1931

tobias

1931 – Debt, Crisis, And The Rise Of Hitler
By Tobias Straumann
Oxford University Press – £16.99

It felt like the end of capitalism as people knew it. Looking back at the year 1931, Arnold Toynbee considered it an ‘annus terribilis,’ observing that ‘men and women all over the world were seriously contemplating and frankly discussing the possibility that the Western system of society might break down and cease to work.’

(‘The Rise Of Hitler’)

The (many) parallels between this most concise and coherent book, and so much of what is going on in the world today – especially in Venezuela, Brazil, the United States and Brexit Britain – really doesn’t bear worth thinking about. Admittedly, such is easy to stipulate and ponder upon when aided with the frightening confirmation that is hindsight; but hey, reading certain pages of 1931 – Debt, Crisis, And The Rise Of Hitler, is reflectively akin to that of a mirror of today’s, elongated, troubled society.

For instance, on page 196, Tobias Straumann, continues from that of the above opening quote, when he writes: ”Especially the period from May to December 1931 seemed to him ‘unlike any months which the living generation of mankind had lived through’ since the end of the war. ‘To those who lived through those critical months, it felt as though the combined forces of Fate and Folly were making a concentrated attack upon the the citadel of civilization.”

What with a greed riddled, unquestionably, self-serving, dishonest Prime Minister having recently been ensconced in Number 10, the inexorable, highly inflammatory ramblings of Nigel Farage, and a modern-day rendition of Adolf Hitler in the White House, it seems ”the combined forces of Fate and Folly” really are ”making a concentrated attack upon the citadel of civilization.”

That there’s an austere photo of Adolf Hitler running for the presidency of Germany on the opposite page, substantiates the aforementioned parallels even further.

Hitler’s vile ideology clearly gained from Germany’s acute debt crisis of the nineteen-thirties (”Hitler managed to profit from the crisis because he had been the most vocal critic of the reparation regime responsible for the lion’s share of German debts. As the financial system collapsed, his relentless attacks against the foreign creditors and the alleged complicity of the German government resonated more than never with the electorate”).
So too will that of Messrs. Johnson, Farage and Trump.
The only difference being, instead of an out and out debt crisis, we currently have a crisis of moral ambiguity and racist intolerance. The latter of which, in Hitler’s Germany at least, came to fruition within the confines of the concentration camp – which the British invented, and America is currently utilising at the behest of its President (to incarcerate Mexican children).

Tobias Straumann’s 1931, is, like George Orwell’s 1984, dour and disturbing; ironic and important.

David Marx

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No One Else Could Play That Tune

tune

No One Else Could Play That Tune
By Clinton Heylin
Route – £15.00

Some seek happiness, others seek revenge.

          (ii, page 52).

But no sooner has he dispensed with ‘Big Girl’ than he starts toying with the idea of yet another ‘Tangled Up In Blue.’ Is he never gonna let it be? Already in the can are usable versions recorded with two guitars and bass on night one; bass and organ, and then bass guitar on night two; and finally bass, guitar and buttons on night four. A nd yet he can’t help himself. He continues to test the waters, even at half-two in the morning, perhaps hoping to cap off the session in style. Even after a couple of instrumental rehearsals and a false start, he perseveres.

          (iii, page 75).

There is absolutely no shadow of any doubt whatsoever, that the Bob Dylan album Blood On The Tracks, is surely one of the finest albums ever recorded by anyone. It is a sure-fire masterpiece, deeply embedded within every meaning of the word (masterpiece).

To this very day, I still continue to play it regularly (and often), whilst managing to glean yet more meaning, more nuance, more depth, more clarity, more beauty, more…everything.

To quote Let It Rock’s Michael Gray, who in April 1975 wrote: ”It has as much sheer freshness as his or anyone else’s first-ever album; as much genuine urge to communicate; as much zest. Yet it combines them all with a sharp wit and intelligence, and an impeccable judgement, so that the sun of these parts is a greater whole than either the Dylan of the sixties or any artist since […]. Or, to succinctly quote Rolling Stone’s Paul Nelson, who in March 1975 wrote: ”This album is vital and alive, its despair tempered throughout with the joy of being a survivor.”

The word survivor is key here, because as everyone knows, this was Dylan’s acute ”break-up” album; where razor sharp pain, remorse and regret, continue to vie with one another to make themselves wholeheartedly known.
They reigned supreme.

