Saturday, 13 July 2013

4 years later

4 years later; 4 years down the line.

I formally started this blog on 13th April 2009 but my first significant entry was on 26th June 2009 - the day after Michael Jackson died. So, just over 4 years ago.

This was when I decided that writing that novel must become a reality. That I must get beyond the fantasy; the dream that I had in my head since I was 12 years old. Instead, I must make all this real.

And so I commenced.

However, I now fully understand my reluctance to venture down this path. I mean, I knew it would be a big task; I knew that it would take me to areas that I had never been to before; I knew that I would face problems that I had never faced before; I knew that I would wonder whether I could actually overcome these obstacles and move forward with it all or whether I would give up; I wondered whether I would have the guts and determination; I wondered whether I could maintain my confidence about it all and take the necessary risks (particularly given the solitary nature of it all); I wondered whether I would worry too much about rejection and/or connecting up with the 'right' agent and/or publisher; I wondered whether I thought that it would waste my time; I wondered whether I would succumb to pressures to proceed with it but in ways that I knew would not be good for me, etc. etc.

Well, I am finding a way, but how hard, how very hard it is proving to be. No wonder I was reluctant and cautious! I mean, to take such risks one needs quite a lot of financial and emotional security anyway - something which I never had enough of before. And even now, it has not been/is not always that easy. Recently, for example, the need to earn more money and to change our lifestyle has reared its head once again.

However, I think the hardest part of the whole process for me was 3 years ago when I read back over some of my novel writing and decided that really it was more like non-fiction than fiction. And, I decided that it was basically unpublishable as fiction, that it was hopeless and that I should abandon the whole project! Forget about it; it was wasting my time. Throw it away. Horror of horrors - to come so far and yet still, to be faced with this! Whatever was I to do? I really did not want to abandon it after all that. But on the other hand, no point in pursing something that really isn't very good; that is not engaging for the reader; that the reader could not relate to and that basically wouldn't get published. What to do? Abandon it; chuck it away, forget about it. Or make it something that would appeal to a wide readership, but then, that would not be effective therapy for me, and I would probably have been better off  continuing to write non-fiction instead.

But I found an answer. Hallelajah, the saints be praised and all that.  My 'saviour' was Jean-Paul Sartre who combined non-fiction and philosophy in his novels, and who also wrote non-fiction separately, of course. I re-read 'The Age of Reason'; I read 'Nausea' and then I was able to carry on. I was released; I was liberated. Thank goodness for that. I then wrote blogs for 'Serendipitous Moments' on these 2 novels. 'The Age of Reason' - see
and 'Nausea' - see

I was able to continue.

But then I hit on another problem - all my novel writing needed to be broken down more. OK - no problem (or so I thought). But heavens - it was all starting to become unwieldy. The answer? To turn it into a trilogy (yes, I know Sartre did that as well, but I came to this decision very independently - really, I did). And so that was what I did. I then understood why a novel has to be one or 3 really (unless it is an epic) - to keep the basic format of a beginning, a middle and an end. And so I continued.

But then there were the interruptions of life; the stop and go.

And so 4 years later I am still at it. Dear oh dear. Still, Tolkien took 13 years to write 'Lord of the Rings'. So mine is a relatively short time-span compared to that! I consoled myself.

Writing these blogs have really helped to clear my thinking with it all though. They have gone alongside the novel writing very well. They have been very helpful. But they must remain that way. Of late, they (along with other things) have been 'taking over' rather than supporting the novel; and the novel itself has been very much neglected. That must change or I will get beyond even Tolkien's time-scale.

With life changes comes the need for decision changes.

The answer, for the time-being at least, would seem to be to cut down on blog work and to increase the novel writing work (as well as finding ways to live differently and trying to earn some more money!)

So, that's enough of this. Get to it!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

4 Ramadan

Rashid Khan

'4Ramadan - A Very British Ramadan' is a TV programme series on Channel 4 which starts tomorrow (Monday 8th July) at 8.00pm.

A Very British Ramadan is the first programme in 4Ramadan, a season of programmes reflecting what life is like for Britain's Muslim population who observe this religious festival. Rashid Khan travels around the UK interviewing various Muslims, and talking to them about Ramadan.

"Channel 4 follows and hears from a range of British Muslims throughout Ramadan, on how they cope with daily life and the physical and spiritual effects of fasting, as they go through it."

Gregory Rikowski (who converted to Islam 2 years ago) was interviewed by Rashid Khan for this series of programmes on the Muslim community in the UK.


Andy Murray Wins Wimbeldon

Hooray! Hooray!

Andy Murray just won Wimbledon - first to win Men's Wimbledon Singles for UK since Fred Perry in 1936- taken 77 years to reclaim the title!

Thought I might never live to see it happen in my life-time (especially after the Tim Henman disappointments.).

Just shows you what drive and determination can achieve!

What astounding physical and mental stamina.

Oh wow, wow, wow!!!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand - a philosopher (so-called) and novelist that inspired Margaret Thatcher. Glenn thought it would be a good idea to find out more about her, so we purchased a fiction book by her ('The Fountainhead') and a non-fiction book about her work and ideas ('Ayn Rand' by Mimi R. Gladstein) and took the plunge.

What a journey it proved to be. I am glad that I did it, but I would not want to repeat such an experience too often! Want to make the most of life, enjoy life, and be forward looking and all that. Still, it was a useful learning experience.

'The Fountainhead' and 'Atlas Shrugged' are 2 of Rand's most important novels. They are regarded as 'modern classics' and have sold loads of copies. In fact, Rand's novels sold over 20 million copies along with 25 million copies of her non-fiction works.

