Sunday, 16 December 2012

'Stranger in a borrowed land: Lotte Moos and her writing

‘Stranger in a borrowed land: Lotte Moos and her writing’
by David Perman
Grendel Publishing in association with Rockingham Press, London, 2012
ISBN 978 0 9566570 1 5

Reviewed by Ruth Rikowski

At the request of Monica Blake, who founded Grendel Publishing a couple of years ago, along with a colleague, I am reviewing this book, ‘Stranger in a borrowed land: Lotte Moos and her writing’. The book is published by Grendel in association with Rockingham Press.

I did not know anything at all about the book, so came to read it with no preconceived thoughts at all.

I read the book in a couple of days, with the aim of getting to the essence of it quickly.

I concluded that whilst it was quite interesting on one level, I did not really think that Lotte Moos necessarily deserved a book like this in her own right; that she had not achieved enough to warrant all the work and attention that she got through the production of this book. The author David Perman gathered together all the relevant material after she died at the age of 98 years (in 2008) in order to write the book (which could not have been at all easy) and Monica Blake and her colleague had to put in a lot of work editing the manuscript and removing extraneous material.

So, why is this my conclusion, one might well ask?

Well, the lady led quite an interesting life, it has to be said, and she had some sound values – she was a socialist, for one thing. She was a German Jewish refugee, fleeing from Germany in 1933. As the author, David Perman, said in the opening pages, Lotte’s:

“…parents were educated, middle-class Jews who were thoroughly assimilated into German society. (p. 10)

Lotte’s husband worked at Oxford and Durham Universities and they had an interesting social network. Lotte lived in a number of different countries, including England, France, Russia and America, as well as Germany of course. And she wrote a lot, particularly poetry. This included writing a column for the government’s refugee paper, Die Zeitung at one time. She also wrote plays, some of which were performed. One of her plays won second prize in a BBC-Arts Council competition, although some of her other plays were heavily criticised (particularly one about Russia). She also wrote some plays for TV.

Yet, the book seemed to be suggesting that she achieved more than she actually did or at least that she was more talented than she was given credit for throughout her life. She loved stories from a child and wrote stories, so obviously I could identify with that. Throughout her life she wrote but most of her work remained unpublished. A list of her works are given at the end of the book. This included poems, plays and prose – essays and stories. But it was largely only her poems that were actually published – with Centerprise Trust, Approach Poets and Rockingham Press. A few pieces were published in places such as the New Statesman and the Women Guardian.

Her and her husband moved to Hackney after they retired and were the founding members of the Hackney Writers’ Workshop there in 1976. Now, surely during this long period, Lotte could have tidied up her work, made it suitable material for publication and found herself a reputable and suitable publisher. And she lived a long life, so she had plenty of time to do this in.

Was Lotte very talented? Is it lost talent that we do not appreciate? Was the author trying to rescue this lost talent? Who knows, as we do not have access to most of her writings! But there are probably many such people ‘out there’ and nothing in the book suggested to me that she was extra special. But if it is about the horrors that the Jews faced during the 2nd World War – well, there are far better examples. Or is it for some other reason, and if so, what is it? For the sake of local history in Hackney perhaps? Whatever the reason – the author does not make this at all clear.

The author seemed to want us to feel sorry for Lotte, I thought – Lotte not being able to finish her degree in England and Lotte getting various rejections and criticisms in the publishing world - although there were also achievements such as her getting her first essay published when she was still a child. But also: Lotte not getting more of her material published; Lotte having to flee from Germany; Lotte facing a stint in Holloway prison and being accused of being both a Nazi sympathiser and a Soviet spy etc. Yet, in many ways she had a good and comfortable life, I thought. She was also provided with many opportunities to shine, such as getting her plays reviewed in top newspapers, and some of her plays being performed in the West End. But these were opportunities that, on the whole, she did not make the most of, from what I could see. Whilst others with more talent are often given far fewer opportunities, I feel sure.

Finally, what are the worth of Writers’ Workshops in themselves, one might ask? Do they tend to help or hinder budding writers to get published? Who knows. But from my own personal experience, I think they should be used with care – perhaps, need a cautionary note on the tin, as they say! Whilst they might give one a few tips, one has to be wary of them ending up just being social gatherings and talking shops with no-one really intent on getting their writing published. The best thing to do, from my experience, is to just get on and write the stuff! And then, tidy it up, clean it up, continually improve and refine it until eventually the material ends up being worthy and suitable for publication. And that is what I am about with my own novel writing – but it is proving to be a long and painful, albeit also a very enjoyable and rewarding process.

The book is well produced and put together and there are some nice photos. There is no index.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Greenwich Leisure Ltd and Wandsworth Libraries

Diane Edmonds, heading up Greenwich Leisure Ltd, continues on the decided path.

Next, Wandsworth London Libraries. She says:

"We are delighted to have been selected as preferred bidder by Wandsworth Council."

Where is all this leading towards, one might well ask?

Well, it all goes in line with what I predicted 10 years ago - the commercialisation and privatisation of our public libraries. But one gives up hope of trying to stop it all; whatever is the point?

At this stage, perhaps it is more useful to try to envisage where we think we are likely to be in 10 years time. Better than keep bemoaning what we have lost and what we might be losing in the shorter term.

Well, my prediction is that in 10 years time we will still have a public library service - but only just. That for many areas there will just be one main library (rather than several smaller libraries)  and that this is also likely to include other Community Information services. This library will mainly be self-service. And it won't be costing much.

Once all of that is in place, and if they think they can get away with it, the statutory obligation to provide a public library service can then be removed. And then what? Well, leave it to your imagination, but largely, I'd say - don't be looking towards a public library for anything much.

Oh well - might as well go to to Amazon, or a charity shop, or a second-hand bookshop or Waterstones or some other bookshop for many of ones books; or re-read the books that one already has on the shelf. Can't keep flogging a dead horse.

Need to think differently; need to do different (as the UEA motto says).

Monday, 12 November 2012

Cuddling up to a Kindle?

It seems that I need to address something.

I have just received a copy of a review of my book, Digitisation Perspectives (Sense Publishing, 2011) which appeared in the journal Alexandria (22, 2/3, 2011). This was largely a summary/overview of the different sections and chapters in the book, but in the last paragraph the reviewer Beccy Shipman, has this to say:

"At one point the editor argues that e-books will never replace the experience of reading a printed book, especially as you cannot take an e-book to bed, but this is already possible."

As this has been mentioned elsewhere, I thought I had better now address the issue.

What I meant was that one cannot cuddle up to and snuggle up to an e-book in bed - one cannot cuddle up with a kindle; stroke it lovingly; put it under the bedclothes; flick through it tenderly; look glowingly at the cover and the pictures. Basically, it cannot connect with ones sensations and emotions in a way that a hard copy book can. Dear oh dear! I didn't think it would be necessary to spell this out. I thought it was all rather intimate really, but there you go, and there it is... If the kindle can do all that for you, then good luck to you - but it certainly can't do all that for me!

Still, the reviewer ends on a positive note, saying:

"If you are interested in a wide-ranging discussion of digital content and the impact of recent technologies with much thought-provoking commentary, this may be the book for you."

Happy reading (in bed or otherwise) and all that.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Marxism and Feminism: Past and Present


London Public Meeting

Thursday 8 November 2012

7.30 pm at The Lucas Arms,
245a Grays Inn Road, King's Cross, London, WC1X 8QZ (5 mins. Kings Cross Tube)


Heather Brown, author of Marx on Gender and the Family: A Critical Study

Sandra Rein, author of Reading Dunayevskaya: Engaging the Emergence of Marxist Humanism, 1930-1955

David Black, author of Helen Macfarlane: A Feminist, Revolutionary Journalist and Philosopher in Mid-19th Century England; and co-author (with Chris Ford) of 1839: The Chartist Insurrection

Meeting sponsored by the International Marxist-Humanist Organization.


Friday, 19 October 2012

'Consciousness and Revolt' and Transformatiave Art, Work and Practices

'Consciousness and Revolt: an exploration toward reconciliation, Book 1' by Robert C. Smith, Heathwood Press: Holt, Norfolk, 2011, £14.99 ISBN: 9780957096103

Further details on Consciousness and Revolt:
Heathwood Press:

Building on our recent connection with Robert Smith and Heathwood Press (see my newsletter, No. 51, item 1 -, I decided to read Smith's recently published book, 'Consciousness and Revolt' (2011).

As I read, I found it a very interesting, albeit unusual book. However, also as I read, I was not sure where the book was going and it seemed to be rather repeating itself. But towards the end of the book, I realised what the aim of the author was - and the repeating (such as there was) was being done for good effect. It was done in order to try to convince the reader of Smith’s overwhelming powerful argument - which I am now sure is right. This is about transformative ways of being and operating, living transformatively and where experiential life is all important. And within this, transformative art is key. This is where it is at.