Admittedly, this might not sound like everyone’s idea of a good night out (or in), but boy, does Dylan ever hit it said subject matter on the head. Likewise, Dylanologist, Clinton Heylin, who throughout No One Else Could Play That Tune, has concisely captured the meandering mathematics as well as the true essence of the album’s occasionally fraught recording(s).

To be sure, this book is the nigh perfect companion to what was the eagerly-awaited Blood On The Tracks: More Blood, More Tracks – the more than comprehensive box set of the complete New York Sessions.

Apart from shedding oodles of light by way dates, times, the occasional writing of and musical background to the various songs – it’s a book that sets both the tonality and the record straight, right from the word go: ”In the end, it’s an album that has touched us all; not confining itself to the Oran of Camus, wherever the hell that may be; even appealing to supporters of the ‘men in sharkskin suits, who [run] for President promising life and delivering death.’ And it does so by ‘retreat[ing] into that past than never was;’ a place where Fred Astaire won the girl, only to lose her in the next movie before winning her back again, ad infinitum. The divine comedy of errors.”

That No One Else Could Play That Tune comes replete with photographic reproductions of the album’s master-tapes and the occasional photo, can only be considered an added bonus. For such is the tone and delivery of Clinton’s high-octane analysis; one is compelled to read this book for it, the analysis, alone.

David Marx

Bottle Fly

bottle

Bottle Fly
By Jacqueline Goldfinger
Yale University Press – £13.99

     And nothing feels right. No matter where I go…
     I’m going broke trying to find me.
     How fuckin’ ridiculous is…
     But then. Then.

Like Bob Dylan’s soaring masterpiece that is Blood On The Tracks, this work is firmly anchored within the fractious fulcrum of love – replete with every trajectorial side-kick thereof.

But, unlike Dylan’s divine comedy of errors, Jacqueline Goldfinger’s Bottle Fly does occasionally/thankfully bequeath the reader with a certain glimmer of resounding hope.

As Nicholas Wright makes clear in the Foreword, this play is: ”an ambitious work…[It] illuminates love in many guises: love for those who have mattered to one in the past, love that was born as pity, love tinged with guilt, love for those who need your protection, and love for someone who, without even knowing that she was doing it, holds out the promise of a more beautiful life.”

The final line (”the promise of a more beautiful life”), wholeheartedly substantiating the aforesaid glimmer of hope.
Which, at the end of the day, is something we all cling to.
Which, in turn, accounts for much of this screenplay’s delicately conveyed nuance of life’s (confused) angular understanding.
Or indeed, total lack thereof – as so fundamentally brought to be bear on page 53 of Act 2, Scene 1:

”We’ll make more money than Daddy ever did.
Drive right up to the door of his Church in a big BMW one Sunday.
Roll down the window.
Look out at the folks as they walk in, turnin’ their heads, whisper behind hands, ”Who’s that, who that be? Don’t she look like she’s doin’ good for herself.”
And when Momma and Daddy come through, I’ll make sure they see, what I got. A big car, beautiful woman on my arm, smilin’ so wide, my happiness a sword and them without a shield […].”

As mentioned at the outset, love arrives by way of many guises, including that of parental love; a dysfunctional semblance of which is clearly touched on in the above.

For better or for worse, this play – set in a bar in the Florida Everglades – is as equally socially aware as it is (clearly) American as it is profoundly human.

David Marx

It’s The Beer Talking

Beer

It’s The Beer Talking –
Adventures In Public Houses
By Ian Clayton
Route – £12.99

The black pudding man had heard us mention Sir Alex Ferguson. He waited for us to finish talking about smoked fish soup and then said, ‘Hey look!’ He lifted up his shirt to reveal a beer belly and a tattoo on his chest. The tattoo was of the crest of Manchester United. All of this happened within the space of ten minutes. As we came away from the bar, Heather said, ‘You seem to have a knack of finding them sort of pubs.’ I asked her what she meant. ‘You know! Full of mad old blokes kissing black pudding and getting their bellies out.’

Ian Clayton does indeed have a knack for spinning a yarn – quite often, out of almost of nothing – and then regaling it in such a way that one is compelled to keep coming back for more.

So far as the writing of books is concerned, this can only a good thing.

This is the second book of his I have reviewed (the first being Right Up Your Street – a collection of Clayton’s weekly columns for the Pontefract and Castleford Express), and I do look forward to hopefully reading and reviewing more. Prime reason being, the writing is instinctual, entertaining and free of flim-flam bollocks – where pontificating absolutely doesn’t get a look in.

