Category Archives: Book Review

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

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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

 

Stet

stet

Stet – Poems
By Dora Malech
Princeton University Press – £13.99

I’ve never really seen the point in writing poetry that is horribly awkward, if not down-right difficult to read. For a start, it’s off putting.
It also distracts from what the poet is trying to convey.

Such is the majority of Stet, wherein Dora Malech nigh on insists on spreading her words all over the page, wherein inexorable disjointedness is more of a burden than an actual addition. To what degree this is triggered by the title ‘stet’ itself which, in Latin equates with ”let it stand” (a proof-reading term meaning to retain or return to a previous meaning) – is, to be honest, difficult to decipher.

All I know is, reading such poems as ‘Face To Hex,’ ‘Lay And   Try,’ ‘Sure   Ruse’and ‘Tuned : Lit’ made for such unnecessary hard work, I found myself becoming increasingly more agitated as I worked my way through the book’s 63 pages (excluding Notes).

Worked, being the key word here:

neither well   well I neither          not Babel- able born:
 a veil   alive          in camera’s   manic eras:
shot math well          hot math’s well          that’ll show ’em

(‘Sure   Ruse’).

Am I missing something here?
Why the awkward spacing? Why the sudden jump into italics?

Stet’s opening poem ‘The Can’t Not’s   The Constant,’ already sets the tone of what one is likely to expect; which, by the time one has reached ‘Writ In Fire’ which (I kid thee not) consists of the following:

Burden,
burned.

One cannot help but want to hurl Stet out the window and reach for the nearest T. S. Eliot…

The press release accompanying this altogether pretentious collection states: ”Dora Malech takes ”constraint as her catalyst and subject, and explores what it means to make or break a vow, to create art out of a life in flux, to reckon with the body’s bounds, and to arrive at a place where one might bear and care for another life.”

Not so.
The only two redeeming lines throughout the whole book are the final two of ‘Cry Unto Country’ –

America
I can re-aim.

That’s it.

David Marx

Daisy Jones & The Six

Daisy

Daisy Jones & The Six
By Taylor Jenkins Reid
Hutchinson – £12.99

Graham: Daisy didn’t want Billy throwing a temper tantrum every time she tried to contribute something of her own, She was laying down the law early. Prpobably the way the rest of us should have from the beginning. If we wanted any sort of meaningful say.
Certainly if Eddie had half of Daisy’s balls, he would solved his issues with Billy like that years ago.

     (page 148).

Eddie: Look, I really liked Daisy. And I liked Karen. I wanted her to be able to contribute more. But a female vocalist on the whole album and more keys? Karen’s keys were softening us us too much as it was, if you ask me.
I said, ”I want to make sure we’re still a rock band.”

     (page 149).

Daisy: I don’t think Billy actually resented anything I asked for. All of it was reasonable. He was just pissed because I knew how much power I had and he would have preferred I either not know it or not use it. I am sorry but that is not my style. I mean, it shouldn’t be anybody’s, really.
Billy had been riding a bit too comfortable on the fact that everybody let him do what he wanted. And I was the first person to say, ”You’re only in charge of me as much as I’m in charge of you.” And that opened the floodgates for Pete and Eddie and, well, everybody.

     (page 151).

Hmm.
Well as much as everyone enjoys a literary barney of sorts – Edward Albee’s riveting Who’s Afraid Of Virgina Woolfe for instance – I do have to say, I found Daisy Jones & The Six way off the mark in perhaps a number of departments.

So far as broad-stroke-entanglement(s) go, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s characters are a little too whimsical, if not nigh impossible to warm to – in anyway whatsoever. I’d like to think the opening gambit of quotes substantiates this.

Reason being, this is NOT how bands (or rock’n’roll bands at least) address one another.

As such, I don’t really know where the writer/author Dylan Jones is coming from, wherein he describes this novel as: ”A tremendously engaging, and completely believable tale of rock and roll excess, one made all the more enjoyable by being written as an oral biography. It’s inventive, persuasive and completely satisfying.”

No, it absolutely is not.
Apart from all the literary sheen, wherein the glutinous gloss of the language used, really, really isn’t plausible; said ”oral biography” is utterly unrepresentative of band lingo.