However, 'The Fountainhead' proved to be a pretty bad read (to put it mildly), I thought - but more about that later. Whilst the book about Ayn Rand and her philosophy by Gladstein proved to be very interesting and informative - a well-written book (unlike 'The Fountainhead' - certainly in terms of artistic fiction writing).

Rand (1905 - 1982) - a Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright and screenwriter. Rand was a Russian Jew and was very cynical about Soviet Communist Russia. She developed a philosophical system called Objectivism. Rand moved to the USA in 1926 and was very praiseworthy of the American capitalist, laissez-faire way of life (although she didn't think it went far enough, and thought it was still too collectivist-focused - heavens!) She thought that reason was the only means of acquiring knowledge and rejected faith and religion. Very significantly (in terms of understanding how capitalism works and perpetuates itself) Alan Greenspan, the former US Federal Reserve Chairman, was one of her leading followers.

The essence of Rand's Objectivism was: "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." (quote from Rand on Wikipedia).

Rand saw Objectivism as a systematic philosophy, with positions on metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy and aesthetics.

Rand's philosophy argued that humans should be selfish and productive; that mostly, that is the right and moral thing to do. She was against collectivism.

The book 'Ayn Rand' by Mimi R. Gladstein, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2013, proved to be very useful and informative. It is part of a series on 'Major Conservative Thinkers and Libertarian Thinkers, (Vol 20 in series). The Series Editor is John Meadowcroft.

In the Series Editor Preface John Meadowcroft has this to say:

"The novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand was one of the most powerful and influential twentieth century advocates of free market capitalism.." (Meadowcroft, p. ix)

The philosophical movement, Objectivism (which she inspired and largely founded)

"...flourished during her lifetime and continues to attract followers to this day..." (Meadowcroft, p. ix)

And she believed in:

"...the moral supremacy of individualism over collectivism. " (Meadowcroft, p. ix)

Rand thought that human progress depended on the wisdom, creativeness and for-sightedness of individuals. Whilst the collectivist state was rather like a burglar, with people taking things that did not belong to them. Whereas, selfishness, in contrast, encouraged people to produce. (Heavens!) The argument can, perhaps, be seductive to some, because it is obviously the case that some people in society work hard and take risks and that others can benefit from this, and can sometimes be seen to be riding on the backs of the 'workers' and 'producers'. But this is an immature way of looking at the whole situation and is just one of the many unfortunate consequences of the capitalist system and the gross inequalities that it engenders (and the way in which it is organised under it), rather than a reason to praise capitalism.

Meadowcroft said that:

"In Rand's view, altruism was the philosophy of a society of serfs, whereas selfishness was the mindset of a society of free men and women." (Meadowcroft, p. ix-x)

Moving on to the book itself, the author Gladstein spoke about Rand saying that:

"Ayn Rand was a polarizing and controversial person in life, and her personality and ideas are of such dynamism and force that even a quarter century after her death, she still provokes strong emotions and controversy." (Gladstein, p. 1)

Her editor at Random House, Hiram Haydn, said in his autobiography that Rand always made him feel like a "soft-headed, ambivalent, tortured liberal".

In her novel We the Living, Gladstein said that:

"Rand spells out through both the narrative and dramatically that any system that values the collective above the individual is doomed to quash productivity and fulfillment as it glorifies the mediocre." (Gladstein, p.22)

Gladstein then moves on in the book  to discuss a section from Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged which is actually headed 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his need' (the famous Marx quote of course). How about that! Dear oh dear!

Apparently, in the plot, the able are made to work harder and produce more, in order to try to cater for the needs of the masses and those that are less able. But this meant that the efforts of the able were not properly rewarded, which de-motivated them. So the able started to hide their capabilities.

"Those who were truly responsible, reduced their draw on 'the family' funds, whereas the irresponsible and shiftless found innumerable ways to take advantage of the system, procreating irresponsibly, adding worthless relatives to the family rolls, and nurturing all kinds of sickness and disabilities." (Gladstein, pp. 39-40)

Atlas Shrugged grew out of Rand's response to the idea of what would happen if the producers, the people of the mind, went on strike. The character, John Galt, in the book builds a morality.

"Virtuous actions achieve virtuous things. As the established goal is human existence, humans should choose those values that enhance it." (Gladstein, p. 45)

The character Galt says that these values are reason, purpose and self-esteem.

"Reason is essential because it is the means to the acquisition of the knowledge that is needed to live. Purpose is valuable because it provides a goal for reason to achieve. Self-esteem is important because with it human beings can believe themselves worthy of life and able to achieve it." (Gladstein, p. 45)

Gladstein continues:

"In sum, Galt affirms that the achievement of one's happiness is the moral purpose of one's life. His rationale for that its purpose is to protect human rights, to create a society wherein life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are maximized." (Gladstein, p. 51)

The character Galt says that there are only 3 fitting functions for government: the police to protect one from criminals, the army to protect one from foreign invaders and the courts to protect property and contracts from breach or fraud and to settle rational disputes according to objective laws. This was clearly a reflection of Rand's own thinking.

In addition, in Atlas Shrugged there are 3 recurring references - individualism v. collectivism, egoism v. altruism, reason v. mysticism.

"Collectivism, altruism, and mysticism all work to undermine human potential and are the tools for destabilization and a counterproductive future. The paths to a vibrant future with maximum potential for human happiness are through reason, egoism, and individualism." (Gladstein, p.55)

Rand thinks that in a free society people are free to avoid the irrational.