More importantly, it resonates with how life really is.
As opposed to how (we’re quite often told) it could or should be.

To be sure, It’s The Beer Talking – Adventures In Public Houses is something of a risible visitation upon the sort of beer induced watering holes, each and every one of us has sometimes had the utmost pleasure of waking into.
And then eventually stumbling out of.
As Roger Protz states in the book’s Foreword: ”Ian’s book is brimming with laughter, tall stories, great memories and endless rounds of wonderful beer. It’s also a call to arms to save this unique institution.”

One such example of dare I say, recognisable laughter, arrives by way of a wonderful rogue-like character by the name of Arnold, who, intent on entertaining a certain lady councillor, appears to go just a tad too far:

”’I’ve told him twice now, if he doesn’t knock it off, he’s barred.’
The barman has a look on his face that says he means it.
Arnold puts his hat back on and mutters under his breath. He says, ‘Right then, I’ll just finish off with a limerick that I brought back from the Bay of Bengal.’ I close my eyes and try to disappear.

There was an old man from Calcutta
Who went for a peep through his shutter
And all that he spied
Were his wife’s hairy thighs
And the bollocks of the man that was up her.

The councillor nearly faints. The barman grabs Arnold by the lapels and says, ‘You’re barred!”’

This is the sort of semi-hilarious moment we can all relate to; which, truth be told, adds a little colour to the dull mundanity of daily repetition.

And it is this capturing of colour and nuance, that sets Ian Clayton’s terrific writing apart from an ever widening menagerie of soulless (colourless) others.

David Marx

Paris and the Cliche of History

cliche

Paris and the Cliche of History –
The City and Photographs, 1860-1970
By Catherine E. Clark
Oxford University Press – £47.99

The most compelling of the photographs taken in the mode of the anthropologist or reporter do exactly what the editors of Realites had looked for in 1951.They do not just bring Parisian architecture and streets to life by including human figures in them but turn these figures into allegories of contemporary civilization. A young boy and girl play hopscotch in the construction site beneath the new Bercy interchange. A schoolboy complete with knee socks and leather satchel walks indifferently past a series of posters for the Harlem Globetrotters […]. These figures embody French defiance in the face of both the disruptions of urbanization and the threat of American imperialism.

                                                                         (‘C’etait en Paris 1970’)

Like London, Paris is an extraordinary city.
Only more resolute.
And without question: far more beautiful.

Don’t get me wrong,
I’m well aware of les many concrete ridden banlieues surrounding the city, but when one thinks of historic (central) Paris and such a former, charismatic outlying area as Montmartre, there can be no real comparison.
And there isn’t.

Likewise, Parisians – or the French as a whole – appear to have never lost any of their vivacious viv. Nor defiance; especially when compared to their British (or at least, English) compatriots.

Hence describing Paris as more resolute.

That’s not to say Londoners aren’t.
To a degree, they most undoubtedly are.
Or (at least) were.
One need only re-call the years of The Blitz. Or ‘The Blitz Spirit.’
But said spirit has since subsided amid a definitive quagmire of catastrophic, xenophobic hogwash. Indeed, since the cancerous onslaught of the ruinous Brexit years triggered in 2016, England, has truly, and without any shadow of any doubt, lost its way.
Socially.
Politically.
Economically.
Morally.

To be sure, France obviously has its problems (one need look no further than the vile Le Pen), but as a whole; there’s an unequivocal spirit about the place, Paris in particular, which an assortment of myopic Brits would be wise to embrace.

Paris and the Cliche of History is a wide-eyed, most definitive reminder of this.
Throughout its 220 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography and Index) there are countless examples which ”embody French defiance in the face of both the disruptions of urbanization and the threat of American imperialism.” As the authoress, Catherine E. Clark, continues to make clear when following on from the opening quote with: ”Alice Aubert’s portrait of curly-haired children in ankle socks playing on scaffolding or aiming pistols at the photographer from the ruined wall of a hotel particular provide hope that this new generation might successfully navigate the obstacles created by the present.”

It is both the awareness and acceptance of this present, that more than anything else, is majestically brought to bear herein.

Especially from the perspective of photography.

After all, the second part of this book’s title, The City and Photographs, 1860-1970, does resoundingly make clear, that visual proof – if any were ever needed in relation to Paris – is something of an unquestionable currency.