Robert Smith's basic position is that we need to abandon searches for the absolute and for objectivity, and not follow any particular ideology or idol. People's desire for the absolute arises from their need for security, argues Smith, but he says that this is a false sense of security. Also, that it is a form of self-deception, evasion and distortion. Instead, we need to focus on experiential life - and that this is what is meaningful and the way in which we should make sense of the world.

Smith says that what his critique:

"...pertains to is the question of distorted experience, of absolutizing and objectifying, which, in turn, amounts to the distortion of life...For if, when the means of my life, when the very way in which I both approach and experience the phenomenal world, becomes subservient to ideology - to the kind of 'objectifying' and absolutizing processes that deform my very intersubjective relation with the phenomenal world; it is from this point that, as a collective illness, needless social suffering and 'increasing unfreedom' originates." (p. 17)

In regard to security, Smith argues that:

"...the absolute...breathes security into the most uncertain realities of our everyday lives." (p. 47)


"Evasion...represents the human desire to make absolute the inherently diverse and multidimensional stuff of experience." (p. 49)

Instead, Smith says that Philosophy needs to be grounded in experience:

"Philosophy is relevant today so long as it invests itself on the concrete grounds of experience." (p.37) But that much Philosophy today is "disengaged with everyday living" and "lacks concrete normativity". (p. 40)

Smith also talks about the deifying of the market economy and the absolutism and rationalism that pervades global capitalism. He talks about the:

"...deifying of the market economy and the very functionalizing, legitimatizing, and instrumentalizing of abstract reason, scientism and technicism..." (p. 65)

Also, that:

"Global capitalism, which is the head of today's warped Trinity is not only conceptually, but also experientially dependent on abstract reasoning, scientism and technicism." (p. 66)
Smith is against such abstract reasoning, which he argues is subservient to the global capitalist ideology.

Returning to evasion, self-deception and distortion, Smith says that

"Every ideology, every absolute principle, every totalized 'method of life', is built on the spirit of evasion." (p. 92)

Also that:

"Experiential evasion discloses how we consciously choose to self-deceivingly evade our experiences." (p. 139)

And that:

" 'Objectivity' is consequential to experiential distortion, to the wrenching apart of multidimensional experience." (p. 219)

Whilst for him:

"Once I have adapted to being in the service of some absolute thing I cease to critically or coherently dialogue with the world..." (p. 225)

All this is a very unusual perspective, I think, and not one that I have thought about much before. Neither was I sure that I quite agreed with it at first. Some years ago, I would not have agreed with it, arguing that relativism led to stale-mate, where the development of real truth and knowledge became virtually impossible. But times changes and life moves on and in some ways my thoughts have come full circle, but now with another whole layer of complexity, knowledge, understanding and experience.

Anyway, ‘Consciousness and Revolt’ was interesting, and quite persuasive, although, as said before, as I was reading I thought the basic argument was repeated rather too many times. Also, that the author might have be better off actually 'going for the life' (as D.H. Lawrence did - see my previous blog) and recording the experiential experiences, rather than just talking about them.

And as I say, historically, I have been quite cynical about relativism, thinking that it leads one to not being able to say anything much; and not being possible to develop theories, truth and knowledge in any meaningful way. But reading some D.H. Lawrence essays this summer I questionned this a little, as he was also very much against the absolute and 'for' relativism. Lawrence expresses his view about the Absolute in his essay 'Why the Novel Matters', which he wrote in 1925, saying:

“We should ask for no absolutes, or absolute. Once and for all and forever, let us have done with the ugly imperialism of any absolute. There is no absolute good, there is nothing absolutely right. All things flow and change, and even change is not absolute. The whole is a strange assembly of apparently incongruous parts, slipping past one another.” (‘Why the Novel Matters’ in 'Study of Thomas Hardy and other essays’, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 196)

I now think that it is probably more related to one’s depth of thought on these matters and is not a simple either/or between the 'Absolute' and the 'Relative'. Also, interestingly, when D. H. Lawrence was younger, he held a different view about the absolute. That, in itself, can be the power of the writer of fiction – one does not feel obliged to have a fixed position.

So, anyway, this made me more sympathetic to Smith's position. But at the same time, as I say, whilst I was reading it seemed to me that Smith was spending his time talking about this, rather than actually living the life. So, then I thought that he had probably been very deeply effected by some overpowering ideology in his past, that he was still trying to shake off and overcome, in one way or another. That was the only thing that was making sense to me.

However, all became crystal clear to me in the final pages - I had got it wrong; I had been unfair on Smith. His project is very grand and very worthy. It is about convincing people about the need for transformative work. Within this, and in order to be effective, he needed to have powerful arguments, and to develop the arguments slowly and carefully. It is about the power and value of transformative art in particular, and about inserting experiential life into works of transformative art. That in actual fact the whole of life should be looked at in this transformative way, he says. Wow - how incredible. I was very moved.
All of this is only revealed in the very final pages of the book. But this is only ‘Book 1’ of a series of books, so this is clearly something that Smith will be developing further in future works.

Smith talks, in particular, about the value of the novel and its transformative potential - I was transfixed. He says:

"When it comes to an experientially coherent philosophy; it is applied only through the basic form of the novel, which has long been a historical declaration of life and experience. In a practical sense, human beings do not learn by being told what they should learn. Knowledge is born from out of self-realization, through our experiencing and reflecting on a subject. This is the ultimate goal of the transformative work: to therefore assist or even guide the reader toward meanings and realizations that are self-actualized and not coercive. One is not told what to think; for to propagate or coerce the reader is to defeat the very potential of humanity as a researcher. To put it in another light, an experientially coherent work wants to be as sensitively aware and intersubjective as possible....The basic form and expression of a novel is therefore the closest that we have come to realizing transformative work in the name of academic thought: because the transformative work, which has long been subject to the form of the novel, is necessarily created to be an experience for the reader. The author, in other words, creates an experience just as much as he or she expresses a perspective on life." (p. 389)

Agreeing with Camus, Smith says that the novel is philosophy 'expressed in images'. He says:

"...just as philosophy disappears into the images of a transformative novel, which are themselves expressions of some aspect of our experience, and ultimately, our 'concrete existences'; in a coherent philosophy the images of the novel disappear into the concepts. That is to say that, if philosophy is to be coherent, it must only be born from out of experiential experience - much like a work of art; it expresses concrete experience and does not abstract from, distort or evade that experience....The transformative work, in this way, wants to do away with things like rational objectivity, and overly systematic and technical language." (p. 390)

In addition, he says that philosophy needs to be genuine, and that:

" a genuine philosophy, the novel becomes the format for its being and disappears into the concepts." (p. 390)

Smith continues:

"...if transformative literature is, as I claim, a philosophical tool at its best; it requires that the writer as an artist be conscious of his or her own limitations and in exercise of an art in which the concrete signifies nothing more than a mediation of lived experience and reflection. But never can a transformative work be the end, the meaning, and the consolation of life." (pp. 391-2)

Smith then broadens this out to transformative art in general. This includes music of course, and he says of music that:

"The phenomenon of music makes itself known to us as discernable; knowable; sensorially pleasing and cognitively provoking. When we are totally in tune with a piece of music, the phenomenon of the music calls to us and reveals to us an overwhelming intersubjective richness. The same can be said toward all transformative art. Art, in this case, a piece of music, has the ability to simultaneously free us from the objectifications we have absorbed and simultaneously re-establish a connection with our immediate existences." (p. 396)

Smith concludes his book, saying:

"Social transformation, I should like to point out in closing, does not lie in some theoretical concept of social change; nor does it lie in some grand Ideal of a historical revolution of almighty proportions. If what history teaches us is true, then upon the collapse of one Idol a new Idol tends to be born of its ashes - that is, as humanity tears down one Idol it simultaneously erects another. But as we have seen, absolutes as functioning Fascism or as radical alternatives are nevertheless both just as corrupt. Lest we forget history's lessons, genuine transformation must begin with an alternative approach to how we experience not only the world of things, but also ourselves and each other. It is in a coherent approach to experience, rather than in any greater concept of social change, which lies the only hope of a better future. (pp. 405-6)

Now, all this was quite astonishing to me and very exciting, because my own thoughts have been going down this path more and more of late. And reading more about D. H. Lawrence the person this summer, as well as his essays on the novel just confirmed this even more for me.