Talk about twisting what Marx meant in regard to Marx's quote: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need", which is about becoming truly human, finding a means for self-expression and being fulfilled etc. I say no more.

Meanwhile, Rand's non-fiction works include Capitalism: the unknown ideal, The Virtue of Selfishness and Man's Rights

In Capitalism: the unknown ideal Gladstein says that:

"In the context of Objectivism, laissez-faire capitalism is the only system appropriate for the life of a rational being. Rand stresses that Objectivists are not conservatives but radicals for capitalism." (p. 67)

Apparently, Rand thought that the book became necessary because the previous defenders of capitalism had not fought for it on a moral-philosophical basis.

"Rand identifies capitalism as the politico-economic system that has more than any previous or subsequent system in history, benefitted humankind while being attacked and misrepresented." (Gladstein, p.67)

But, even if this were the case, it is not a system that we have consciously sought out; we have not been aiming to set up a moral system; we did not morally select it. So, this makes all this argument a nonsense.

In Man's Rights:

"Rand asserts that the basis for a free society is individual rights and that historically the dominant political systems have been based instead on some form of what she calls 'altruistic-collectivist doctrine', a doctrine that subordinates the individual to some higher authority, be it in the form of religion (mystical) or state (social)." (Gladstein, p. 68)

And this is where Thatcher got her notion from that 'there is no such thing as society' - from Rand (dear oh dear!). This is what Gladstein says:

"Rand declares that there is no such thing as 'society' because society as an entity is made up of individuals and thus must not be placed outside the moral law...The United States does not regard the individual as belonging to the state or society but as an end in himself. He is protected against the state and the state's powers are limited by the constitution." (Gladstein, p. 68)

For Rand, there is only one fundamental 'right'; the right to one's own life. From that, there is derived the freedom to take those actions necessary to sustain and enjoy life.

"She is very clear on the fact that the government was created to protect individual rights and the Constitution to protect the individual from the government." (Gladstein, p. 68)

In regard to rights, she says for example that just because there is the right of free speech, this does not mean that the microphone has to be supplied. For Rand, there are only individual rights; not economic, collective or public-interest rights.

Also Rand thought that Anna Karenina was "the most evil book in serious literature", apparently, because of its message of hopelessness - heavens! (p. 76 in Gladstein book). How dreadful - it is a brilliant book and can really help certain people in certain situations, in particular crises that they might have in their life. And the language and style is just so beautiful. It transcends so much. This one really disturbed me.

Gladstein continues:

"In Rand's metaphysical philosophy, reality is objective and absolute. For her epistemological system, the mind is capable of discovering valid information of that which exists. Because of her basic premise that man is a rational being and an end in himself, he has a right to choose those values and goals that best serve his purpose to be the best person he can be. This is in accordance with her moral theory of self-interest...a coherent philosophy that includes metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics must precede and determine politics and that politics then precedes and determines economics." (Gladstein, pp. 85-6)

Rand says that one's life should be one's ethical purpose and that values should be chosen that forward that purpose (p. 102). But this could be de-motivating (apart from anything else) - doing things for these so-called 'moral' purposes. Yet, at the same time, she argued that people should be selfish.

"Rand...sometimes called herself a radical for capitalism, thought that capitalism was the only moral politico-economic system in history. In her thinking, capitalism was a great boon to humankind, having produced goods and technology that enhance the quality of life." (Gladstein, p.103)

Moving on to 'The Fountainhead' Ayn Rand's Introduction in the Penguin, 2007 (first published in 1943) is interesting.

Rand makes it clear that she rates Aristotle, who she says, sees things not as they are, but as they might be or ought to be. In fact, he was the only philosopher she really rated, even though Nietzsche had quite a big influence on her thinking in the early days.

Rand says in the introduction:

"Since my purpose is the presentation of an ideal man, I had to define and present the conditions which make him possible and which his existence requires. Since man's character is the product of his premises, I had to define and present the kinds of premises and values that create the character of an ideal man and motivate his actions; which means that I had to define and present a rational code of ethics. Since man acts among and deals with other men, I had to present the kind of social system that makes it possible for ideal men to exist and to function - a free, productive, rational system which demands and rewards the best in every man, and which is, obviously, laissez-faire capitalism." (Rand, p.ix)

Interestingly, she also talks about Nietzsche in the introduction. She had a quote from Nietzsche at the head of her manuscript for 'The Fountainhead', which she subsequently removed (as she later disagreed with much of his thinking), but then brought it back into the Introduction.

She says:

"I removed it, because of my profound disagreement with the philosophy of its author, Friedrich Nietzsche. Philosophically, Nietzsche is a mystic and an irrationalist. His metaphysics consists of a somewhat 'Byronic' and mystically 'malevolent' universe; his epistemology subordinates reason to 'will', or feeling or instinct or blood or innate virtues of character. But, as a poet, he projects at times (not consistently) a magnificent feeling for man's greatness, expressed in emotional, not intellectual, terms. This is especially true of the quotation I had chosen. I could not endorse its literal meaning: it proclaims an indefensible tenet - psychological determinism. But if one takes it as a poetic projection of an emotional experience (and if, intellectually, one substitutes the concept of an acquired 'basic premise' for the concept of an innate 'fundamental certainty'), then that quotation communicates the inner state of an exalted self-esteem - and sums up the emotional consequences for which The Fountainhead provides the rational, philosophical base." (Rand, p.xii)

And this is the actual quote from Nietzsche:

"It is not the works, but the belief which is here decisive and determines the order of rank - to employ once more an old religious formula with a new and deeper meaning - it is some fundamental certainty which a noble soul has about itself, something which is not to be sought, is not to be found, and perhaps, also, is not to be lost. The nobel soul has reverence for itself. - " (Friederich Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil)

Also, as Gladstein said:

"Early in her career, Rand's work retained vestiges of her encounter with Nietzschean thought. However, as she honed and developed her own philosophy, she was able to expunge much of that from her texts." (Gladstein, p. 23)

I think this is unfortunate, to say the least. If one is inspired by a great writer/thinker, then it is wrong to not properly acknowledge this. Really, it is a form of plagiarism. Nietzsche inspired Rand, and then she largely dumps him. And why did she do that? Because he uncovered truths that she did not want to know or like. On initial reading, Nietzsche might seem to be 'for' capitalism, in some way, encouraging people to 'go for life', to make the most of life, and all that. And she must have liked that. But the more one reads, the more one realises the falsity of such a position. Rather, Nietzsche explore the complexities, the multi-layers and the contradictions. He was very brave, took many risks and just transcended so much. And so it sent him mad, in the end. Very difficult to marry it all up. He was a genius, and thought on levels that were completely beyond the capability of Rand.

What about the novel, 'The Fountainhead' itself? Well, it proved to be a very dull read. So dull, in fact, that I could not bring myself to finish it. I thought it might be more like Barbara Taylor Bradford's 'A Woman of Substance' - a rags to riches-type story, which would celebrate capitalism in an enticing and engaging way, but it wasn't. Presumably, this was because Rand was trying to prove that capitalism is the most rational social system, and aiming to be objective, but the result was pretty dire.

Gladstein summarises some of the main themes in 'The Fountainhead' very well, I think (pp.25-30). Rand identifies the theme of the book as 'individualism versus collectivism". The novel revolves around the story of Howard Roark, a talented and independent architect and his interaction with a number of characters. Gladstein says that:

"It is through these stories that Rand illustrates the sources, psychological and societal, which go into the making of either a collectivist or an individualistic." (Gladstein, p. 25)

In regard to the characters, there is Gail Wynand, a cynic with qualities of greatness; Peter Keating, a secondander who bothers too much about the opinion of others and Ellsworth M. Toohey, the ultimate collectivist whose real purpose is to rule others.

In regard to Peter Keating:

"For such people, it is not what they acoomplish but what others think they have accomplished." (Gladstein, pp. 25-6)

They do not act but give the appearance of acting. The live off the fruits of others.

Then, there is Howard Roark himself who asserts that:

" is the doers, thinkers, workers, and producers upon whom the world depends." (Gladstein, p.26)

Roark blames the acceptance of altruism for those like Peter Keating that live secondhand. Roark is an independent thinker, who produces and works and takes calculated risks.

Whilst;s Tooley's:

" was crowded, public and impersonal as a city square. The friend of humanity had no single private friend. People came to him; he came close to no one. He accepted all. His affection was golden, smooth and even, like a great expanse of sand; there was no wind of discrimination to raise dunes; the sands lay still and the sun stood high." (Rand in 'The Fountainhead', p. 309).

As Gladstein said, Tooley:

"Having reduced Peter Keating to a selfless and willing pawn, Toohey has no fear in revealing the methodology of his plan to kill the individual and man's soul...By setting selflessness and altruism as the ideal, an ideal that is unachievable, one fills people with guilt and a sense of unworthiness. Such people are more easily ruled." (Gladstein, pp. 26-7)

In addition:

"Killing a person's capacity to recognize or achieve greatness while concurrently setting up standards achievable by all, kills incentive to improve, to excel, or to perfect." (Gladstein, p. 27)

In the end (after a court case), Roark "...rejects the right of the government to demand the gift of his talent and refuses to exist for others; he states that he recognizes no obligation toward others except not to participate in a slave society and to respect their freedom." (Gladstein, p. 30)

In general, I just found 'The Fountainhead' to be a bad work of fiction. It was not engaging; instead it was a dull read. The characters did not seem real; they had no depth to them; no passion; no essential qualities of what it is to be human. And it was not inspirational. It was also irritating, because it was just about readable, so I kept ploughing on with it for a long time, thinking it might get better, eventually to give up (I was probably about 4/5 through it). I felt annoyed; it had wasted my time, and it put me in a bad mood. It was an extremely unsatisfying read, and if many others started to write fiction like that, it would kill novel-writing as an art form, I think - that is how strongly I feel about it. Apparently, Rand took barbiturates for years; perhaps, this is reflected in her writing. Such drugs can inhibit, or even kill, creativity. The creative spark that brings a book to life for me, was not there. Whether or not that can be blamed on drugs is another matter. But we must remember that Rand was trying to prove that capitalism is a rational system, and she was writing this novel to try to prove that. So, it aimed to be objective, but this made it very dull. Dear oh dear. Leave the likes of her to it. I want to live in the complete opposite way to that. I want to be moved and inspired by artistic works and experiences that transcend every day life and make life something beautiful or at least something interesting and worthwhile. I certainly do not want to be reading novels that give me the opposite experience. So, that's enough of that. I won't be reading any more of Rand's novels, that's for sure.

Recently, though, I read an interesting and useful piece in the 'Sunday Observer' by George Saunders (26th May), which also helped to clarify and confirm my thinking on Rand.  The piece was 'George Saunders (People Agenda) in the 'Sunday Observer, New Review', 26th May, 2013, p. 5

George Saunders is a USA writer on Buddhism, but in his school days and slightly beyond, he was very keen on Rand. He said:

"...if you are a crummy reader sometimes bad art can do magical things. She [Rand] appeals to a certain kind of adolescent male, I think, and she definitely got to me."