Clark already makes as much perfectly clear in the very opening chapter (‘Imagination and Evidence’) where she writes: ”University-affiliated historians rejected whimsical romantic imaginings and reconstructions of the past that had dominated nineteenth-century historical practices from Salon painting to lectures at the Sorbonne. Instead they placed an increasing emphasis on scientific evidence, proof, and rigor in historical research. This often meant no longer using paintings, prints, coins, and medals, since these sources presented subjective representations of the past whose ties to romantic forms of history made them unreliable. Collectors, municipal officials, and non-university historians, on the other hand, embraced images as never before.”

Catherine E. Clark thus, analyzes the importance of photography’s effects on historical interpretation, by thoroughly examining the trajectory of their idiosyncratic influence on the city – which partially explains why Paris and the Cliche of History – The City and Photographs, 1860-1970 makes for such an astute, vibrant and altogether fascinating read.

David Marx

The Winding Road To The Welfare State

welfare

The Winding Road To The Welfare State –
Economic Insecurity& Social Welfare Policy in Britain
By George R. Boyer
Princeton University Press – £35.00

To middle-class observers inside and outside the government, there were definite lessons to be learned from the crisis of the 1840’s and, especially, the 1860’s. First, the system used to finance the Poor Law was not able to handle sharp increases in demand for relief. Second, while it was possible to raise large amounts of charitable assistance quickly, that aid, when administered in an indiscriminate manner, often did more harm than good. Third, and perhaps most important, the ”principles of 1834” clearly were not being enforced in northern industrial cities or working-class districts of London.

(‘Social Welfare Policy, Living Standards, and Self-Help, 1861-1908’).

Sound somewhat familiar?
Were the dates of the years changed to 2019, and the words ‘Poor Law’ altered to ‘Minimum Wage,’ we could just as well be talking of today (and absolutely not in marginal terms might I add).

Not that the atrocious, nigh-self-imploding Tory Party, will take any notice whatsoever.

Just one of the reasons being, the self-proclaimed – and in cumbersome, harsh reality – assumed to be next Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has just been found not guilty of lying to the British people. Not lying about the infamous regularity of £350 million being sent to Brussels, that could much better be spent on the NHS – during the lead up to the Referendum on Brexit.

That he vehemently LIED, and continues to do so, is, for all intents and poverty induced purposes, neither here nor there in the ultimate big scheme of things.
Manipulation of and by the media, will continue to reign.
While out-and-out ignorance and the selective listening of the predominantly ‘working-class,’ will (most probably) continue. As such, wholeheartedly swallowing the hate-fuelled, divisive rhetoric of Messrs. Johnson, Farage and Gove et al.
Thus leading the country unto total disaster.

And if not total disaster, then very, very far away from that which The Winding Road To The Welfare State – Economic Insecurity & Social Welfare Policy in Britain is fundamentally based.

A most concise, comprehensive and cohesively written study on surely one of the most important, and intrinsic principles of British political policy.

As Peter Lindert of the University of California states: ”In this book, George Boyer convincingly maps and explains the twists and turns of income shocks and British social policy from the Industrial Revolution to the postwar welfare state. After lagging behind other countries in the building of safety nets, Britain became a social-policy leader only when changes in political voice and public opinion permitted it.”

The irony off course, being that the current (and loudest) political voice(s) are essentially responsible for the unravelling of any form of social well being.

One can and simply ought to forget the term: safety net – which is why these 310 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, References and Index) make for such vivid and important reading. Especially now that ‘the rediscovery of poverty’ is very much now upon us.

Furthermore, we now have the very real possibility of that other great British institution, the NHS, being up for grabs; especially if the narcissistic Donald Trump and his aforementioned partners in blatant crime (Johnson, Farage and Gove et al) get their way.

From the cutting back of the Poor Law after 1834 to Parliament’s abrupt about-turn in 1906 with the adoption of the Liberal Welfare Reforms, author George R. Boyer herein offers new explanations for the overt oscillations within Britain’s social policies and how these shaped worker well-being.

A ”well-being” very much under threat.
Soon to be extinct.

(Thanks Prime Minister).

David Marx

Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe

Anto2

Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe –
A Shared Story?
Edited by James Renton & Ben Gidley
Palgrave Macmillan 

As a seemingly universal force that contributed to a conservative disposition, religion appeared to be an indispensable foundation of the empire.