Basically, D.H. Lawrence saw the novel as being the best and most powerful of all types of books. In his essay ‘Why the Novel Matters’, Lawrence said:

"The novel is the one bright book of life. Books are not life. They are only tremulations on the ether. But the novel as a tremulation can make the whole man-alive tremble. Which is more than poetry, philosophy, science or any other book-tremulation can do." (Lawrence in 'Study of Thomas Hardy and other essays', Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 195)


He continues the theme in his essay 'Why the Novel Matters' (also written in 1925), saying:

“Let us learn from the novel. In the novel, the characters can do nothing but live. If they keep on being good, according to pattern, or bad, according to pattern, or even volatile, according to pattern, they cease to live, and the novel falls dead. A character in a novel has got to live, or it is nothing. We, likewise, in life have to live, or we are nothing.” (Lawrence in ‘Why the Novel Matters’ in ‘Study of Thomas Hardy and other essays’, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 197)

In addition, in his essay ‘The Novel’ (also written in 1925), he said:

“Everything is relative…And this is the beauty of the novel; everything is true in its own relationship, and no further. For the relatedness and interrelatedness of all things flows and changes and trembles like a stream, and like a fish in the stream the characters in the novel swim and drift and float and turn belly-up when they’re dead.” (Lawrence in ‘The Novel’ in ‘Study of Thomas Hardy and other essays’, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 185)

Lawrence also thought (like Smith) that all good novels had philosophy in them:

“…since every novelist who amounts to anything has a philosophy – even Balzac – any novel of importance has a purpose.” (Lawrence in ‘The Novel’, in ‘Study of Thomas Hardy and other essays’, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 179)

And interestingly, Richard Aldington in the Introduction to Lawrence's ‘Acopalypse’ said that:

“From the point of view of the intellectuals (and this is the reason why they treated him either with coldness or hostility) Lawrence’s fundamental heresy was simply that he placed quality of feelings, intensity of sensations and passion before intellect.” (Aldington in Introduction to ‘Apocalypse’, Penguin, 1974, p. xv - first pub 1931)

So, Lawrence focused on feelings, sensations, emotions, passions - i.e. on experiential living! Thus, all this also ties up very much with Smith's ideas. I was surprised, though, that Smith did not reference Lawrence at all in his book. Rather, he has been very influenced by Camus, Adorno and Sartre. But for me, Lawrence is where it is really at. But anyway, we all travel down different paths, but if like-minded people can arrive at the same meeting point in the end, no matter where they come from, then that is probably the most important thing, and that is great! And those of us that want to live real, genuine and meaningful lives should try to come together in one way or another, I think, and appreciate the value of each other.

Thus, to sum up here, people should put their experiences into transformative work and art and the whole of life can then be recrafted in this way. This is the basic message.

So, we move on; we think; we rethink; we craft life; we recraft life; we live; we experience; we experience the wonders of life; we search for the truth; we search for the meaning of life; we live; we breathe; we be; we exist; we embrace.

Life is a journey, a process of discovery - let us use it as powerfully, joyfully and productively as we can. Let us learn to rejoice and celebrate life; to liberate ourselves and others; to help to bring fulfilment to ourselves and others; and not to control and dominate each other. So, within this framework, I am starting to be more and more of the opinion that ‘transformative work’ and 'transformative art' is, indeed, where it is at. Folks should be really brave; they should make their real experiences really work for them and take the necessary risks - but not in a fake way (such as was presented to me whilst studying for my teaching certificate).

In conclusion, I think that Smith is saying something that is incredibly important - indeed transformative! This brings us back full circle to the power and beauty of the novel - my first love! I very much agree with Smith that “The basic form and expression of the novel…is the closest that we have come to realizing transformative work…” (p.389) Yes, the worthy novel is, in many ways, where it is at. Although, of course, we must clearly differentiate here between the worthy novel and the trash novel (easier said than done, but I can’t go into that one right now) – but yes, the worthy novel is very much where it is at. People can abstractedly theorise and it can be and indeed, is very useful, but on its own it is not going to get to the core, to something basic and of fundamental importance in ourselves as humans. So much will be missed out.

Take Andrea Micocci and dialectics, for example. Does dialectical thinking help to get us beyond capitalism? This is the big question that he poses in his book ‘The Metaphysics of Capitalism’, (Lexington Books, Maryland: USA, 2009) – a book that we have both been reading recently. Micocci argues that dialectical Marxism, rather then helping to end capitalism, helps to sustain it and is actually functionalist in this regard. So, then what do we do? Abandon all dialectical thinking, to arrive at some higher level of purity of thought? Well, that won't be possible anyway, because we live in this capitalist world and have to experience it. Unless, of course, one decides to live differently, such as a Monk’s or a Buddhist way of life, but then one would not be writing this type of stuff anyway, so the argument is redundant. Thus, we are tied up with this way of life. Rather, what we need is 'transformative thinking'. With such thinking we can embrace dialectics (and not offend the many Marxists out there), see it as a vehicle for helping us to get beyond capitalism, whilst also recognising and appreciating that it also enables us to understand and function in capitalism at the same time. So, it is not an either/or. Thus, we have 2 not either/ors in this piece! Well, we need a little light relief, now and then!

Anyway, I am very excited about all this, and now feel very sure that I am on the right path. My future works will become more and more transformative, particularly through the vehicle of the novel, the transformative novel, building on and refining experiential life. In this way, I aim to move things forward, and hopefully bring about a little social transformation on the way.

'The People Speak: voices that changed Britain' by Anthony Arnove, Colin Firth and David Horspool

A Message from Anthony Arnove:

"My new book with Colin Firth, THE PEOPLE SPEAK: VOICES THAT CHANGED BRITAIN, is just out from Canongate Books.

The book, inspired by the work of people's historian Howard Zinn, is a documentary collection of dramatic voices of protest and dissent from the twelfth century to the present.

You can read about the book here:

There are some very moving readings and musical performances -- including by Vanessa Redgrave, a last-minute surprise guest -- from our launch event here:

Great photos from the event can be viewed here:

An excerpt of Colin Firth's introduction and some selections from the book can be found here:

And you can check out our BBC Culture Show profile here:

I hope the book might be of interest.



Further Information

The People Speak tells the story of Britain through the voices of the visionaries, dissenters, rebels and everyday folk who took on the Establishment and stood up for what they believed in. Here are their stories, letters, speeches and songs, from John Ball to Daniel Defoe; from Thomas Paine to Oscar Wilde; from the peasants' revolts to the suffragists to the anti-war demonstrators of today. Spanning almost one thousand years and over 150 individual voices, these are some of the most powerful words in our history.

Colin Firth (CBE) is a Bafta- and Academy Award-winning actor. His films include The English Patient, Fever Pitch, Bridget Jones's Diary, Girl with a Pearl Earring, A Single Man and The King's Speech. Alongside Anthony Arnove, he was instrumental in bringing a televised stage performance of The People Speak to the UK in 2010.

Anthony Arnove is the author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal, editor of Iraq Under Siege, Howard Zinn Speaks and The Essential Chomsky, and co-author, with Howard Zinn, of Voices of a People's History of the United States and Terrorism and War. He is the co-director of The People Speak with Chris Moore and Howard Zinn.

David Horspool is a historian and editor at the Times Literary Supplement. He is the author of two previous books: Why Alfred Burned the Cakes and The English Rebel: One Thousand Years of Trouble-making from the Normans to the Nineties. He writes for The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and the New York Times.

‘The People Speak’ at Canongate Books:

Note: This looks like a very interesting and informative book, looking at these 'People' from the 'right' (i.e. 'left'!) angle - well, from our point of view. And as Colin Firth is involved with it (see my 'Pride and Prejudice' blog), how could I not blog it. Next step is to buy the book!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Ian Parker and his 'Revolution in Psychology'

We were shocked to discover that Ian Parker, a Professor of Psychology at Mancester Metropolitan University, has been suspended from work. This followed on from Ian Parker raising concerns within the university about the problem of secrecy and control in the department where he works.

Now, why this is so particularly shocking to us is because Ian Parker wrote a book that we thought was really inspiring and genuine - basically, a critique of psychology.

The book is: 'Revolution in Psychology: alienation to emancipation, Pluto Press: London, 2007.

Parker introduces the book, saying:

"Psychology is important not because it is true but because it is so useful to those in power...Psychology is an increasingly powerful component of ideology, ruling ideas that endorse exploitation and sabotage struggles against oppression." (pp. 1-2)

Also, that:

"Psychology is indeed a fake science that abuses the public, but it calls upon forces that have come to operate deep within us as human beings who have come to be who we are so we can work and survive in capitalist society." (p. 7)

Indeed - psychology helps people to function in capitalist society, and we should not fool ourselves into thinking that it is basically anything much other than that.

We do hope that Ian Parker will soon be back doing his all-important and highly valuable work.

