Tag Archives: Karl Marx

The Treasures of William Shakespeare

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The Treasures of William Shakespeare –
The Life, The Works, The Performances
By Catherine M S Alexander
Andre Deutsch – £24.00

That William Shakespeare was English, is becoming increasingly hard to believe and come to terms with, especially now that Britain has evolved unto a place of nothing other than opium induced, moronic stupidity and shame. The likes of which will be nigh impossible to ever absolve.

But hey, Shakespeare was English, and other than attending a multitude of his plays at the RSC in Stratford or The Globe in London, how better to partake in and celebrate his four-hundred-year legacy, than with a brief overview of his vast, and I do mean vast, body work.

The reason I use the words ‘brief overview,’ is for the very reason that his work(s) are colossal and influential and potentially life-changing in almost every fathomable way imaginable – so far as drama, theatre, and the entire English language is concerned. Hence, The Treasures of William Shakespeare accounting for something of a superlative, yet sneak preview of said drama, theatre and the English language.

For how could it possibly be anything other?

As Catherine M. S. Alexander writes in this book’s Introduction: ”Shakespeare has inspired artists as diverse as William Blake and Pablo Picasso and influenced the fiction of Jane Austen, Anton Chekhov, Charles Dickens, Henrik Ibsen, Wole Soyinke and Oscar Wilde among many other great figures. Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx wrote about Shakespeare and Winston Churchill quoted him.”

In itself, such wide-ranging influence is almost hard to comprehend, but it ought nevertheless, navigate the reader of these sixty-one, high-quality/glossy pages (excluding Further Reading and Index) unto a tiny chasm of understanding and appreciation of the Bard’s colossus. For as Alexander continues: ”[…] for most people with an interest in Shakespeare, ”the play’s the thing […] and much of this book is concerned with performance. It draws extensively on the work of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the unique group of actors, directors and practitioners, whose high-quality productions, education and outreach activity aim to ”keep modern audiences in touch with Shakespeare as our contemporary.””

So along with a 53-minute CD of classic excerpts taken from The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare, also included herein are twenty removable facsimile documents which include: King James I’s patent giving Shakespeare and his fellow actors the right to perform plays throughout the country, his Will, an extract from the First Folio of 1623 and finally, an extract from the prompt book for a production of Twelfth Night in 1965, directed by Sir John Gielgud.

Suffice to say, this collection isn’t an in-depth analyses of The Bard’s work, as again, the authoress makes clear: ”Academics have subjected the works to a remarkable variety of theoretical readings: new and old historicism, feminism, Marxism, formalism, structuralism, psychoanalysis, cultural materialism and so on. The Treasures of William Shakespeare: The Life, The Works, The Performances is less concerned with the ”why” of the Shakespeare phenomenon or an analysis of its causes and effects than with providing an illustrated and documented chronological record of his life and work […].”

From ‘The Elizabethan Age’ to ‘Elizabethan Stratford,’ from Shakespeare in Stratford’ to ‘Shakespeare’s London,’ from the aforementioned ”The Play’s the Thing” to ‘The Comedies,’ The History Plays,’ and the ‘Tragedies – Ill-Fated Heroes,’ this lavishly presented book is the perfect introduction of William Shakespeare to that of a younger and (perhaps unbeknown) audience.

David Marx

Orwell’s Faded Lion

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Orwell’s Faded Lion
The Moral Atmosphere of Britain 1945 – 2015
By Anthony James
Imprint Academic £14.95/$29.90

The later consequences of the Bush and Blair invasion of Iraq became clear in June 2014. The extreme group ISIS had conquered and occupied large swathes of Iraq, showing themselves to be considerably more ferocious, murderous and ruthless towards many Iraqis than Saddam Hussein had ever been, as well as a potentially far greater danger to the West. Tony Blair’s own self-justifying comments on this development were puerile and detached from reality. The one thing that Blair could never admit is how much the original American-British invasion had fuelled support for ISIS.

(‘Who Controls The Past Controls The Future’).

Having reviewed a number of books on Tony Blair over the years, I’ve always found myself being inadvertently confined to his way of thinking. To be sure, I’ve always found the tentacles of his varying in depth arguments and interviews inherently far reaching. Not to mention plausible, believable and down-right influential.

No wonder he made for such a superlative politician.

Lest it be said that to certain a degree, the former Prime Minister still knows how to cajole and hold-court; which is just one of the many, many reasons, why I really cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Orwell’s Faded Lion – The Moral Atmosphere of Britain 1945-2015 by Anthony James, is a tough, gritty, honest and at times, bleak overview of Britain’s political morass since the end of the Second World War. Although what accounts for its most readable quality (I couldn’t help but read the entire book in the best part of two sittings), is its clear and concise, rightful apprehension of the truth.

There’s no woolly, flim-flam, thank-you-mam approach to that of it’s political endeavour. Like George Orwell himself, hence the title, these 148 pages pack a super-suave punch, right into the smug and superfluous face of spin and impeccable lies.

For where else in this soulless day and overtly jaded age of social implosion, would you read: ”[..] with adult memories of Britain before 1979, I find it difficult as a parent to convey fully to my daughter […] the depth and scale of the changes in British society, many of which have turned out to be permanent and irreversible […] Britain after Mrs. Thatcher has been radically different and considerably worse and has not shown any sign yet that it can escape from the mould she imposed upon it […]. Her revolution, like all revolutions, was driven by an idea: you run the affairs of a country (it is not appropriate to say ‘society,’ the existence of which she denied) like a business, according to the instincts of businessmen and businesswomen […]. Although Mrs Thatcher lacked any understanding of the Marxism she hated, Karl Marx had given an enduring description of the spirit of her revolution in The Communist Manifesto, almost a century and a half earlier.