In the terrifying world conjured by right-wing thinkers, Jews and Muslims shared odious traits. They were cunning, frighteningly clever and keen to outsmart and exploit the good-hearted Russian peasant. They disdained Christianity and Christians and mocked the faith of the Russian tsar […]. At the same time, though, Jews and Muslims, particlularly the poor among them, appeared to be mired in backwardness; their social isolation could not be explained by geography or poverty alone, but also by a haughty and religiously inspired exclusivity, which caused them to shun their Christian neighbours and would-be brothers in the family of empire. They were even in cahoots with foreigners.

Robert D. Crews
(‘Fear and Loathing in the Russian Empire’)

Good grief.
”Even in cahoots with foreigners.”
Whatever next?
The sharing of mutual understanding?

In the volatile, although totally unsurprising above quotation, Robert D. Crews sets forth a number of inflammatory issues on just a part this book’s highly contentious subject matter; although in direct relation to Russia (a country, given it’s own exceedingly chequered history), continues to remain fraught with fragmentation to this very day.

One need look no further than what has been going on in The Ukraine over the last few years.
And prior to that, Chechnya.
And prior to that – well, you hopefully get my politically, expansionist drift.

To currently consider Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe – A Shared Story? as a somewhat controversial publication, is akin to summarising the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate as being a tad awkward.

As the two editors James Renton and Ben Gidley write in this book’s Introduction, ‘The Shared Story of Europe’s Ideas of the Muslim and the Jew – A Diachronic Framework’: ”[…] the word ‘antisemitism’ does not belong to pre-modernity. It was, instead, the product of a very distinct context of political, cultural and economic strife in central Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. In an intellectual culture shaped by racial nationalist thought, and driven by a desire for racial purity as political panacea, self-declared Jew haters deployed the word as the name for their political movement: the Antisemitism-Liga of Berlin, founded in 1879.”

Such self-declared ”Jew haters,” are unfortunately, still as much in evidence throughout parts of the former East Germany and Europe today, as they were when Adolf Hitler declared: ”By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”
There again, he always was a lunatic.

Worrying though, is the fact that so many powerful lunatics akin to Hitler, appear to be on on the rise right now.

The Queen herself, played host to the biggest (and without any shadow of a doubt, the most powerful) lunatic in the world two days ago, when she and other members of the Royal Family entertained U.S. President, Donald Trump, at Buckingham Palace.
So forget looking no further than the Ukraine.
London’s W1 postcode will suffice nicely.
To be sure, one need look no further than Westminster, that risible cesspit of self-serving, political vipers, wherein The Conservative Party appear to be on the brink of greed-riddled, self-implosion (which can only be a good thing), and The Labour Party remain drenched within a quagmire of their own, antisemitic design (which really isn’t a good thing).

So yeah: Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe?
How about: Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Central London?
Not to mention huge swathes of the United States…

Divided into four Parts: Christendom (‘Ethnic and Religious Categories in the Treatment of Jews and Muslims in the Crusader States’ and ‘Antisemitism, Islamophobia and the Conspiracy Theory of Medical Murder in Early Modern Spain and Portugal’), Empire (‘Fear and Loathing in the Russian Empire’ and ‘The End of the Semites’), Divergence (‘The Case of Circumcision: Diaspora Judaism as a Model for Islam?,’ ‘Islamophobia and Antisemitism in the Balkans’ and Antisemitism and Its Critics’) and Response (‘Antisemitism, Islamophobia and the Search for Common Ground in French Anti-racist Movements since 1898,’ ‘The Price of an Entrance Ticket to Western Society: Azaan Hirsi Ali, Heinrich Heine and the Double Standard of Emancipation’ and ‘The Impact of Antisemitism and Islamophobia on Jewish-Muslim Relations in the UK: Memorz,Experience, Context), these 301 pages, do, as the chapter headings themselves might suggest, take the reader on a very considerable journey.

A journey, albeit mired in trajectorial tragedy, is still continuing to this very day.

If nothing else, this overtly dense book substantiates the degree to which racism and any form of religiously induced phobia, remains nothing other than quintessential hopelessness.

As both editors, James Renton and Ben Gidley, agree: ”It is inadequate to pair one racism with one configuration of the state form and another racism with a different political structure; the point is that both racisms change over time as the state form changes.”

Surely the point is no matter how much (all) racisms change over time; there will always be some indelible form of state sponsored subversion aimed at the ignorant and the stupid – by those who really ought to know (and do) better. But choose not to.

David Marx