'Samphire Coast' by Robert Greenfield

We purchased this novel when we visited Holkham Hall in Norfolk this summer. The author, Robert Greenfield was there, selling signed copies. We thought the book looked intriguing, as this was someone that had had a difficult background, now lived in Norfolk and had made a real success of his life.

The book is 'Samphire Coast' by Robert Greenfield, Vanguard paperback, 2011,
ISBN 978 1 84386 917 7

Now, I have just finished reading this book and it was, indeed, a great read. It describes how this gay couple, Robert and Mike decided to set up and run a very successful Bed & Breakfast place in Thursford, Norfolk. Greenfied explains the risks they took, leaving their home and their way of life in London, and the big success they made of their B&B place. So much so, that they won various awards, and in particular, won the award for the best B&B in Britain in 2005! They worked very, very hard and always went the extra mile. They were incredibly hard-working and enthusiastic. They were real perfectionists. Greenfield also tells many stories about their different and interesting experiences and some of the people they meet, whilst running their B&B.

However, their success came at a price. Having won this major award, they felt that their personal life and space was being invaded - as the B&B place was also their home. They would also have had to kept up their incredibly high standards of course, in order to 'stay on top'. They decided that for the sake of their relationship and to protect their way of life within this, they had to sell up their B&B, whilst they were at their peak. I could understand their reasons, but still, it brought tears to my eyes...

I thought many things were amazing and wonderful about the book - e.g.

1. The style of the writing - it was very gripping and really made you want to read more.
2. It showed how one can really succeed at something if one is really determined, yet how such success can also come at a real price - there are no really safe places in capitalism.
3. It showed how much one can achieve if one has a really good relationship, but how important it is to keep that relationship strong, and not let society and people tear it apart.
4. The author's love of Norfolk came across very powerfully in the book - and it is a very special place for us too.
5. The ending was a surprise to me - right up to the end, I thought that it might have been partly a marketing exercise for the promotion of Robert and Mike's B&B - but clearly it was not.
6. How one can overcome a difficult childhood and how sometimes those that have more difficult lives end up achieving more. As Robert Greenfield says:

"Paradoxically, I have found, it often seems the people who have suffered the most adversity in their formative years, are the ones that go on to have the most outstanding, and productive lives...(p.69)

This is certainly a book I would recommend - a really fun , interesting and enjoyable read.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Janet Daniels' Garden in Saga Magazine

I was delighted to discover that there is a 4-page colour spread about Janet Daniels garden in the Saga Magazine (Sep 2012 issue, pp. 68-7. The article is written by Martyn Cox.

Janet is our neighbour and opens her beautiful garden to the public 3 times a year, and gives the proceedings to charity. I wrote a blog about her wonderful garden (including some pictures of it) in May 2010 - see

Describing the garden, Cox says in the article:

"There's a patio, an arbour cloaked by climbers...two ponds, many beds crammed with plants, a tiny greenhouse, a raised seating terrace and a shed crammed full of Dinky toys, antique tools and other knock-knacks. The dense planting and layout make it impossible to see from one end of the rectangular-shaped plot to the other. 'When people first set foot in the garden they think it's only about 15ft long', says Janet, who has lived here since 1968. 'They are surprised when they discover it goes much further back, and are completely blown away when they reach the end and discover my secret garden." (p. 70)

Long may Janet's beautiful garden continue to thrive.

I Love Transcontinental

I ♥ Transcontinental is a protest against corporate banality, mass-produced goods, human exploitation, and vulgarity.

It supports originality, beauty, and harmony.

Products are all individually mixed media hand-printed. No two are alike. They do not make more than three of any design (if that) because they want it to be 'yours, true, unique, and obscure'. The clothes and accessories crafted are fair trade, organic cotton, using water based dyes and other such environmentally friendly materials.

This is a peaceful protest, with the hope that beauty and art will tame the beast greed made our world into.

See I ♥ Transcontinental at:

This is a new, radical and dynamic development in art, design, music and protest - by the designer of the 'Flow of Ideas' website -

Thursday, 4 October 2012

D. H. Lawrence: a Journey

Following on from my last but two blog, about 'Women in Love' by D. H. Lawrence, I suddenly felt driven to explore all this in much more detail.

How did that happen, one might ask? What is all this about?

Well, years ago, when I was still working in the public library service, in the London Borough of Newham, we were instructed by management to clear out/chuck out a really large collection of old and specialist books. Some of them were really wonderful and were by and about interesting, worthwhile and important people. Some even had leather bindings and beautiful covers etc. I decided to 'rescue' some of these books, and we brought them home in our car. Our front room, for a while, began to look like a library itself!

Now, part of this collection was 2 volumes of D. H. Lawrence's letters edited by Harry T. Moore ('The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence'), William Heinemann, 1962. Glenn read them soon after we acquired them, and thought they were absolutely brilliant. He tried to persuade me to read them but I did not 'bite' the cherry at the time. I did not see how letters could be all that interesting (and I also thought, at the time, that it could be disruptive). Then, suddenly, having re-read 'Women in Love' I wanted to give them ' a go'; I wanted to read them; I wanted to find out lots more about Lawrence the person, and in particular, to make sense of this so-called 'Nietzscean influence'.

And what did I find? I was amazed. I was intoxicated; I was overcome; I was in love. It was as though, through his letters, I was talking to Lawrence himself directly. His personality comes across just so powerfully in the letters. And what a wonderful person! As Brenda Maddox says in ‘D. H. Lawrence: the story of a marriage’ (Simon & Schuster, 1994):

“No one could read Lawrence’s letters and not like him.” (Maddox, p. 12)

How could I ever have doubted him at all? - see my ‘Women in Love’ blog. I had my reasons, over the years, but still - I felt disloyal. So, a thousand apologies D. H. Lawrence! I discovered that the letters form one of the best and most comprehensive collection of letters and correspondence ever. Harry T. Moore said in the Introduction to the letters (in Vol 1) that:

“Lawrence’s letters are virtually without parallel in literature; in recent times, only those of Keats, Flaubert, Hopkins and Rilke are anywhere near as rich.” (Moore, p. xiv)

Also, as Keith Sagar said in ‘D. H. Lawrence: Life into Art’ (Viking, 1985):

“His [Lawrence’s] imagination flowed into whatever he wrote, even casual letters.” (Sagar, p. x)

So really, given my love of Lawrence, no wonder I was so moved by them! Incidentally, these are only a selection of his letters - there are actually 7 volumes of his letters published with Cambridge University Press, 2002, edited by Keith Sagar and James T. Boulton.

I guess that is one of the advantages of becoming a major success at quite a young age and certainly in one's lifetime. Lawrence was recognised as being a genius in his early 20’s, and no-one ever really doubted it after that (although that did not stop him from getting a lot of criticism of course). So, even if people had disagreements with Lawrence, they knew he was really something, so decided to keep his letters, I guess.

Elaine Feinstein in ‘Lawrence’s Women: the intimate life of D. H. Lawrence’ (Flamingo, 1994) said that Ford Madox Hueffer, the editor of the English Review (the journal that Jessie Chambers first sent Lawrence’s work to – some poems and short stories) recognised Lawrence’s genius as soon as he read a little of his work. He saw:

“…the first paragraphs of the story ‘Odour of the Chrysanthemums’ as so clearly talented that he put the manuscript into his tray of accepted work without reading further. As was his habit, he began mentioning Lawrence as a genius he had discovered, and so it was that Lawrence’s name became known to writers like G. K. Chesterton and H. G. Wells before he himself knew that Jessie’s attempt to secure publication for him had been successful. Lawrence owed a great deal to Hueffer. To appear in a journal like the English Review, which also published such writers as Joseph Conrad, Henry James, Thomas Hardy and John Galsworthy, ensured that his work would receive attention.” (Feinstein, pp. 57-58)

Wow! Also, in connecting up with such an editor he was a lot more fortunate than I was when I started out on my writing and publication path!

Lawrence - you transformed my life! Basically, if it had not been for you I would probably never have gone to university at all. You gave me the inspiration; you gave me the confidence; you gave me the determination to make it all happen. There were other forces and influences, but when I think about it and reflect, I realise that you were the main force; the underlying and most powerful force.

Yes, there were a number of influences, but really Lawrence was the key to it all. I was fascinated to read what Frieda Lawrence (his wife) herself said about Lawrence after he died, about how much he influenced so many young people. She wrote to Professor Fay, saying:

“Many young people have come and told me how reading Lawrence has completely changed their lives. They would not say that when reading Somerset Maugham…Lawrence was trying to find a new way of life.” (Frieda Lawrence in Maddox, 1994, p. 505)

It was not Lawrence's fault that university life did not live up to my teenage romantic expectations. That is just life; the hard facts of life; and in particular, the hard facts about capitalist life, of course. Lawrence put forward/advocated a certain type of life; a certain way of living, but to actually try and live and be that way is something else. It is extremely difficult; but that still does not mean that it is not something that it is worthwhile to aim at – indeed, far from it.