As for the prime protagonist, Daisy Jones herself, how can anyone warm to a character who describes having breakfast as the following: ”It was starting to be a pattern. I was having breakfast at Barney’s Beanery with a guy – this writer-director. Now, back then I always ordered champagne with breakfast. But I was also always tired in the morning because I wasn’t sleeping enough. So I needed coffee. Of course, I couldn’t order just coffee because I’d be too amped from the pills I was taking. And I couldn’t just have the champagne because it would put me to sleep. You understand the problem. So I used to order champagne and coffee together. And at the places where servers knew me, I used to call it an Up and Down. Something to keep me up, something to keep me down. And this guy thought it was hilarious.”

Really?
What’s ‘hilarious’ about being a jumped-up, narcissistic, self-serving, little fuck?

Daisy Jones & The Six is to rock’n’roll what Fifty Shades Of Grey is to sensuality.

David Marx

Mussolini and Hitler

Muss

Mussolini and Hitler –
The Forming of the Fascist Alliance
By Christian Goeschel
Yale University Press – $30.00

According to Bianchi Bandinelli’s post-war account, the two leaders did not like each other: Mussolini, speaking in fluent German but with a heavy accent, treated Hitler offhandedly, while the Nazi leader was deferential but never really friendly to the Duce. Mussolini was annoyed, as Hitler’s attention was entirely focused on Bianchi Bandinelli’s explanations, rather than on him.

               (‘Springtime For Hitler’).

Beyond the pomp and circumstance lurked the ridiculous and hostile.

               (‘Springtime For Hitler’).

What a clearly cantankerous and annoying political pair Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini were. Full of lingering doubt and misgiving, very much riven with what was obviously a relentless quest for one-up-man-ship. Indeed, the above two opening quotes, substantiate what they were essentially all about.

What’s more, they weren’t exactly the most dashing of men.
As the photograph on the front cover wholeheartedly depicts: they were two, squat, miserable little men, wearing far too wide, far-reaching trousers, stuffed into the most unfashionable of unspeakably naff riding boots (who between them, bequeath about as much happiness as your average brain tumor).

That said, Mussolini and Hitler – The Forming of the Fascist Alliance really is an exceedingly well written and meticulously researched book.

As the renowned and most respected historian, Ian Kershaw, has since said: ”[…] with special focus on the constructed imagery of the meetings between Mussolini and Hitler, Christian Goeschel’s excellent book is able to cast more light than any previous historian has done on the cynical self-serving character of their increasingly catastrophic ”special relationship.””

Spot on: their relationship consisted of nothing more than the most ”cynical” and ‘self-serving” design.
As both dictators looked to the other for some sort of reflective glory.
In so doing, each was calculatedly able to glean some of the other’s notoriety – by way of basking in the other’s infamy in their respective countries. This is somewhat brought to bear as early on in the book’s Introduction, where Christian Goeschel writes: ”Mussolini’s position as a dictator was much weaker than Hitler’s, as the Duce had to consider the monarchy dominated by the long-serving King Victor Emmanuel III as well as the Vatican and the ‘infallible’ pope, even though both institutions broadly supported the Fascist regime for much of its existence.”

While in the opening chapter, ‘In Mussolini’s Shadow,’ the author almost counteracts as much by declaring: ”While the Beer Hall Putsch failed and ended with Hitler’s imprisonment, it made and the Nazis notorious throughout Germany and Europe. Fascism, then, inspired the Nazis, not just in their way of seizing power, but also as a means of attracting publicity, even in the event of failure.”

This book’s 296 pages, (excluding Plates, Acknowledgements, Endnotes, Bibliography and Index) are, it has to be said, very readable; which, given the (occasional) dour and volatile subject matter, really is quite something.
If not commendable.

There again, surely parts of said readability wrote some of itself; purely due to the dictators overtly pompous personalities and sheer, out and out, self-serving arrogance: ”Mussolini knew that the Axis was unpopular with the majority of Italians, which is one of the reasons why he frequently talked about changing sides and continued to maintain relations with Britain. What he thought in private is more difficult to discern, for his views towards Germany and Hitler oscillated […]. His preference was an alliance with Hitler, but envy for Hitler’s greater power, together with the need to balance his own admiration for the Führer with the more cautious attitudes of Fascist and state officials, often made him articulate anti-German views.”

Mussolini and Hitler – The Forming of the Fascist Alliance could well be considered as something of a testament to one of the most revolting, political soap operas in relatively recent European history. Apart from the equally revolting soap opera that is – currently taking place between Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.

Both of whom are very much on par with the protagonists if this most definitive study.

