What would Jane say?



It’s very tempting to try and speculate what Jane Austen may have written about the misogynistic maelstrom unleashed by her future appearance on the ten pound note.  In Pride and Prejudice” she noted “”A WOMAN, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.”  Two hundred years have passed since.  We like to think that, in all sorts of ways, there has been progress in two centuries of human endeavour; and notably, in equality of the sexes. But as Mary Beard, a woman who has the “misfortune” of knowing a great deal, will attest, non concealment of female brilliance is still a highway that can lead straight to hell.


When a well-known, by-lined and established critic saw fit to berate her for appearing on television at all; A.A.Gill, he was mildly taken to task over it.  There were protests, but it was hardly an outcry. This is a man who routinely refers to his partner in his columns as “The Blonde”.  This just gives a teeny hint of his sexual politics.  His remarks obviously wounded, but Professor Beard must have had no idea then that this was just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, Mary Beard is a lovely looking woman. She has a wise, handsome face which suggests a person at ease with themselves, and dark, intelligent eyes. It is not her looks, per se, I don’t think, that cause the cruelty.  It is her erudition.



In the midst of the recent Twitter storm and the torrents of terrifying troll hatred, a smaller story has slipped along in the news.  This is the Queensland MP who has been suspended for sexting a picture of his penis in a glass of plonk to his mistress. “He wanted a drink of red wine” was the witty caption.  Bless him, eh? The cheeky chappie. Gives a whole new meaning to the The Member for Redlands. The Guardian ran the headline “Coq au Vin”. It is a titter-titter sort of item, and the primary focus, apart from his embarrassment, has been on whether he misused public expenses. Just imagine for one excruciating moment, that that MP was a woman, and the instagram had been of her vulva.  It is actually daunting to consider the hyena-like howling which would have been heard around the world, the threats and torments implied against her person. The castigation, condemnation, and vilification would have been ceaseless.  If it had been the case, that hypothetical woman would not be safe.  As for this man, Peter Dowling, he may not even necessarily lose his job over it, although they surely can’t re-appoint him as Chair of the Ethics Committee.  His private life is “unrelated to his duties as an MP”. But a woman, if she puts herself forward in public life at all, foregoes any rights to privacy.


Even if it just to have the temerity to suggest, as Caroline Criado-Perez did, that it might be nice, and fair, and representative, to have Jane Austen on our tenners. And yes, she battled, and she won, but at staggeringly huge, disproportional, personal cost.

It is all so deeply depressing that it is difficult to know how to feel.  Do some men really really hate and fear women so much? It seems they do. The Daily Mail, doing some actual journalism for once, uncovered some of the anonymous trolls, and they were from a wide cross section of society. Mary Beard herself, as clever as ever, exposed one man who was threatening her by re-tweeting his vile message, and earned the satisfying consequence of having someone threaten him back – to tell on him to his Mum. He apologized.  His name, for the record, is Oliver Eric Rawlings.


John Wilson@tug 
John Wilson

@wmarybeard Mary, If you would like to send a copy@Rawlings153‘s tweet to his mother, Joanne. I’d be happy to give you the postal address


And this brings us back to an undeniable fact. All men are born of women. They depend on their mothers for nurturing and love in the first few years of life at least.  So then what happens? Where does this loathing stem from?  I don’t know and I’m scared to know, because if all we have keeping us from a simmering explosive collective male rage, is a scrape, not even a veneer, a vestige, of pretence; That they like us really – if we are pretty enough, like “The Blonde” and learn to keep our mouths shut –  then we might as well all be living on the edge of a volcano.  We are all kidding ourselves that we are getting along just fine.



I heard on the radio that England had won the Ashes again. Being slightly allergic to cricket this did not make much impact, but then I thought, Did we? Hang on a minute; we used to be really bad at sport. We were trounced, walked over, beaten, a laughing stock.  But in the last decade England have won all those Olympic Gold medals for starters, the Ashes three times, two Tours de France and the Rugby World Cup. And Andy Murray, at last, won Wimbledon.  The only thing we are still rubbish at, strangely enough, is football. So why does this turnaround not inspire?  Well, it’s mainly men isn’t it?


If British men can succeed in the fields they care about so passionately, and get to the top of their game, and enjoy worldwide acclaim and respect – all the stuff, basically, they’ve been getting to do one way or another for ever, but with bells on, and STILL behave like feral beasts, there’s even less hope for the future.