But through this summer journey (and reading some 20 books on the topic in all, would you believe!), I also discovered that Lawrence had various personal problems of his own and could not always live up to his own expectations anyway. So, in one sense he was not living this 'ideal' life himself - but in reality I don't think he tried to make out that he was anyway.

That was just my misunderstanding, as well as me getting too 'hooked' into 'Women in Love' itself. 'Women in Love' was written in the early days of his relationship with Frieda. But times changed and life moved on, of course and his writing and his own thoughts also changed, developed and moved on. But I remained rather hooked on the type of life that was portrayed in ‘Women in Love’. But F. R. Leavis in ‘D. H. Lawrence: novelist’ (Chatto & Windus, 1964) thought that ‘The Rainbow’ and ‘Women in Love’ were his greatest works, so perhaps in a way, I was right. Leavis says that:

“It is The Rainbow and Women in Love that most demand attention. The need is to get recognition for the kind of major achievement they are. Together they constitute his greatest work, or perhaps it is better to say that, in their curious close relation and the separateness, they are his two greatest works.” (Leavis, p. 18)

Maddox, in addition, thought that Women in Love was his most ambitious work. And Lawrence made it clear in his letters that he also thought it was his best book. He wrote to B. W. Huebsch on 10th February 1920, saying:

“I am more keen on Women in Love than on any of my books.” (p. 621, in Vol 1 in ‘The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence’ edited by Harry Moore)

Then, again, he wrote to Thomas Seltzer on 7th November 1920, saying:

“Secker intends Women in Love for February. I still think it is the best of my books.” (p. 635 in Vol. 1 of the Letters)

Although, it is possible that he might have changed his mind after having written some of his other novels; I don’t know, although I suspect not.

So, why did he not continue writing in this Women in Love way, one might ask? Was it the influence of Frieda? Would a ‘softer’ woman that helped him more practically have been better? Or was it the fault of the English and the way they treated him after writing The Rainbow and Women in Love? Or was it something else, or a combination? Who know? It is all pure speculation. And does it necessarily really matter? Lawrence produced great work – that was and is the most important thing.

And F. R. Leavis concludes his book ‘D. H. Lawrence: novelist’, saying:

“I live in hopes that Lawrence’s recognition is at last to come…I mean, his recognition for what I am convinced he is: the great creative genius of our age, and one of the greatest figures in English literature.” (Leavis, p. 317)


What I think is also very important to realise is that Lawrence was very much about ‘going for life’, and that he put this above any particular way of living – and that this was the main, the most powerful Nietzschean influence and effect, I think. Lawrence said:

“I only want to know people that have the courage to live.” (Boulton, Letters, Vol 2, p. 225, in Feinstein, p. 121)

And in regard to his wife Frieda, Feinstein also said that:

“Frieda had no intellectual ambitions. She simply wanted to live life more fully.”

(Feinstein, 1994, p. 75)

Although Maddox was of the opinion that:

“Frieda was undisciplined but not unintellectual.” (Maddox, p. 97)

Frieda certainly read a lot and proof-read and edited some of Lawrence’s work. In particular, Frieda was very keen on Nietzsche – and in fact, this was the main way in which Lawrence was influenced by Nietzsche. I concluded through my reading that Lawrence was influenced by Nietzsche more indirectly through Frieda than through any direct reading of his own of Nietzsche’s writings. Lawrence, on the whole, preferred reading and writing literature.

In regard to Frieda Lawrence and Nietzsche, Maddox said that:

“Frieda became…devoted to Nietzsche. In later life she referred to him as ‘my old friend’ and from a Lawrence poem she took as the title of her own autobiography a Nietzschean phrase, ‘not I, but the wind’, implying that her own powerful personality was nothing but the life force that blew through her. The sisters [Frieda and Else] liked Nietzsche for the same reason that writers such as Shaw, Yeats and Wells were attracted to him: he was aphoristic, full of memorable, scientific-sounding nuggets of wisdom.” (Maddox, p. 100)

In addition, taking Nietzsche’s ideas forward, Frieda very much wanted to nurture a male genius, and so, she left her husband and 3 young children for Lawrence, in order to nurture and help this genius; as well as to live life more fully herself of course.

Anyway, Lawrence went with Frieda and produced all this genius work. These are the facts of the matter. So, let us just celebrate this and have done with the rest. That is what I have concluded. And Nietzsche played some part here (re encouraging geniuses, especially male ones and ‘going for life’), so we must celebrate Nietzsche as well. Hallelajah! The Saints be praised and all that!

There is so much more that could, should and needs to be said on this amazing topic. This is, perhaps, just the openings of my ‘D. H. Lawrence Journey’. But enough said for now; the rest can wait for another time and another day.


Feinstein, Elaine (1994) Lawrence's Women: the intimate life of D. H. Lawrence, Flamingo

Leavis, F. R. (1964) D. H. Lawrence: novelist, Chatto and Windus

Maddox, Brenda (1994), D. H. Lawrence: the story of a marriage, Simon & Schuster,

Moore, Harry T. (ed.) (1962) The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence (2 Vols), William Heinemann

Sagar, Keith (1985) D. H. Lawrence: life into art, Viking

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

'Life in the Higher Sausage Factory' - the Paper

Dr. Glenn Rikowski, School of Education, University of Northampton

Guest Lecture to the Teacher Education Research Group

22nd March 2012, The Cass School of Education and Communities, University of East London

Finally, 'Life in the Higher Sausage Factory' by Glenn Rikowski is on our 'The Flow of Ideas' website - see

Glenn has added a short Preface to explain the provenance and development of the paper.

Here is the full reference:

Rikowski, G. (2012) Life in the Higher Sausage Factory, Guest Lecture to the Teacher Education Research Group, The Cass School of Education and Communities, University of East London, 22nd March, online at:

If you would like a Word version of this paper then send an email to and we will send it by email attachment.

“Capitalist production is not merely the production of commodities, it is essentially the production of surplus-value. The labourer produces, not for himself, but for capital. It no longer suffices, therefore, that he should simply produce. He must produce surplus-value. That labourer alone is productive, who produces surplus-value for the capitalist, and thus works for the self-expansion of capital. If we may take an example from outside the sphere of production of material objects, a schoolmaster is a productive labourer, when, in addition to belabouring the heads of his scholars, he works like a horse to enrich the school proprietor. That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of a sausage factory, does not alter the relation. Hence the notion of a productive labourer implies not merely a relation between work and useful effect, between labourer and product of labour, but also a specific, social relation of production, a relation that has sprung up historically and stamps the labourer as the direct means of creating surplus-value. To be a productive labourer is, therefore, not a piece of luck, but a misfortune” (Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I).

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Sustaining Alternative Universities

UK Free University Network (FUN)

Sustaining Alternative Universities

Collaborative Research Conference

1–2 December 2012

Oxford, UK

"They will admit that little is to be expected from present-day governments, since these live and act according to a murderous code. Hope remains only in the most difficult task of all: to reconsider everything from the ground up, so as to shape a living society inside a dying society. [People] must therefore, as individuals, draw up among themselves, within frontiers and across them, a new social contract which will unite them according to more reasonable principles.’ " (Albert Camus, ‘Neither victim nor executioner’, 1946)


"Following on from the inaugural meeting of the UK Free University Network held in early 2012, we are calling out to representatives of all free universities and to all those who wish to participate in a conference with a more focused objective.

In recent years, we have witnessed the accelerated neoliberal capitalist colonisation of the university. In the UK (and far beyond) many students are now priced out of higher education and the academic finds him/herself subservient to the logic and interests of capital. In response to this intolerable reality, many groups of scholars, students, and others have come together independently to create alternative, ‘free’ universities.

The ‘Sustaining Alternative Universities’ conference, as a space for coordinating research and sharing knowledge and experience, seeks to support these projects in taking further decisive steps towards the creation of a national movement of individuals and organisations dedicated to the construction and development of alternative democratic, critical, and ultimately sustainable higher education communities.

Sustainability: history, dialogue, and practice

The successes of this movement hinge on its sustainability. ‘How can we build, develop, and maintain truly sustainable educational communities outside the existing institutional frameworks?’ is the question upon which our collective investigations and discussions should be founded. Therefore, our collective task is to conceptualise, research, imagine, and, ultimately, cultivate a sustainable movement based on a network of locally-based, sustainable, free universities. We believe that this conference can help us to successfully undertake this task through a three-step process.