David Marx

Artists Respond

vietnam

Artists Respond –
American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965 – 1975
Edited by Melissa Ho
Smithsonian American Art Museum/
Princeton University Press – £50.00

””I had seen it in France with the Algerian War, but somehow I didn’t take that personally. I am an American and an expatriate. And when one is an expatriate you are far removed from responsibility.” Spero’s awakening sense of social accountability led to a radicalization in her work. With war as her subject, she no longer felt bound to an establishment form of art. Abandoning oil paint and canvas for gouache and ink, she rendered fiercely sheets of paper. The artist made these works rapidly, sometimes mixing her own spit into the medium and tearing the support with the force of her applications and erasures. The choice to work on paper and at a small scale, she says, was ”intentionally subversive, a personal rebellion” against the preferences of collectors and gallerists who already overlooked her work, at least in part due to her gender.”

               (‘Nancy Spero’ – page 48).               

”When David Hammons made his America the Beautiful, the nation’s moral beauty was, for many, very much in doubt. In 1968, the country was beset by turmoil on a host of fronts, from race riots and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy at home to the Tet Offensive and escalating troop numbers abroad. That such conditions mattered to Hammon’s work was suggested by the artist himself when he claimed, ”I feel that my art relates to my total environment – my being a black, political, and social human being.””

               (‘David Hammons’- page 108).

”Very different from di Suvero’s dark state of mind at the time he left the United States, Mother Peace – with its brilliant colour and outstretched arms – projects vigour, optimism, and strength. Its huge beams, which are suspended and connected by cables, remain unfixed, their orientation subject to intervention by the weather or by people. The artist intends his large-scale sculptures to be displayed in public places where they can be approached – or even physically mounted and climbed – by people from many walks of life. Such interactive work has been seen as inherently social and political, given its emphasis on engagement and inclusion.”

               (‘Mark di Suvero’ – page 251).

To call this a veritable pristine, and altogether, well considered collection of some of the most visionary, provocative artists during the whole of the Vietnam War, would, as one might conclude, be a mighty ill-considered understatement.

From the moment one invariably sets eyes on the book’s cover – Red Stripe Kitchen by Martha Rosler – ones’ inner sanctum of any preordained, artistic conclusiveness, is nigh immediately relinquished unto a place: never before considered.

That’s to say some place new, if not dangerous; some place exciting, if not powerful.
Not to mention intrinsically majestic.

There again, as Stephanie Stebich writes in the (Margaret and Terry Stent) Director’s Foreword: ”The Vietnam War was a divisive period and controversial event whose meanings and impacts are still debated. Insofar as the art in this exhibition necessarily highlights social and political ruptures still felt in American life, the project could not avoid touching on arenas that are contentious or sensitive. Instead, Artists Respond – American Artand the Vietnam War. 1965-1975 demonstrates how the breakdown in national consensus prompted by the war led to profound upheavals not just in society, but in art – and that this led to new ways of making and thinking about aesthetic meaning.”

It is precisely these ”new ways of making and thinking about aesthetic meaning,” that this totally absorbing and inspired collection (unreservedly) delves into by way of the most thorough investigation.

Each of it’s high-quality, 355 pages (excluding the aforementioned Director’s Foreword, Acknowledgements, Checklist of the Exhibition, Selected Bibliography, Index and Image Credits), bequeaths the reader – as well as the artists involved – with an invitation to both embrace and hopefully understand some of the dense complexity involved in this unquestionably worthy, complex undertaking. After all, by the late 1960s, the United States was in pitched conflict in Vietnam, against a foreign power, as well as at home – between Americans for and against the war, for and against the social status quo.

All of which accounts for this illuminating collection presenting art amid the turmoil and the tragedy: from the time of Lyndon B. Johnson’s fateful decision to deply U.S. Ground troops to South Vietnam in 1965 to the fall of Saigon, a whole ten years later.

Artists involved include Asco, Leon Golub, Hans Haacke, David Hammons, Kim Jones, Corita Kent, Yoko Ono, Martha Rosler, Carolee Schneemann and Nancy Spero among many others.

Wherein politics confronts morality confronts art, Artists Respond – American Art and the Vietnam War. 1965-1975, is, to my mind at least, something of a first.
Hence the trajectory of its importance.

Hence the dire need for Donald Trump to stop slashing American funds for the arts – for the second, if not third year in a row. But hey, what on earth does Trump know about politics?
Let alone morality.
Let alone art.

In fact, what does Trump know about anything?

As Nancy Spero so eloquently stated in the opening gambit of this review: ”to be ”intentionally subversive, a personal rebellion,” really is something to be.

And right now, today, in America; to be anything less, would be an overt dishonour to the 58,220 soldiers who went to Vietnam.

And never came back.

David Marx