By the way,there is a word for the opposite of misogyny, its misandry, and I am not, and never want to be, a misandrist. Neither was Jane.

To give her the last word: “The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.”









Seeking asylum is not a crime

Is this really how Australians want to see themselves? For the world to see them?  “Mark this day in history as the day Australia decided to its back on the world’s most vulnerable people, closed the door and threw away the key” – from Graeme McGregor of Amnesty.

Christmas Island Refugees.

Seeking Asylum is not a Crime is an Amnesty slogan and it is unsurprising that they have come out hard to slam the new measures brought in this week, closing Australian borders to all refugee boats and sending them to Papua New Guinea for processing. Yes. Papua New Guinea.   That well known bastion of human rights. They can hide behind the fact it is a signatory to the UN Refugee  Convention as much as they like. Papua New Guinea! No person now arriving by boat can ever hope to become an Australian.  Ever. The first boat, with 89 Iranians on board, has already been turned away this very morning. Amnesty were among a chorus of international and internal disapproval saying Australia was shirking its moral responsibilities. Even before this happened, Clare Mallinson, also of Amnesty, had warned that Australia was “going backwards” In the way it treats refugees. For years it has been the running sore in Aussie politics.   In the meantime, a riot had already started at the detention centre on Nauru, that ended up with it burnt to the ground and the two have inevitably got muddled with Rudd’s speech being cited as the incendiary cause. It is actually sadder to contemplate, that even before this draconian decision was broadcast, the inmates were already so unhappy that they felt no alternative but to draw attention to their plight in this way.  Now they are being moved onto a “blacksoil” site which would appear to be a piece of bare land.  On a very small, very bare island.


It’s clearly all about winning the next election, but just WHAT is the problem here? Australia gets a tiny proportion of the world’s refugees landing on its shores, 16,000 sought asylum last year out of 469,000 globally seeking a new home from a desperate existence elsewhere. I am no mathematician but I make that a miserly and inconsequential percentage to be asking for help in the BIGGEST most UNDERPOPULATED CONTINENT on Earth.  Admitedly, they have already received 12, 400 additional applications in the first half of this year, and they have a backlog of these miserable souls held as detainees; but it still does not amount to a tidal wave. It’s a trickle. Apparently “key seats in Western Sydney” are needed to be won over, as opposition to the boat people is strongest there.  Bloody sickening, when you think that White Australia, as it is, was founded by “boat people” who came in on the First Fleet.


Looking around the international press, reaction is quite guarded as to whether Rudd has made a masterstroke of a political manoeuvre  (for himself that is) or not. The New York Times are cautious in their appraisal and note that as recently as Wednesday yet another boat had capsized, killing four, so in effect, they could be saying, unless the boats stop trying to cross, the fatalities will continue. Which is not far from agreeing with  Rudd’s remark “Australians have had enough of seeing people drowning in the waters to our north” More than 800 people have died trying to get to Australia over water since October 2009.

The Japan Times reports all the facts only giving a slight hint of its attitude in a photo caption “boat people arriving in the country to seek asylum will be sent to facilities in poverty-stricken Papua New Guinea”.


Channel News Asia ran a feature on the riot on Nauru, noting that the ringleaders were subject to “special laws passed overnight” to allow them to be held under detention at the watch-house for 7 days without charge and if convicted, could face a jail term of up to 7 years. “Kevin Rudd hopes the hardline plan will boost his fortunes in an election year” and Foreign Minister Bob Carr was “struck by the level of support for the plan in the Pacific and beyond”

The Irish Times gives space to Christine Milne’s angry reaction that the prime minister had “leapfrogged Tony Abbot in cruelty” and Human Rights lawyer David Manne “Australia hosts only 0.3% of refugees worldwide and yet what we see here is a policy not only designed to deter asylum-seekers from seeking refuge in Australia, but one that also proposes to shirk our responsibilities onto others”

The HuffPo took a fairly feisty anti- line and quotes the Greens Derek Wall “A Right wing media has ramped up hysteria about immigration in Australia, forgetting that the majority of Australians are descended from immigrants” Adding “The governing Labor party and opposition coalition are advancing more and more destructive rhetoric with an accelerating cost in human misery”.