Step one: history. An intrinsic element of building sustainability today must surely be to learn from the history of previous projects of popular, democratic and radical education here in the UK, and beyond. Therefore, we invite representatives of each free university to conduct and present research into the history of these traditions in their specific locality, drawing on their own particular influences. Researchers should keep in mind the practical purpose driving this research and consider issues such as: Who participated in these efforts? How were they structured, organised, and sustained? What was the significance of their historical and spatial context? What lessons can be derived from these efforts for our own endeavours today?

We hope that this shared research effort will allow us to both map out a history of popular / democratic / radical higher education in the UK, and to identify ways these can inform our own current projects. Ultimately, this collaborative research endeavour could also help us trace the roots of our network.

Step two: dialogue. The next step is to engage in dialogue with one another, and with our histories. We need to both imagine our ideals and talk freely and openly about the challenges and obstacles that impede our ambitions and objectives today. We need to name the material, social and subjective conditions that constrain the actualisation of our imagination and hopes. At the conference, we aim to draw on our collective experiences in democratic education to create a supportive, democratic space in which participants feel able to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas in these areas.

Step three: practice. Finally, we need to take the lessons and ideas derived from our historical research and dialogue and put them into practice. The conference will culminate in a session in which we all make plans for practical action to take things forward on a local and national level
Affinities and collaborations

We invite collaboration and co-operation with all. Beyond the Free University Network itself, we particularly welcome collaboration from members of the following groups:

Academic members of the ‘For a Public University’ working group and Campaign for the Public University. We at FUN have not forsaken the mainstream university, and many of our members are not only academics or students, but also active in defending the public university. We recognise the rich traditions of critical pedagogy within the university and the enduring possibilities of its democratic promise. We welcome contributions from all academics.

Members of the Co-operative Movement. Clearly, the co-operative model of organisation offers much for free universities today to draw on, and at least one in the UK is explicitly organised upon co-operative principles. We welcome members of the Co-operative Movement who might contribute to our historical and contemporary understanding of co-operative education, and/or who would like to build bridges between these two movements.

University workers who are not academics. All too often, non-academic staff working in universities are marginalised within or excluded from these discussions. Their contributions, knowledges, experiences and possibilities are overlooked. We seek to redress this situation and invite all those making invaluable contributions to higher education in ways that are not specifically ‘academic’ to participate in this conference.

Students and all those desiring to learn. Critical pedagogy aspires to break down hierarchical boundaries between students and teachers, and to expand the right of learning to everyone whether they occupy the role of ‘student’ or not. In the democratic universities we envisage, students shape their own learning experiences. We welcome contributions from students, past, present, and future.

All others who share our principles, and who are active in creating alternative institutions in other areas of social life, particularly in education. There is much we can learn from each other.

An open, democratic, egalitarian, anti-elitist intellectuality

This is a critical pedagogical and political project. This conference is not intended to be a typical academic conference based exclusively on theoretically dense papers and presentations. There is validity, truth, importance, and profound insight in many other methods and ways of expressing knowledge, and we open our conference and minds to these. We believe that narrative – telling stories – is a particularly important means for reaching the personal and social heart of the obstacles and challenges that confront us in our ambitions to create democratic and sustainable learning communities.
Where and when

In the spirit of the Occupy movement, we have decided to host this conference on higher education in Oxford for obvious historical reasons.

We propose that the conference will be held on the weekend of 1–2 December 2012.
We recognise the high cost of transport and accommodation and ask those in a position to do so to offer contributions to help unwaged participants to attend. A system will be created to make this transparent and possible.
Impact and output

Only joking! 

We want this conference to be the turning point at which we really begin to cultivate a sustainable and flourishing free university movement. We hope you can join us for this conference.

If you are interested in participating in the conference and/or in its planning of and preparation, please contact either Sarah Amsler ( or Joel Lazarus (

We aim to have a coordinating committee established by 13 August.
The location of the conference venue will depend on final numbers. However, what is certain is that this conference’s organisation will be guided by fully inclusive principles. This means a family friendly venue with park/playground nearby and a safe indoor space for children of all ages to play. Childcare duties will not preclude participation at this conference. Equally, we will ensure that the venue is fully accessible and that all dietary requirements are catered for. Please contact us if you have any concerns, ideas, or requests. "

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

'Women in Love' by D.H. Lawrence

I decided to re-read 'Women in Love' by D.H.Lawrence. The book (and film) had a tremendous effect on me in my late teens. I thought it was all incredible.

How would I feel about it so many more years down the line, I wondered?

I was also intrigued by the Nietzschian influence/effect. What sense would I make of all that? Now, I know so much more about Nietzsche. When I was in my late teens I knew very little about him, other than the fact that his Philosophy influenced Fascism. At the time, it was something that I decided that I should keep well clear of.

Well, I very much enjoyed re-reading ‘Women in Love’. I could understand why it had the powerful effect that it had on me on my late teens. But I also had some reservations about it, which I did not see at all then. On one level, I was quite surprised about this.

Death and suicide, for example, plays quite an important part in it all, and the Nietzschian undertones are clearly apparent. Here is Ursula talking to herself about death and suicide.

"It was not a question of taking one's life - she would never kill herself, that was repulsive and violent. It was a question of knowing the next step. And the next step let into the space of death. Did it? - or was there - ?

Her thoughts drifted into unconsciousness, she sat as if asleep beside the fire. And then the thought came back. The space of death! Could she give herself to it? Ah yes - it was a sleep. She had had enough. So long she had held out and resisted. Now was the time to relinquish, not resist any more.

In a kind of spiritual trance, she yielded, she gave way, and all was dark. She could feel, within the darkness, the terrible assertion of her body, the unutterable anguish of dissolution, the only anguish that is too much, the far-off, awful nausea of dissolution set in within the body." (p. 200)

Her thoughts continued:

"Monday, the beginning of another school-week! Another shameful school-week, more routine and mechanical activity. Was not the adventure of death infinitely preferable? Was not death infinitely more lovely and novel than such a life? A life of barren routine, without inner meaning, without any real significance...One might come to fruit in death. She had had enough. For where was life to be found?" (p. 201)

This is all pretty heavy stuff, is it not? D. H. Lawrence did not like school teaching, of course, but even so – the death wish?, suicide?

Moving on to the romance in the novel in general; that is not at all simple either; it is beautiful but also very heavy and intense for quite a lot of the time. And this was something that I could well relate to in my late teens. I can remember very clearly just how much I identified with it on one level; how moved I was by it, but could not quite remember why. But that also, of course, reflects the intensity of my own upbringing.

Then, there is the topic of relationships, responsibility and freedom. We have Birkin who wanted to be with Ursula but also wanted to be free with her.

"...he wanted to be with Ursula as free as with himself, single and clear and cool, yet balanced, polarised with her. The merging, the clutching, the mingling of love was become madly abhorrent to him. But it seemed to him, woman was always so horrible and clutching, she had such a lust for possession, a greed of self-importance in love. She wanted to have, to own, to control, to be dominant...It was intolerable, this possession at the hands of woman." (p. 209)

This is all very Nietzschian, is it not? After all, Nietzsche had quite some attitude to women, he said many disparaging things about them and found it difficult to get over the all-female household that he was brought up in. Whilst at the same time, D. H. Lawrence also used his writing to help him get over/come to terms with various aspects of his upbringing, of course. He also had a rather domineering and possessive mother, who had high, middle-class ambitions for her son. And this gave Lawrence some difficulties when trying to form relationships with girls, which he wrote so eloquently about in ‘Sons and Lovers’. But of course, that was his view of the world and of women. But then novelists are almost bound to write that way.

Then, we have the whole thing about the working class struggle, with Gerald’s father owning the mine and Gerald’s thoughts about all of this.

“Gerald was satisfied. He knew the colliers said that they hated him. But he had long ceased to hate them. When they streamed past him at evening, their heavy boots slurring on the pavement wearily, their shoulders slightly distorted, they took no notice of him, they gave him no greetings whatsoever, they passed in a grey-black stream of unemotional acceptance. They were not important to him, save as instruments, nor he to them, save as a supreme instrument of control. As miners they had their being, he had his being as director. He admired their qualities. But as men, personalities, they were just accidents, sporadic little unimportant phenomena. And tacitly, the men agreed to this. For Gerald agreed to it himself.” (p. 242-3)

And Lawrence’s father was a miner; his work was heavy and demanding. We see the class struggle, and again, this was brought out just so eloquently in ‘Sons and Lovers’ with the father being a miner and the mother being middle-class. And I myself had a mother that came from a much more middle-class background than my father. Indeed, I was brought up with an acute awareness of the social class struggle.