He continues:

"So I went to college and read all the rest of the books and she was sort of my patron saint. Then you get an uncomfortable moment where you realise there's this little bag you're holding that's filling up with phenomena that don't really fit the model. And that bag got heavier and heavier. My family ran into some financial problems. And I thought, she would not understand what we're going through. She'd equate it with some kind of moral weakness on our part. And then after college I went to Asia and saw some things there that made the bag really heavy and at some point I just said, 'I don't get her any more, I'll set her down.' Only years later I was like, 'Oh my God, she's very dangerous'. But I like that. I like the idea that someone can change. You could be a rabid right-winger one moment and then..." (p.5)

So, let that be a warning to us.

I will end on this note, as an additional warning. I recently watched an interview with Rand on YouTube, where she was arguing against women being leaders. A nice and amusing contradiction, I thought, as she influenced Margaret Thatcher's thinking. But Rand had made it; she was a successful woman  - indeed, it was the desire for that that largely fuelled her philosophy and her writing, I think. It  made her very much stand out from the crowd, whilst at the same time, very much supporting capitalism and so she became famous. This surely says something about the manner of the woman. She should not be taken too seriously, but then again, given how much such thinking is influencing government policy in the west, on another level, such thinking cannot be ignored.

However, having now completed my own project on this topic, I will leave it to others to explore it further!

I guess it needs to be done, but not by me!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Art Tank

An exciting opportunity for creative artists

Art Tank can be found at:

"Art Tank have formed to celebrate the contemporary art that is emerging today. We are an online art space that aims to discover new creativity and offer a unique platform for artists who are both new to exhibiting and who are already established. The difficult economic climate that everyone is faced with today effects artists and people who work in the creative industries, just as it effects other trades and professions.

We have seen how artists need a much better scope for opportunities in which a career can develop and young people can fulfill their capabilities and work with something that challenges them. We are dedicated to selling, promoting and fostering the work of artists that we are excited about and we are grateful to work with you!

Art Tank is Abu Bakr and Jamal's collaborative online project.

We are at the moment, looking for artists of all kinds to register with us so please send your best work to, and we will get back to you as soon as we are able. Thank you."

Alternatively, email

Selected artistic works are available for sale on 'Art Tank' and can be purchased online.

Here is an example - a painting entitled 'Spring' by Peter Offord

Art Tank 'Products Page' is at:

Friday, 7 June 2013

Thinking Through Spinoza

'Thinking Through Spinoza: a research symposium' - held at Queen Mary College, University of London, 24th May 2013. Organised by School of Politics; led by Dr Caroline Williams (Notes)

Baruch Spinoza (1632 - 1677) - a Jewish-Dutch philosopher, that opposed Descarte's mind-body dualist philosophy, and instead thought that the mind and body were a single entity, and that there is only one reality. He was a lens grinder, and turned down various rewards, honours and prestigious teaching positions throughout his life, preferring to concentrate on his philosophy.

A well-attended and interesting event.

'Opening Remarks: thinking through Spinoza' - Dr Caroline Williams

TheoryLAB - study of political theory. Political theory is experimental. Laboratory builds connections and has a transformative capacity. Louis Althusser looked at Marxist theory in a laboratory setting. Trying to develop something different. Spinoza's philosophy could be seen to be a type of laboratory. Spinoza's work was often marginalised.

This is first event in this thinking lab - TheoryLab, at Queen Mary College.

'Spinoza's concept of equality' - Dr Beth Lord, Philosophy, Aberdeen
Spinoza upholds notion of equality of person. Each person has the right to do things that are good for them. Moral and political equality.

But Lord thinks that Spinoza's equality notion is ambiguous.

Can be equal in terms of laws of nature, but we can't all live according to laws of nature.

What kind of equality should we aim for?

Look at equality in economic terms? People can't all be equal in wisdom.

In 'The Ethics' Spinoza says that we have equal rights. But that it is a fairly empty concept.

Spinoza - "...the right of nature extents as far as its power extends...each individual thing has the sovereign right to do everything that it can do, or the right of each thing extends so far as its determined power extends." (Theological Political Treatise, 16:2)

Democracy encourages individuals power to be proportionate to the share in the whole. Moral equality is invented by civil law.

Spinoza has a lot to say about equality and inequality in the Hebrew state, Lord said. The Hebrews make it impossible for anyone to become a debt slave. 'Unfree man' - someone who can't pay his debt. 'Debt slavery' - Hebrews prospered because they ruled out debt slaves, Spinoza said. 'Debt slaves' - bad for the state. e.g. interest-bearing loans. A very live issue at the time that Spinoza was writing. Used Old Testament comments to argue against interest-bearing loans.

Credit and debit - should be between equals.

Rational people help each other freely, through mutual aid.

Spinoza gives us a notion of equality - equals are parts of a greater whole.

Spinoza thinks formal essence exists and that humans have common basic capacities, based on formal essence.

Comment from Professor Moira Gatens - women not under men by institution but by their nature, Spinoza said. But Beth Lord thought that was only one comment from Spinoza and should not be taken out of context, and other things he said suggests he thought differently about women. Also, of course, he was writing at a particular time.

'Spinoza's Geometric Ecologies' - Dr Peg Rawes (Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London)
Looking at architecture, maths, trigonometry, geometry.

Spinoza's philosophy based on logic.