The Guardian under a headline “Is Australia’s new asylum policy the harshest in its history?” interviewed 3 experts (admittedly one-sided)  on migration law and human rights who were all anti and doubtful that the policies would prove legally viable. However the Comment is Free section was riddled with cynical reaction, with many saying it’s been a master stroke by Rudd.

I was rather hoping to find a good deal more indignation out there, but it does seem that Rudd and his big bucks advertising campaign are doing a pretty good sell on convincing voters that getting tough with the people-smugglers is the canny political piece-de-resistance he clearly thinks it is. Protest marches have been held in all the major cities but the crowds have been in the hundreds not the thousands.A demonstration in Sydney against the Australian government's toughened stance on asylum seekers

These are fellow human beings!  Australians, as I wrote about in an earlier post (I’ve Got a cut on my iPad finger) seem to increasingly allow themselves to think they are somehow detached from the rest of the world, living in their bubble of prosperity and privilege. It is so sad and so shameful.

I leave you with this –

Here’s the picture Unicef paints of life in PNG should an asylum seeker be allowed to stay there and raise a family: Unicef described Papua New Guinea’s children as among the most vulnerable in the world, due to extremely high rates of violence, customary child marriage, exploitation, police brutality and detention in adult jails for young offenders.

The country currently allows five forms of execution: hanging, lethal injection, medical death by deprivation of oxygen, firing squad and electrocution. Homosexuality is illegal and adultery is a criminal offence.



When no news is…no news

Good on the Royal baby for hanging on in there, even though it could be squirming outphoto_1372744878264-2-0 right at this very moment, I doubt it, I think there would have been a newsflash, even on BBC6 Music. This unborn child is quite rightly savouring its last ever claim to complete privacy whilst a waiting world hovers with stepladders and zoom lenses in the baking heat of an empty Paddington street. Reams and reams have already been written and broadcast on the non-appearance of said sprog. Some of the most ridiculous headlines of all time have been frantically fabricated – “Diana will never know her grandchild”. Er, no, that would not be possible would it, as she is, indeed, dead. There’s a lively trade in bets on the name, with both Hashtag and Pocohontas coming in at 500 to 1. Wouldn’t it be simply marvellous, if, in an act of unprecedented love for the people, they did in fact plump for Princess Pocohontas. I am actually hoping it will be a girl and they will call it Carole, yes, Carole with an e. And then she will grow up and become Queen Carole and fall in love with a Kevin or a Gav or a Troy and we can be free of centuries of boring old Charles and Annes and Georges.


It is tempting to feel just a little sorry for the scores of journalists with nothing else to do but top up their tans; but then again, it’s not a difficult gig is it?  All they really need is a twitter feed for such time as all the salient facts become available. Maybe, in nine months from now, there will be a second wave of royal-spin-off babies, from all those smouldering international encounters behind those barriers. They must be going somewhere, because whenever there’s a shot of the compound,it is always empty.


We will look back on this time with affection and nostalgia, this quiet lull in manic monarchial mutterings, where Kate sits in the garden with her feet up and Wills sneaks in a quick chukka, and there is nothing to say about it. Nothing at all. It is a rare and peaceful break from the incessant chatter which will re-commence without precedent any day now. And when “the most exciting and important thing that has ever happened, ever, basically” happens (according to NBQ TV) it can sell a few more newspapers and all those photographer’s partners who are missing their ladders can get them back – “When ARE you bringing my blooming steps home? I was in the middle of painting the living room ceiling?”


Time travels

The first of July and thoughts turn to summer escapes. It was a gorgeous weekend, made poignantly potent by the spectacular air show staged over our valley by the Chalke Valley History Festival. The sight of the Sopwith Camels lumbering with slow and awkward grace through the air  was so heartbreaking. Likewise the distant drone and then swift appearance of a Spitfire. To think that the sound and sight of a plane overhead would have struck terror into your soul just one generation ago, until it was close enough to identify the markings. The bravery of those who flew them is just mind-boggling.







“I know that I shall meet my fate

Somewhere among the clouds above…” (Yeats)


Anyway, I digress, because the clouds have rolled back in and Wimbledon is into its final week, which reminds me of my Dad and how he would rather not have missed the tournament than had a week on the island of Capri. Travel can be tiring, disruptive, disappointing even. But it almost always ends up being enchanting. I was reminded about this piece I wrote for the Sunday Telegraph when I was daydreaming about jumping on another sort of  plane this morning.