Then, there is the beauty pervading so much of ‘Women in Love’. Lawrence’s writing can be just so powerful, beautiful, eloquent and enticing. He writes in such a unique and stylish way.

Gudrun thinking about Gerald:

“He looked aside, and did not answer. Save for the extreme beauty and mystic attractiveness of this distinct, strange face, she would have sent him away. But his face was too wonderful and undiscovered to her. It fascinated her with the fascination of pure beauty, cast a spell on her, like nostalgia, an ache.” (p. 362)

Then, the lovers, Gudrun and Gerald –

“She looked up, and in the darkness saw his face above her, his shapely, male face. There seemed a faint, white light emitted from him, a white aura, as if he were visible from the unseen. She reached up, like Eve reaching to the apples on the tree of knowledge, and she kissed him, though her passion was a transcendent fear of the thing he was, touching his face with her infinitely delicate, encroaching wondering fingers. Her fingers went over the mould of his face, over his features. How perfect and foreign he was – ah, how dangerous! Her soul thrilled with complete knowledge.” (p. 350)

Meanwhile, there is the fight between Birkin and Gerald:

“So they wrestled swiftly, rapturously, intent and mindless at last, two essential white figures working into a tighter closer oneness of struggle, with a strange, octopus-like, knotting and flashing of limbs in the subdued light of the room; a tense, white knot of flesh gripped in silence between the walls of old brown books. Now and again came a sharp gasp of breath, or a sound like a sigh, then the rapid thudding of movement on the thickly-carpeted floor, then the strange sound of flesh escaping under flesh.” (pp. 283-4)

And again, mixing up passion, sex and beauty with death. Gerald:

“…had come for vindication. She [Gudrun] let him hold her in his arms, clasp her close against him. He found in her an infinite relief. Into her he poured all his pent-up darkness and corrosive death, and he was whole again. It was wonderful, marvellous, it was a miracle. This was the ever-recurrent miracle of his life, at the knowledge of which he was lost in an ecstasy of relief and wonder. And she, subject, received him as a vessel filled with his bitter potion of death. She had no power at this crisis to resist. The terrible frictional violence of death filled her, and she received it in an ecstasy of subjection, in throes of acute, violent sensation.” (p. 363)

Then, the lovers Ursula and Birkin:

“In Ursula the sense of the unrealised world ahead triumphed over everything. In the mist of this profound darkness, there seemed to glow on her heart the effulgence of a paradise unknown and unrealised. Her heart was full of the most wonderful light, golden like honey of darkness, sweet like the warmth of day, a light which was not shed on the world, only on the unknown paradise towards which she was going, a sweetness of habitation, a delight of living quite unknown, but hers infallibly. In her transport she lifted her face suddenly to him, and he touched it with his lips. So cold, so fresh, so sea-clear her face was, it was like kissing a flower that grows hear the surf.” (p. 410)

Then, Gudrun:

“…was driven by a strange desire. She wanted to plunge on and on, till she came to the end of the valley of snow. Then she wanted to climb the wall of white finality, climb over, into the peaks that sprang up like sharp petals in the heart of the frozen, mysterious navel of the world. She felt that there, over the strange blind, terrible wall of rocky snow, there in the navel of the mystic world, among the final cluster of peaks, there, in the infolded navel of it all, was her consummation.” (p.432)

Returning to Gudrun and Gerald:

“Her heart beat fast, she flew away on wings of elation, imagining a future. He would be a Napoleon of peace, or a Bismarck – and she the woman behind him…But even as she lay in fictitious transport, bathed in the strange, false sunshine of hope in life, something seemed to snap in her, and a terrible cynicism began to gain upon her, blowing in like a wind.” (p. 440)

Lawrence says so much and he does it so well; he writes so eloquently; he encapsulates so much. On one level, there is little need for me to say much more. One can just get swept along with the tide; with the pure magic of it all; with the pure beauty of it all.

However, I think there is the point that the novelist does/should have some sense of responsibility sometimes. I went to university, for example, thinking I could have a world something like this Lawrencian-type world: a world full of interesting, alternative, intense, intellectual, original, passionate and beautiful people. A world that was rich; a world that was alive; a cultural world! I thought, for example, that perhaps it was possible to have relationships with and without responsibility all at the same time. I was of course, disappointed; I was disillusioned; I was young. I had to find a way through it all. And that, I think is also the danger of Nietzsche himself. Whilst I have not been enticed by Nietzsche’s work directly, I was certainly enticed and very influenced by him indirectly, through the work of D. H. Lawrence. And of course, Nietzsche has influenced just so many different people (writers, artists, musicians, politicians etc) in this and other ways. We need to be wary; we need to try to think more about what we are dealing with. Geoff Waite goes into all of this in great depth in ‘Nietzsche’s Corpse’ - a tremendous book. Leading on from all of this, Glenn wrote a long piece, trying to make sense of it all, and inserted this on our website – see

Perhaps, at some point, I will write something more myself – but will have to see. If I did, I would also want to marry it up with Freud and Marx.

One other point here that I want to note though, is the responsibility that teachers have, particularly when teaching A’ Levels to 16-18 year olds, I think. Victor and I were both swept along on the crest of a wave in this regard, whilst studying for our A’ Levels at 16-18 years of age; Victor by Nietzsche directly and me by D. H. Lawrence, and thus, indirectly by Nietzsche. Reading this text led us to think that the world was different to how it actually was; it gave us romantic illusions. We also thought that we could control and change our lives in ways that really we could not. Thank goodness I studied Sociology which was the opposite, and helped to ground me. Romance, beauty and wonder are also vitally important of course, but it can be dangerous if one is lead to believe that a certain way of living and being is possible when it is not – or at least it isn’t in capitalism. This is the great illusion and is one of the things that can make Nietzsche dangerous.

Marx and Nietzsche both offer ways in which ordinary people can try to take more control of their own lives, but Marx’s way is a much clearer and better one, it does not give people false illusions about capitalism and is something that everyone can strive towards, not just the ‘Uberman’.

At which point, I will stop and perhaps revisit this on another occasion. Or like Lawrence himself, I might just encapsulate it in novel-form instead!

Monday, 4 June 2012

'Anna Karenina' by Leo Tolstoy

For some reason, which I don't quite understand myself, I suddenly felt compelled to watch again, the BBC Classic Drama Series of 'Anna Karenina', starring Nicola Paget, Eric Porter and Stuart Wilson; Produced and Dramatised by Donald Wilson. This series was first made in 1978 - goodness – wherever has the time gone? I can remember very clearly sitting watching it when it first came out, and being totally enthralled and mesmerised by it. So much so, that I decided to buy the series on DVD some 4 years ago. Upon purchase, Glenn and I sat and watched it spellbound; we couldn't get out of our seats, not even to make a cup of tea! It is absolutely brilliant; full of drama, passion, depth, meaning and breath-takingly good acting. And Eric Porter plays the part of the upright but boring man just so perfectly - he was Soames in the Forsyte Saga as well of course. That was another series that I was totally mesmerised and enchanted by. And Nicola Paget – well, what can I say? She is just sensational as Anna Karenina.

Anyway, a few years after watching the BBC Series of 'Anna Karenina' I decided to read the book. That was at a time when I was absorbed in just so many of the classics; pouring my way through them and just getting so much out of them. This included books by the Brontes, George Eliot, Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy etc. etc. etc. Yes, I also read 'War and Peace' around this time (and watched the BBC Series with Anthony Hopkins prior to this). I loved 'War and Peace', although was not quite so keen on the War parts. But for me, personally, I actually preferred 'Anna Karenina'. And interestingly, in the Introduction to this Wordsworth Classic Edition which I have just read (published in 1995) it says that:

"Tolstoy's letters, diaries and revisions show that he was supremely concerned with the novel form, and considered Anna Karenina to be his first attempt at this."

Gregory, our youngest son, saw me watching ‘Anna Karenina’, took an interest, and ended up watching it with me. He was surprised by the drama and depth in it all; I had to bite my tongue, to make sure that I did not give away the ending! Especially, when he suggested that Anna might be a selfish person! But the ending made him speechless, as it does everyone when first reading or watching it, of course.

Anyway, whilst watching it, I suddenly also felt compelled to re-read the book (the Wordsworth Classic version). So, I poured myself into it. I put myself through a very intense, deep, heavy and emotional period, and this very much dominated my life for a couple of weeks. I was living and breathing it all. I was not thinking about anything else much, or at least, not in any depth. This was what was consuming me. It was incredible!

Now, I have finished both, so I can now write this blog, reflect and move on. It has been quite some journey.

“I thought you wanted to do lighter, fluffier and more cheerful things?”, Gregory said to me (see also my previous short blog about Jane Austen’s works!). A good point; so what was I doing? I was intoxicated; I was driven; I was entranced. How complex we all are.