Relation between geometry and nature.

God equals Nature

Relating architectural design to Spinoza.

But market drives lot architectural design - this cannot be denied, Rawes admits.

Spinoza's concept of 'substance'. Nature can be related to ecology and rights, in its widest sphere. The well-being of society.

'Vital Materialism: Spinoza after Deleuze' - Professor Rosi Braidotti (Director, Centre for the Humanities, Utrecht)
Decline in humanities and social sciences.

Professor Braidotti has written a book called 'The Posthuman' (Polity Press, 2013)

What is the human and the humanities, she asks?

Humanities are fragments. Explosion of some sort of structure of knowledge.

Can we use Spinoza's ontology to rescue the humanities and the social sciences?

Methodological naturalism and dynamic vitalism.

Vital organistic; whole - more than 'naturalism'.

Transcendetal consciousness.

Commodification of life; recreation of life things; synthetic material. Producing materials for creation of new worlds and for sustainability.

Multilplication of levels of life.

All species are equal for their vulnerability to be capitalised and commodified. Equal for their capacity for extinction. So, a 'negative equality'.

Humans might no longer be at centre of things. Moral panic - don't have a moral system to contain this disaster. Getting out of hand with technology.

Drones - have no human intervention. Just fire on their own. Means - man is not at centre of things. Drone technology - no human agency involved in it, Braidotti said, in the decision to fire. Should we redesign the programmes of this Post-Human technology?

Panic - our inability to deal with what we have produced ourselves.

Trying to moralise the post-human world that we have created.

Is it now - ethics v. morality?

Some try to tell Braidotti that the Humanities is over.

Moving into Study areas, and away from academic areas - e.g. Women's Studies, Death Studies, Food Studies. Seems to be never-ending - the amount of different studies that one can have. Mentality of follow the budget - see who gets the money.

Man spent 4 years looking at whether Austerity measures were right. Found out that the Maths was wrong. But they still did not change the Austerity programme. Austerity measures - a form of extinction; extinguishing/obliterating certain groups of people that are seen to be 'undesirable'.
'Creating a dynamic, resilient world' - topic at World Social Forum.
Need to complexify death, Braidotti said - it is not straightforward.

Comment from Beth Lord - no longer acceptable to be a Sole Researcher. Instead, want collaborative working. Imported from the Sciences, where they work together. Imposition of new-liberal capitalism on our working methods. OK if want to work with others, but might not always want to. Impinging on academic freedom. But need the funding, so have to do collaborative working, researching and writing.

'The symptomatic relationship between law and conflict in Spinoza' - Dr Filippo del Lucchese (Politics, Brunel)

Spinzoa's thoughts include ideas on permanent revolution.

Some good conflict produces good laws. How can relationship between law and conflict be defined?

Parallism - relationship between mind and body - Cartesian. Spinoza says that mind and body are together active. Mind and body on same ontological level. And Spinoza opposed Descarte's mind-body dualism but instead thought they were a single entity. He thought that everything that exists in nature (i.e. everything in the Universe) is one Reality (substance); that there is only one set of rules governing reality.

Conflict - been kept out of much of literature on Spinoza.

'Spinoza and the production of subjectivity (or the 3 kinds of knowledge and the passage between)' - Dr Simon O'Sullivan, Dept of Visual Cultures, Goldsmith)
O'Sullivan has written a book on this topic -
'On the production of subjectivity: five diagrams of the finite/infinite relation' by Simon O'Sullivan, Palgrave MacMillan, 2012

Spinoza's ethics - the 3 kinds of knowledge.

Being in /thrown into the world. Shocks of being thrown into the world. Movement and rest. Bodies and minds are modes; speed and slowness. Modes - moving.

1st kind of knowledge - isolated deposits of knowledge
2nd kind of knowledge - some deposits of knowledge joining together
3rd kind of knowledge - large area; smaller areas within it and deposits of knowledge within these 3 different areas.

O'Sullivan produced some simple but effective diagrams to illustrate these 3 kinds of knowledge.

Through 2nd kind of knowledge - get ethical dimension to ones life. Knowledge of modal essences; God and nature. Essences exist outside space and time. Not tied to the individual. More powerful in effecting the mind. Can 'become what you are' from the 3rd kind of knowledge - relate to Nietzsche.

Spinoza thought - will be part of the Eternal - similar to Nietzsche. 'Eternal return of the Same'

3rd kind of knowledge - can't really be commodified.

'Spinoza and Art' - Professor Moira Gatens (Philosophy, Sydney)
Professor Moira Gatens looked at Spinoza's attitude to the creative arts.

Did Spinoza have a theory of aesthetics?

Is there a place for art in Spinoza's philosophy?

A reconstruction of Spinoza's art might begin with a look at his work on Prophesy, Gatens said. Looked at Prophets - common moral code. Prophets deal with fiction, images, drama. In pictures - can do things that Philosophy can't.

What does Spinoza's Philosophy have to say about goodness?

Spinoza says that imagination is powerful but can get us into trouble.

Spinoza - perfection/imperfection; good/evil. Aesthetic judgement.  How can we agree or disagree with idea of a 'perfect horse' or 'perfect house'?

Spinoza says - 'good', 'evil' are useful words; ideal of the free man. Ethical path to freedom.

The more perfect the individual is, the more his power of acting, in so far as it is understood, through his nature.

Spinoza's philosophical understanding of perfection; the more perfect I am, the more real I am.

Power of thought and mind - to form adequate ideas etc.

The more real I am, the more I am at one with nature.

Spinoza sees reality as perfection.