Most people, if you offered them a week’s holiday, at your expense, on an island famed for decadence and luxury, would leap at the chance. Not my father.

When I asked him to accompany me to Capri, his lips curled – but then he wasn’t the best choice. He hates travelling, has adopted a provocative aversion to Italy and didn’t want to miss a succession of top sporting events on TV. But I thought he would be a brilliant test case. If Capri still has her ancient power to seduce and enthral, then the island of love would have a truculent suitor in my father.

As the hydrofoil from Naples sweeps into the tiny harbour, I am taken aback by the precipitous cliffs. The island seems to have broken off at some prehistoric time from the Amalfi coastline.

Fearing that my father would be faced with a heavy uphill slog, I am pleased to find our luggage loaded onto an electric cart and we are pointed to the funicular. After swooping up through lemon groves and pretty gardens, we walk into the Piazzetta, a tiny square at the heart of the old town and the “drawing room of Europe”, as the guidebooks have it.

Who would not be charmed by this miniature stage set? The baroque church, the campanile, the 14th-century palace, all clustered around smart cafés in a diminutive version of many an Italian piazza, but minus the traffic.


Capri town has no roads, no cars, no moped, no trucks, no noise. “Isn’t it peaceful not to be leaping out of the path of a speeding Vespa every two seconds?” I ask, as we begin the fairly long stroll along narrow whitewashed lanes to our hotel. Dad is huffing and puffing with the heat and the cobblestones underfoot, and doesn’t reply.

Eventually we reach the Hotel Punta Tragara, perched above the Faraglioni rocks, which jut imposingly from the shimmering Tyrrenhian Sea, offering a sublime view. Designed by Le Corbusier, the rooms are carefully cool and elegant, replete with antiques and tapestries. It was good enough for Winston Churchill. Would it pass muster with father?








Well, I liked it.

“More steps,” he mutters, as we’re led to our Garden Terrace room. “If I drop dead they’ll never get the coffin down.”


The giant bulk of Monte Solaro is blocking the last of the sun’s rays, but below us the seawater pool still sparkles temptingly. We share a bottle from the minibar and first impressions. “Isn’t it perfect?” I sigh, breathing in the heady scents of warm air and orange blossom. “Not bad,” my father says, “but the island seems a tad small for all the day-trippers.”

His remark is corroborated next day by our excursion to Anacapri, Capri’s sister village. Dinky Toy buses struggle to hoist the ever-growing queues of visitors up the sinuous helix of road.

Terrifying drops reveal themselves as we hurl around the corners. We emerge into searing heat, and a much brasher, livelier little square.

If Capri is a jewellery box, precise, pretty and enclosed, then Anacapri is more like a vault. You have to wander down its flower-hung corridors and into its antechambers to discover its treasures.

We follow the well-worn trail to the Villa San Michele. Axel Munthe was a Swedish psychiatrist who worked in Rome in the late 19th century. After building his dream home on the edge of an Anacapri escarpment, in 1929 he published a best-selling book about it. The Story of San Michele was translated into 50 languages.

“I want my house open to the sun and the wind and the voice of the sea,” he said, “like a Greek temple, with light, light, light everywhere.”

Whether he achieved it or not we fail to judge, because the dense, shuffling crowd, jammed in the front doors and accompanied by interpreters in a babble of at least 50 languages, is so off-putting.

We have to take Henry James’s word for it that the villa was a “creation of the most fantastic beauty”. James was one of many writers – including F Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Neruda, Alberto Moravia, Rainer Maria Rilke and Norman Douglas – who loved Capri.


Another was Graham Greene. We can’t find the Casa Rosa, where Greene holidayed for years with his lover, Catherine Walston, so jump in an open-top taxi to go back down to Capri – a much better option than the bus – and lunch at Da Gemma, where Shirley Hazzard met Greene in the late 1960s.


The once cosy trattoria of which she has written so enticingly is another disappointment – menus in every tongue and long tables set up for group tours.

Where is the charisma and the magic? Has Capri really been spoilt and overrun? As I grow morose, my father perks up. “We must do the Blue Grotto,” he insists. “Absolutely compulsory.”

Expecting a huge anti-climax, I board the boat. Our trip is proving pleasant enough, but not spectacularly so. Far from dislodging my father’s prejudices, I am cementing them. “Even Norman Douglas is a bit so-so about the Blue Grotto,” he tells me, reading from Douglas’s Siren Land, as we sail off. “He doubts, were it to be discovered today, it would attract the attention it once did – and that was in 1911.”