[Capitalism] has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’ It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. ‘It has resolved personal worth into exchange value… In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.”

(‘Who Controls The Past Controls The Future’).

Each of this books five chapters are grounded in such unwavering writing(s) as that above, which, regardless of political persuasion, makes for a thunder-bolt of an awakening call.

One of the most compact and satisfying of reads so far this year (I can’t wait for the sequel).

David Marx

Karl Marx

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Karl Marx
By Jonathan Sperber
Liveright/Norton Publishers – £25.00/$35.00

Whenever reviewing any biography on Karl Marx, it’s always of paramount importance to remember the high-octane religiosity of the world in which he grew up. I mention this as I’d contest many people often overlook this issue, which to some varying degree, might be understandable. Lest one forget that the trajectory of post-Enlightenment Europe had a most profound, if not quintessential effect and influence on the young Marx, one is capable of missing out.

That’s to say, missing out on many a fundamental point of important validity.

In Karl Marx, an altogether brilliant blueprint of an analytical investigation if ever there was one, Jonathan Sperber (who is the Curators’ Professor of History at the University of Missouri and is author of The European Revolutions, 1848-1851) hits on said point in the very first chapter (‘The Son’): ‘’The idea of Christ’s love liberating mankind from its sinful condition was a classic piece of Christian doctrine, but Marx’s interpretation of it makes clear that he was taught an Enlightenend version of Christianity. One of the burdens of the pre-Christian world that Christ’s love could lift was superstition – a major enemy of Enlightenend thinking […]. While Marx did mention human sinfulness and depravity that could only be redeemed by Christ, he did not dwell on it. Nor did he emphasize the transforming experience of Christ’s redemption, the believer being born again, and experience that Germany’s Pietists found every bit as central to their religion as their American counterparts did.’’

Suffice to say, the depth of the actual analysis of this book, really is quite something. Sperber comes out fighting from both literary opposing corners simultaneously, which in away, he inadvertently expects of the reader. But then we are talking about (my name sake) Karl Marx here; surely the greatest philosopher, sociologist and all round revolutionary socialist that ever was. Some might disagree, while others might argue that as well as these things, he was also an adept economist, historian and journalist.

Naturally, it all needs to be measured with an acute sense balance, not to mention deciphered through an inevitable prism of more than considered understanding.

Moreover, prior to the above quotation, Sperber writes of Marx’s graduation exam for the Abitur (which is believed to be one of his first preserved pieces of writing). It should come as no surprise that religion was the assigned topic, with the heading being: ‘The Union of the Faithful with Christ, According to John, 15:1 – 14.’ The seventeen year old ‘’Marx began his essay by considering the pre-Christian peoples of antiquity, and concluded that in spite of their cultural, artistic, and scientific progress, they could never ‘’throw off the fetters of superstition, develop true and dignified concepts of either themselves or of Divinity,’’ and that even their ethics and morality were never free of ‘’alien admixtures of ignoble limitations […]. Even the greatest sage of antiquity, the divine Plato, speaks in more than one place of a deep yearning for a higher being, whose appearance the unsatisfied aspiration to truth and light fulfils.’’

Could you imagine a seventeen year old today, writing with such informed though and dexterity?

The above quotations are just a tiny hint of what is to come, as the book is simply dripping with informative material throughout. For instance, at the beginning of Part II, Chapter Six (‘The Insurgent’), we hit the European revolutionary years of 1847/8, in which Marx, although still struggling financially (‘’Marx’s attempt to deal with the situation revealed his own embarrassment. From London, he sent a letter asking his Russian acquaintance Pavel Annenkov for a loan of 200 francs to help out his family.’’), he had truly found his niche in life. As if there were any remote possibility that he hadn’t already stumbled upon it whilst still a student!

Said niche is formidably substantiated when Sperber writes: ‘’For a little over a year, from the Spring of 1848 through the spring of 1849, Marx was, for the first and last time in his life, an insurgent revolutionary: editing in brash, subversive style the New Rhineland News; becoming a leader of the radical democrats of the city of Cologne and of the Prussian Rhineland; trying to organise the working class in Cologne and across Germany; and repeatedly encouraging and fomenting insurrection. In all of these activities, Marx persistently promoted the revolutionary strategy he had first envisaged in his essay on the Jewish Question, and would present in scintillating language in the Communist Manifesto.’’

Presented and written in such a way that is both down to earth and analytical, in Karl Marx, Sperber leaves absolutely no stone unturned.

From Marx’s rambunctious university years, his loving marriage to the devoted Jenny von Westphalen (despite an illegitimate child with the family maid of all people…), the aforementioned, rather relentless financial problems, his children’s tragic deaths – the author painstakingly investigates Marx’s historical public actions and theoretical publications against a backdrop of tumultuous European unrest. The latter itself, already being a somewhat convoluted affair; although with Sperber already having written a book on said period of European history, the reader can rest assured of being in more than capable hands.

In time, this may well be referred to as the definitive biography on one of the most towering and influential figures in history.

David Marx