Joyful path of freedom - have to co-operate with others.

Spinoza wanted to accommodate religion in his own time. Spinoza says there's difference between genuine and false prophets. He wasn't interested in theorising about ideal communities but looking at actual human communities.

Genuine prophets - can decide what is good for humans; a set of rules.

Imaginative insight - so we can live in relative harmony. Imaginatively; grounded knowledge.

Spirit of God - created beautiful works of art.

Enjoy art because it gives us positive feelings.

Therapy, imagination, blessedness. But how much self-awareness does one bring to this state?


N.B. Spinoza's philosophy provided an alternative to materialism, atheism and deism. 3 of his ideas, in particular, had strong appeal:

1. the unity of all that exists
2. the regularity of all that happens
3. the identity of spirit and nature

Karl Max admired Spinoza's materialistic interpretation of the universe.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

May Day Manifesto Relaunch Seminar at Marx Memorial Library

This proved to be a great event - a Relaunch Seminar for the May Day Manifesto, held at the Marx Memorial Library on 23rd May 2013.

It brought back memories of our great UEA days; our great experiences as undergraduates there.

'Soundings' (a journal of politics and culture and published 3 times a year by Lawrence and Wishart, London)
is  re-issuing the May Day Manifesto (which was originally published in 1968) with a new introduction by Michael Rustin. And this event was a re-launch of this Manifesto (as the first one was so successful and not everyone that wanted to attend was able to).

There were 2 speakers at the launch:
Michael Rustin and Madeleine Davis

The event proved to be quite historical, looking back at the political and cultural changes in the UK over the last 45 years or so. And this also made it very moving for me; the 1970's were a great and special period. There were changes afoot for ordinary people and there was great optimism. Well, we only got to go university because of all these wonderful changes, with the building of the new campus universities in the 1960's, which the University of East Anglia was one of, of course.

Michael Rustin, Professor of Sociology at University of East London and a public intellectual, spoke first. Michael Rustin started 'Soundings' with Stuart Hall and Doreen Massey. He is now on the Editorial Board of the journal, along with Stuart Hall, Joe Littler, Doreen Massey and George Shire. Prior to that he was on the Editorial Board of 'New Left Review' -

Michael Rustin began by exploring why the 1968 manifesto was published. He explained that there was a strange feeling of disappointment with the Harold Wilson government after 13 years of Tory rule. The Labour Party had won the election; there was a Labour Government in power, but there had been no real Labour break-through. It was not a transition to socialism; instead, the Labour Government was just adapting to capitalism. The manifesto was a state of protest against this, and a call for action. I remember how intensely Glenn and I felt this disappointment ourselves; we were disappointed with both the Wilson and Callaghan governments. But in retrospective, how good they were compared to what subsequently followed. Dear oh dear! Yet, all this, of course, led to what we now have - neo-liberalism.

Michael Rustin continued, pointing out that there was also the 'Cultural Revolution' at the time. Raymond Williams, for example, believing in the possibility of the working class being able to engage in cultural pursuits and bringing about a different kind of future. Williams was a very powerful and influential figure at the time, and indeed, we loved his work and it had a profound effect on our thinking, as did so many of the other left thinkers and writers at the time - e.g. Ralph Miliband, Peter Townsend, Willmott and Young.

Meanwhile, though. the 'New Left Review' became more theoretical and more academic, and was not so amenable to ordinary readers. Michael Rustin explained that it became rather disengaged from political life and political action. Whereas, the earlier 'New Left Review' was much more involved with politics, and in particular, was closely aligned to CND. Rustin thought that if the 'New Left Review' had stayed in its old form it would probably have been more powerful. Or perhaps it might have been better if 2 different types of journals had continued to be published (so not an either/or). Mike thought it was a shame that that did not happen really.

So, all this also helped to lead to the creation of the manifesto, which sold no less than 10,000 copies in 1968.

However, in some ways Mike thought that the Manifesto had been a mistake because it was a simple statement and it did not provide any opportunity for discussion. Also, that it was published 2 years after the Labour had got into power, and that it would probably have been more effective if it had been published before they got into government.

The relaunch of the manifesto is in 12 issues. There are contributions from various people and there is more discussion. Mike thinks that it is better than the original Manifesto in this way.

However, the analysis and predictions in the original Manifesto have proved to be very right. People spoke about its prediction of imperialist wars; poverty and worsening inequality (e.g. Townsend); the Labour party becoming less democratic; the increase in marketing and spin; the media being dominated by private corporations etc. All this and much more was predicted in the manifesto.

The New Manifesto (or the Kilburn Manifesto as it is sometimes called as it was written in Kilburn), aims to describe and analyse the system as it is, rather than looking at alternative systems.

Then Madeleine Davis spoke. She is a lecturer in Politics at Queen Mary College, University of London. Madeleine said that the New Manifesto is rekindling the critical left. The Left are often criticised for being politically weak and too academic.

Madeleine said that the Labour Party today is looking towards the traditional left and that there has been a renewal of left critique of community, reciprocity etc. A space for critical thinking. However, that in some ways it is quite superficial. But the Labour Party needs this left critical thinking in some ways, to inspire it.

The launch of the original manifestos was not timed very well  (2 years into the Labour government got into power) but the time of the relaunch is better - 2 years before an election.

The original May Day Manifesto can be downloaded from the Internet.

In the discussion there was talk about moving beyond neo-liberalism. Furthermore, that there was a need for action outside of the Labour Party, to make Labour change and do something.