We had both imagined bobbing about at the mouth of a big cave. Instead, we are put into a swaying rowboat and told to lie flat. The entrance to the grotto is through a keyhole in the rock face, and the pescatori pull us through the tunnel on a chain. Sitting up cautiously, we’re in a cool, dark space.

Nothing much to write home about. Then we turn around, and I have the privilege of hearing my impossible-to-impress father coo: “Wow!” Sunlight flooding through the entrance lights the water and we are suspended in a pure aquamarine cosmos. The pescatori boom out Nessun Dorma at the top of their lungs, as we swivel past Tiberius’s secret bathing tunnel. It’s corny, but wonderful.


I sense Dad is hooked, but he won’t give up his curmudgeonly character that easily. Cocktails at the Grand Hotel Quisisana. Sunset at the Lido. A picnic in the ruins of Villa Jovis. Delicious meals always rounded off with a slice of torta caprese and the strange allora (bayleaf) liqueur… We have some memorable times, but I can’t get him to relinquish his Italophobia.

As we prepare to leave the island, I remind him that there will be newspapers at Naples airport and he can catch up on events at home. He doesn’t seem to hear me. It’s an hour till the ferry leaves. “Why don’t we stop in the Piazzetta for one last coffee?” he says, a faraway look in his eyes. “I’m not looking forward to getting back to the Nescaff.” Looks like Capri has won again.



Reckless Misconduct



It was all set to be a Gladitorial competition worthy of the most nail-biting ringside seats at the Colosseum, but last week’s Question Time featuring the Emperor, sorry Mayor, of London and Cheekiness Maximus, aka Russell Brand, was disappointingly non-combative. Boris must have been at a long lunch, he seemed ready for a post-prandial snooze. In fact, you got the distinct impression he thought Tessa Jowell’s bosum would make a nice, comfy pillow. As for The Byronic one, he could hardly accost Sir David for suggestively fingering his water bottle. About the naughtiest thing he did was wander off into the audience at the end. No doubt he had spotted a good-looking woman out there. He did spend most of the programme scouring the rows, in the manner of someone who can’t believe they have been stuck with the most interminably boring people at a party.


Hmmm? Redhead in the black top?

There was collective agreement (see what I mean? Boring. Who wants consensus?) on the vague new idea that wicked bankers might actually go to jail in future. Quite how this was to be determined had yet to be delineated. After all, they were supposed to take risks. But they could, theoretically, be punished, perhaps, at some point in time, when it could be determined that those risks were the direct result of “Reckless Misconduct”. Ergo, the sort of risks that bring about the crash of 2008, the Libor scandal and the PPI mis-selling scam. No one was taking any bets on how and when “Reckless Misconduct” would be defined in Law and made into a real crime. It would be part of a broad remit of “increased personal responsibility”. It may tie in with the delayed gratification of with-holding of bonus payments. Which sounds curiously like the sorts of steps Supernanny might take with her scampy little scallywags.


That is reckless misconduct, young man!

I will await with dubious anticipation the translation of “Reckless Misconduct” into legalese. Should it ever come to pass, I imagine a great many of us will have candidates in our lives to nominate for the charge. Not necessarily bankers. Or the word which rhymes with bankers. Playing fast and loose with other people’s money is one thing, but what about their hearts and minds?  Could “Reckless Misconduct” be the new Get Out of Jail Free card in divorces, supplanting the sad old “irretrievably broken down” clause. It has a lot more glamour and verve to it. It doesn’t make the marriage sound like a dodgy old car which failed its MOT.


It’s funny, or in fact it wasn’t funny, to expect and want some reckless misconduct from a pair of mavericks who will usually provide it for us, and have to settle for a sober panel discussion. That’s the thing with “Reckless Misconduct”. It’s more entertaining than Righteous Propriety. When you have someone as daredevilishly handsome as Russell, you want a bit of devil-may-care with it. We  are accustomed to relegating recklessness to such renegades. It’s a release from our Kierkegaardian subsumation in the ambiguous guilt of anxiety. Or something like that.

