breeze blocks with their heads. The first one to do so will get a million. The gong goes, and they all rush to the wall. From the initial impact, one them, the one who looked most hard-headed, falls flat on his face and is looked after by two recordwomen, who today are wearing tight, discreet dresses, though they do have a hole right over their nipples, The audience claps. Unbelievable! This is great.”

Indeed!

Blankety Blank it most clearly isn’t – which is what essentially accounts for The Potato Eaters being the sort of book it (most provocatively) is: witty, satirical, and like a lot of the Galician author’s writing, prone to going off on totally terrific tangents.

David Marx

Uncommon People

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Uncommon People – The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars
By David Hepworth
Bantam Press – £20.00

”That night there was a tribute on the BBC’s rock programme Whistle Test. Annie Nightingale, the presenter, said something like ‘a lot of us wouldn’t be doing what we are doing now if it hadn’t been for John Lennon.’ I sat on the edge of the bath and blubbed, which is not my habit. Her words touched me off because they related to me, not to John Lennon. I haven’t cried about the death of a famous person since. I have come to realize that if we do so what we’re crying for is ourselves, our lost youth, the days of happiness we associate with the person who has died.”

David Hepworth absolutely isn’t alone when it comes to having ‘blubbed’ upon hearing the most shocking news of John Lennon’s death. I too, was somewhat inconsolable for a number of days thereafter.

Days, which, if anything, were riddled with the utmost of dark, disbelief.

A mode of morbidity, which author, broadcaster and presenter, David Hepworth, continues to further expand upon in this most excellent book’s chapter, ‘1980 – Death by fan’: ”The Beatles created a great deal of happiness. The by-product of that process was fame. Fame on a mad, massive and eventually injurious scale. In killing a rock star, the ultimate somebody, Mark Chapman, the ultimate nobody, probably hoped he would cross over. He hoped he might obliterate the distance between his own puny life and the hero’s life that he saw Lennon leading. His action foreshadowed in a uniquely terrible way our increasing desire to put ourselves at the centre of events, when our proper role should be as a spectator or appreciative listener. It underlined just how big rock stars had become and how much some people still expected those rock stars to be able to mend their own broken lives. It wasn’t anything to do with what the rock stars said or did. It was to do with what people expected of them.”

Indeed, such expectation can and continues to be manipulated to such a (deplorable) degree, wherein any mode of correction – let alone common sense – is invariably laced with wide-open and quite often, grossly misplaced interpretation. An interpretation, which, in the case of the odious Chapman, was overtly fraught with both madness and fantasy.

To such a preposterous degree in fact, that almost all and anything was unfortunately permitted. This including the murder of a Beatle.

But what makes Uncommon People – The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars such a compelling and concise, brilliant read, is not it’s translucency and sincerity, but the way it has been so compellingly put together.

Beginning with ‘1955 – the first rock star’ (Little Richard) and concluding with ‘1995 – Revenge of the nerds’ (Marc Andreessen), these 324 pages (excluding Foreword, Bibliography, Picture Acknowledgements and Index) traverse the entire gambit of nigh all one needs to know and embrace so far as all and any pertinent rock stars are concerned.

To be sure, the mere term ‘rock stars,’ might in many peoples’ eyes, be considered a tad naff and dated. The latter of which, in all (musical) honesty, it may well be. But, as Hepworth colourfully points out, there’s a colossal amount of romanticism entwined within the term: ”The age of the rock star, like the age of the cowboy, has passed. But like the cowboy, the idea of the rock star lives on in our imaginations.”

Like many things of yore, some terrific things have passed unto yesteryear; never again to be embraced with anything resembling the slightest kernel of truth.

Let alone talent.

As Hepworth immediately makes clear in the book’s Foreword: ”In the twenty-first century it seems rather inappropriate, to use a popular twenty-first-century term, to describe Kanye West, Adele or Justin Bieber as rock stars. These people are cut from a different cloth. The age of the rock star ended with the passing of physical product, the rise of automated percussion, the domination of the committee approach to hit-making, the widespread adoption of choreography and above all the advent of the mystique-destroying internet. The age of the rock star was coterminous with rock and roll, which in spite of all the promises made in some memorable songs proved to be as finite as the era of ragtime or big bands.”

Hmm, what was it David Bowie once sang: ”Watch out you rock’n’rollers.”

Having reviewed his debut, 1971 – Never A Dull Moment: Rock’s Golden Moment (which too, was nigh un-put-down-able) I have to say, Uncommon People is an absolute gem of a read.

It’s fresh, it’s jam-packed with new information, and the chapters on Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen and Nirvana simply drip with glittering, honest revelation. Simply terrific.

David Marx