When one reads and re-reads the classics, and watches good productions of them, one nearly always gets something new out of the whole experience, I find. This time, what hit me was just how powerfully, effectively and brilliantly Tolstoy portrays the inequality of the sexes when it comes to adultery: 'One rule for men and another for women'. So, it is OK for Steva (Anna’s brother) to have an affair, but not for Anna. And even more, Anna helps Steva through this difficult period, and as a result his marriage remains firm, but the same sympathy, kindness and understanding is not shown to Anna.


“…lived and worked all his days in official spheres, which deal with reflections of life, and every time he had knocked up against life itself he had stepped out of its way. He now experienced a sensation such as a man might feel who, while quietly crossing a bridge over an abyss, suddenly sees that the bridge is being taken to pieces and that he is facing the abyss. The abyss was real life; the bridge was the artificial life Karenin had been living. It was the first time that the possibility of his wife’s falling in love with anybody had occurred to him, and he was horrified.” (p. 140)

Karenin goes to visit Dolly, and this is what she says to him:

“No, wait a bit! You should not ruin her. Wait a bit. I will tell you about myself. I married, and my husband deceived me; in my anger and jealousy I wished to abandon everything. I myself wished…But I was brought to my senses, and by whom? Anna saved me. And here I am living; my children growing; my husband returns to the family and feels his error, grows purer and better, and I live…I have forgiven, and you must forgive.” (p. 389)

Karenin replies:

“I cannot forgive; I don’t wish to and don’t think it would be right. I have done everything for that woman and she has trampled everything in the mud which is natural to her. I am not a cruel man, I have never hated anyone, but I hate her with the whole strength of my soul and I cannot even forgive her, because I hate her so much for all the wrong she has done me!” (p. 389)

But Karenin’s personality is stifling Anna; he found it so difficult to relate to people on meaningful levels.

“His attachment to Anna excluded from his soul any need he had felt for affectionate relations with other people; and now, among all his acquaintances, he had no intimate friends. He was connected with many people, but had friendly relations with none. He knew many persons whom he could invite to dinner, could ask to take part in anything he was interested in or to use their influence for some petitioner, and with whom he could frankly discuss the actions of other men and of the Government; but his relations with these persons were confined to a sphere strictly limited by custom and habit from which it was impossible to escape.” (p. 502)

As it says in the Introduction:

“The double standards that society maintains towards men and women are made clear at an early stage…”

Yes, indeed, and that:

“Anna transgresses, yet it is perhaps the novel’s most triumphant paradox that Anna represents the qualities of honesty and compassion and integrity that are notably absent in her circle. The image at the heart of the novel of life as an obstacle race, is powerfully illustrated by the race scene which culminates in the death of Vronsky’s mare. Anna fails to overcome the obstacles of her own conscience, and of the pressures of a society that is tacitly condemned by Tolstoy, but from which she is unable to bear alienation.”

So, the inequalities between the sexes are not just around pay, jobs, power and status etc. No, it also gets to the very heart of our relationships and how we interact with each other. And women can be quickly labelled as ‘tarts’ and loose and no good – they have to be just so careful. But men being cads – well, they don’t get labelled so quickly and even if they do, it is generally seen to be OK. What a society, eh!

As Tolstoy says through Pestsov:

“The inequality between husband and wife, in his [Pestsov’s] opinion, lay in the fact that the infidelity of wife and that of a husband were unequally punished both by law and by public opinion.” (p. 386)

And then Anna:

“…wept because the hopes of clearing up and defining her position were destroyed for ever. She knew beforehand that everything would remain as it was and would be even far worse than before. She felt that, insignificant as it has appeared in the morning, the position she held in Society was dear to her, and that she would not have the strength to change it for the degraded position of a woman who had forsaken her husband and child and formed a union with her lover; that, however much she tried, she could not become stronger than herself. She would never be able to feel the freedom of love, but would always be a guilty woman continually threatened with exposure, deceiving her husband for the sake of a shameful union with a man who was a stranger and independent of her, and with whom she could not live a united life. She knew that it would be so, and yet it was so terrible that she could not even imagine how it would end. And she cried, without restraint, like a punished child.” (p. 289)

When Anna embarks on her affair we feel the passion; we feel her pain:

“She felt so guilty, so much to blame, that it only remained for her to humble herself and ask to be forgiven; but she had no one in the world now except him, so that even her prayer for forgiveness was addressed to him. Looking at him, she felt her degradation physically, but could say nothing more. He felt what a murderer must feel when looking at the body he has deprived of life. The body he had deprived of life was their love, the first period of their love. There was something frightful and revolting in the recollection of what has been paid for with this terrible price of shame. The shame she felt at her spiritual nakedness communicated itself to him. But in spite of the murderer’s horror of the body of his victim, that body must be cut in pieces and hidden away, and he must make use of what he has obtained by his murder.” (p. 146)

It does not state in the Introduction to the Wordsworth Classic edition, who it is by, which is very unfortunate, to say the least, particularly as I think the introduction is very good. It certainly shed some more light on the novel for me.

As it says in the Introduction, both War and Peace and Anna Karenina came:

“…to be regarded as the standard by which other European novels are measured.”

In addition, that:

“Despite Henry James’ much cited opinion that Tolstoy’s novels are ‘loose baggy monsters’, Anna Karenina seems remarkable for the clarity and symmetry of its structure.”


Also, that through the character Levin, Tolstoy was able:

“…to voice through this autobiographical character, all his own obsessions concerning Russian society, politics, agriculture, philosophy and culture.”

I had not realised this before; that Levin is actually based on Tolstoy himself, and apparently Tolstoy’s early married life was something like Levin’s. So, that was something else that I discovered this time round. And leading on from this, I also found out quite a lot more about Tolstoy’s actual life. Tolstoy’s marriage must have been very romantic, but then it went very wrong. Indeed, Tolstoy’s marriage has been described by A. N. Wilson as one of the unhappiest in literary history. Perhaps, he would have preferred a more passionate person, like Anna.

Levin, of course, has a real social conscience and ponders the inequalities in society.

And as Tolstoy’s life progressed, he increasingly questioned the meaning of life, became very critical of his aristocratic background and concerned about poverty and destitution. He moved towards anarchism, pacifism, Christianity and vegetarianism. Someone at the dance also pointed out to me that Tolstoy heavily influenced Gandhi. And in regard to religion, we see for example that Levin:

“…had been mistaken in imagining from his recollections of his youthful university circle, that religion had outlived its day and no longer existed.” (p. 773)

After decades of agonising, at the age of 83 years, Tolstoy renounced his rank and privileges, gave his estate to his family, wore peasant clothes, walked out into the open, caught a chill and died.

And pondering various social issues we witness Levin saying this to Sviyazhsky on one occasion:

“How will schools help the peasants to improve their material conditions? You say that schools and education will give them new wants. So much the worse, for they won’t be able to satisfy them. And in what way knowing how to add and subtract and to say the catechism will help them to improve their material conditions, I never could understand!” (p. 332)

Then, much later, Levin:

“…having convinced himself that he could get no answer from the materialists, he read and re-read Plato, Spinoza, Kant, Schelling, Hegel, and Schopenhauer, those philosophers who explained life otherwise than materialistically.” (p.774)

As it says in the Introduction:
“Levin is able to enjoy the pleasures of his class, yet is responsible and profoundly concerned with issues of far wider relevance. In close contact with agriculture and nature, Levin embodies Tolstoy’s struggle towards an ideal way of life, whereas the relative frivolity and irresponsibility of Stiva and Vronsky, and Karenin’s preoccupation with appearances rather than truth, reflect the degeneration of the upper classes. Every element in the book impinges in some way on the intensely-felt lives of Anna or Levin, and the reader gains an extraordinary sense of intimacy with these two main characters, and even with the minor individuals thus portrayed.”

The Introduction then sums up the whole novel just so well, saying that:

“The richness and density of Anna Karenina are unparalleled. The novel addresses serious issues, such as the very nature of society at all levels, of destiny, death, human relationships and the irreconcilable contradictions of existence, with discerning insight. It ends tragically and there is much in it that evokes despair, yet set beside this is a genuine delight in many of life’s ephemeral pleasures, reflected in countless episodes and warm descriptions, and abundant comic relief. Ultimately, it is Anna’s overwhelming charisma that dominates the entire novel…No one can fail to forgive her, and she is surely one of the most loved and memorable heroines of fiction.”

Like Anna, I also feel things very deeply and passionately and have a strong mind of my own; indeed, I can very much identify with Anna on various levels (although she is in a completely different social class to me, of course). I find myself very drawn to her character.