Of course, some walks of life just don’t put up with reckless misconduct. Sport, for example. Managers and coaches get sacked as soon as they have the temerity to lead their team through a string of failed fixtures. Playing it safe is doomed. Which is no doubt what a lot of bankers have to fear. But its easier when there are clearer rules. Or any rules. When its win or lose.  Politics presents yet more shifting goalposts. It wasn’t misconduct, but was it reckless, of Julia Gillard to be photographed knitting a toy for the Royal Baby? The poor woman is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. Or maybe it is misconduct, if the electorate are being misled? Is she a republican or isn’t she? Is she just pretending to be “homey” to get the female vote? In fact, there is so much rampaging misconduct everywhere you look that it is almost impossible to pause for long enough to pin a “reckless” sticker onto it. I don’t see any bankers going to prison anytime too soon…


The definition of reckless behaviour?

June 26th Breaking News: Oh dear, Julia has just been routed out by Kevin Rudd. I don’t think anyone is blaming the knitted kangaroo but it obviously didn’t help her cause. She was Prime Minister for three years and two days.

OK FORGET THE KNITTING! Julia Gillard is quite clearly going to go down in history for this great quote in her speech today: (gender) “doesn’t explain everything, but it doesn’t explain nothing either”.  Now that is not reckless, that is beautifully, carefully ambiguous. Rarely have so few words said so much.

We’ve had 100 years of psychotherapy….

English: Group photo in front of Clark Univers...

English: Group photo in front of Clark University Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung; Back row: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi. Photo taken for Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts publication. Česky: Foto z Clarkovy univerzity roku 1909. Dole (zleva) Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung, nahoře (zleva) Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The founding fathers.


One Hundred years ago…


Look a bit – uh – dated?

 And the World’s Getting Worse. Co-authors James Hillman and Michael Ventura set out to start a small cultural revolution of their own, no, that’s incorrect. They set out to start a major revolution, by throwing rocks, as it were, through the glass windows of their own private spaces. A space defined, initially, and they now find claustrophobically, by the confines of a consulting room.
They decide to go about it in an unconventional way. Not by sitting down and writing and exchanging drafts, but by pacing about and talking, by debates over dinner, by late night phone calls and a lively exchange of letters. In other words, by a genuine dialectic, and a discourse that is as physically energetic as it is intellectual. It starts as an interview and ends as a fast drive. They are both impassioned, argumentative, really clever and really committed to this project. The result is a collection of ideas quite like no other.

Not the desired outcome of human existence
Thomas Pynchon says they are “Provocative, dangerous and high-spirited”. In a way, it is more like watching a performance than reading a text. Not surprisingly, one of many subjects they cover is method acting. There are not many subjects they don’t cover. They swoop and dive from Greek mythology to urban decay, from Puritanism to Pagans, from case histories and child abuse to catharsis and sexual chemistry. Their own love lives get raked over in the riddle that is Romantic love and its hopeless hold on the western imagination. They discuss death, a man making love to a banana tree, ecology, politics, cars, the bad magic that emanates from bad design (Styrofoam cups, K-Mart fabrics, fake wood tabletops). They cover all forms of addictions, and all the many ways psychology fails to fix them. They mourn the possible outcome of the long ritual of therapy and like it to turning into processed cheese:”And you will be very well adjusted and even tempered, and you won’t “lose” it, you won’t have any extremes. And maybe you can even have a successful marriage with someone as boring as you are!”
Let the craziness in, and the poetry…
In a way, what they want is to let the craziness in, not keep it out. They insist that hoping that everything is supposed to be all right, and that if it’s not all right, it’s wrong; is just impossible, as we are always going to be beset by huge emotions, upsets and events that don’t go the way we want them to.  Trying to control all that is a fantasy.But then, as so often, they circle in on that and recognize that Jung said “The primary activity of psychic life is the creation of fantasy” and off they go again! It really is quite an exhilarating ride, I promise you.Although Hillman is or was a therapist himself and Ventura has had lots of therapy, they wrangle and struggle with the usefulness of it as a “cure”. Out of dozens of fascinating niggles and grips, is the way they ponder over the substitution of the word “patient” with the word “client” and how this indicates a corruption. For starters, it contradicts the dictum of someone who pays for a service, that the “customer is always right”, because, here, they can’t be. They are dependent on the therapist. Than again, the therapist is dependant upon them – they are financially dependant on their own patrons. But this cannot be discussed: “We’re not here to talk about the rules of this relationship, we’re here to talk about your problems. It’s almost as if both therapist and client have to deny that it is a relationship, albeit a strange one at that.” As you can see, they shine the light of reason into all corners of the process and highlight some rather murky shadows. Like anything else that gets taken for granted, the rules of conduct seem due an overhaul. And seeing as the psychologically cured “together and OK” people don’t seem to be doing such a fine job – given the premise of the title – what is the answer?
One proposal is to allow the poetry back in. Because “the soul is inherently imaginative”. And if the malaise of the psyche is not in the soul then where is it? This then, is the revolution they come up with. An “artistic paradigm” though not literally with artists and art ,but with the rejection of mediocrity and the mundane and the medicated mindlessness which substitutes for so-called sanity. And a turning away from the inner self, and out towards the world again. Everything about this book is gutsy, ferocious, fast-paced and frenetic. Except when they get stumped, and have to pause and reflect awhile, which lends authenticity to the timbre of the talk. In case anyone is worried that it is just an out-and-out attack on Therapy, that’s actually the last thing it is. They could not be as impassioned as they are if they did not care, and seek a better, more soulful way, of re-defining its purpose and promise. .The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling

Great Books


One of my long-term all-time favourites is David Denby‘s “Great Books” with it’s awesome sub-title “My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World“. Trading on the maxim, “education is wasted on the young” David Denby goes back to college after thirty years to re-sit his courses in Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilisation at Colombia. He is by now established in his career as film critic of the New Yorker and a happily settled husband and father. So what makes him do this crazy thing?

Love. Love of literature. And love of thinking. Thinking is an under-rated activity. We all do it of course, but not very well. There’s too much else on our minds. Some people meditate so they don’t have to think for an hour or so. Denby likes to think aloud in a muscular and almost sporting way. His mental energy is quite fizzing and physical. One of the chief balls he has to take up and run with from the outset, is that his former courses have been beset by a kind of collective hysteria from the Academic Left in the intervening decades, and (not unjustly) accused of all being written by Dead White European Males. As if the Western Canon itself were thereby something evil and irrelevant. He worries about this and he wonders why it bothers him so and he wants to re-connect with why he cares so much to defend it. Living in a world of shadows as a movie critic, he feels he is only in possession of “information without knowledge”. When you consider that he wrote this in the 1990s at the very beginning of the internet era really, then it makes his odyssey even more valid today. We are all supersaturated in information without knowledge.

And so off he goes. Headlong and headstrong into his classes, and his reading and his note-taking and his thought-collection. Interspersed through the literary adventure is the rolling over of home life with his family, and his ponderings on fellow students and teachers and indeed, his own former self. He is pretty honest, he admits when he finds stuff heavy-going. Here he is trying to get on with Hegel: “I could hardly believe it. I moved forward, backward, forward again, and at times, reading the same passage for the third time, going hand over hand on ropes leading into darkness, I thought I was blind. The journalist in me, trained in intelligibility and speed, was close to disgust. This was ridiculous, I wasn’t getting anywhere. The hell with this book”.

Despite the overall heroic attempt, he also admits he can’t write read about, or write about, everything: “It was impossible, there were too many “great books” – and too many great books “So I would let Thucydides go, and also Aristophanes, and Aquinas, Luther and Calvin and even Rene Descartes, stirring and central as he was.”

This book was on the New York Times Bestseller list for yonks, and although it drew some criticism for it’s stubborn refusal to kow-tow to the inclusion of texts more relevant to women or African-Americans or any other “non-traditional” groups, he sticks to his argument that by their very exclusion it proves the point that this is the historical truth about past oppression. The canon is the canon because that is the way the Western civilisation developed, like it or not. And of course we don’t like it. But he admits he writes from “inside the walls of Imperialism”. He is also skeptical about the use of literature as some sort of therapeutic balm. He wants it to challenge, to assault, to frighten us into recognition and responsibility. As the professor says to the students about Homer “You can go back to the amniotic sea, or you can make your surface shining and impenetrable, so no one knows you. () Look, I don’t know why you can’t just have joy. But if you’re going to be truly recognised, it has to involve trouble and pain. ”

Wow! How true is that? I wish some wise professor has alerted me to this inevitable induction process.

This isn’t Denby’s conclusion, but it might as well be: “We read literature, finally, for pleasure, and in order to know that death exists, which also means knowing how to live”