One of the courses that Madeleine teaches on at Queen Mary College, is on the 'History of Socialist Radical Thought'. I thought how wonderful it must be, to teach subjects like that. And, I was full of admiration for her; well, for both her and Michael Rustin.

There was also some further discussion about the big cultural change in the 1960s. Before that, culture very much belonged to the dominant class. But the 1960s changed all of that and that. Raymond Williams said that culture can be popular. This revolution has now happened; we have radical film makers and authors etc. In this way, there is now a more democratic space and the cultural change has been permanent and that is a good thing, said Michael Rustin.

On the way out I also bought the latest issue of 'Soundings' - (Iss 53, Spring 2013)

In the Editorial of the issue it refers to their online manifesto 'After neoliberalism', written by the journals 3 founding editors, Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey and Mike Rustin, saying:

"The aim of the manifesto is to focus attention on the nature of the neoliberal settlement, including the social, cultural and political battles that have attended its emergence and maintenance - and those that might help bring about its demise. It argues that mainstream political debate largely avoids confronting the systemic failures that underpin the financial crash, preferring to believe that normal service will shortly be resumed. And as long as this belief continues, political debate will centre on the extent to which state spending should be cut rather than on how to secure a political economy in which all of us have enough to live on, and a society in which the good displaces profit as the ultimate goal." (p.4)

Friday, 31 May 2013

'Memento Mori' exhibit by Neil Whitehead at PrintSpace, London

NEIL WHITEHEAD's Fine Art piece, 'Memento Mori' will be exhibited at

PrintSpace, London

74 Kingsland Road

London E2 8DL

Exhibition: 3rd June to 14th June, 2013

9am to 7pm

Directions to PrintSpace:
From Old Street station.Take bus 243 toward Wood Green from Stop K
From Liverpool Street: station.Take bus 149 towards Edmonton from Stop E
On Foot: from Old Street station (10 mins), Liverpool Street Station (15mins), or Hoxton Station (4 mins).

Neil Whitehead, Designer of 'The Flow of Ideas' website - and
'I Love Transcontiental' website - and

Neil Whitehead's website is at:

Author of 'Whisky Breath Confessional', Blurb Publishing, 2010

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Radical Book Fair, Conway Hall, London

Well, well - Saturday 11th May 2013 proved to be quite some day for us (well, for Glenn, Alexander and I it did).

Firstly, it was off to get a mower mended - Alex's first mower and him wanting to keep it no matter what (but heavens - got to stop the petrol leak - hence the visit to the shop!).

Then, tea, food and chat in the cafe of the garden shop. Talking about Thomas Paine, Edmund Burke, Mary Wollstonecraft and Roger Scruton. Also, fitting this in with both the Tories search for an ideological base (see Roger Scruton's article in 'The Guardian' of 11th May 2013 -
and Gregory currently studying about the Enlightenment period.

Next, Alex and I go off to the Radical Book Fair at Conway Hall, London  - see
(whilst Glenn sadly had to return, for now, to being a marking machine).

Now, what made us decide to go to this? Well, it was Alex looking at the results of the recent local elections in the shires, and the disturbing inroads being made by UKIP (UK Independence Party) and the far right. 'Whatever has happened to the left?' Alex asked. Is there no 'left' left at all? (excuse the irresistible pun). This concerned us on a number of fronts:

1. The actual state of the left.
2. That Alex 'felt' this even though he has us as parents, telling him so much about what is going on, on the left (even though we are obviously very disappointed with the general trend).
3. The power of the media, which is controlled by the dominant, ruling class, which has not only been very successful in helping to put the right in the powerful place that they are now in, but also into manipulating people's minds into thinking that the 'right' is even more powerful and successful than it actually is! And so it all starts to become a self-fulfilling prophesy. No point in getting involved in the left, because there is nothing left worth getting involved with. So, just accept the right-wing agenda and that way of life. So it goes.

So, anyway, the decision was made - we would go to the Radical Book Fair. And what a wise decision that proved to be, and is something that we can now very much build on in a positive way.

The Radical Book Fair. Wow - it was great. Lots of stalls, lots of people, lots of books and some nice, wholesome food. We have been to the Anarchist Book Fair (in fact, Glenn and I went there with friends Elaine and Richard a few years ago) but the Radical Book Fair - that was something new and it was even better.Yes, it was great - bringing the various strands on the left and critical thinkers together: socialists, left labour, anarchists, communists, feminists, critical thinkers etc etc..

On arrival I bumped into Andrew Coburn, from Essex libraries. I got to know Andrew through the Library Campaign which he ran - trying to protect and enhance public libraries and all that. But of course, things aren't looking good on the public library front, but we can return to that another time.

Next - to look at the book stalls. Right by the door - Newham Bookshop bookstall. And what do we find? A book by Martin Hoyles. So what, you might well ask? Who is that? 'Could he be the same person?', I asked myself, I checked the bio info at the back of the book. Yes, it was the same person. My A' Level English Literature teacher from school! Wow!

Now, Martin Hoyles was very inspirational for me in my formative teenage years. Well, we studied D. H. Lawrence's 'Sons and Lovers' with him and it was Martin Hoyles that told us that Lawrence had been influenced by Nietzsche. And it was Martin Hoyles that got us to see Ken Russell's film of 'Women in Love'. And it was Martin Hoyles that got us to go to the Greenwich Theatre and see great plays such as 'The Doll's House' and 'The Cherry Orchard'. And it was Martin Hoyles that got us to see and view English Literature in a good way; enjoying it; thinking for ourselves; engaging with it. Not just digesting text and critics in order to feed it back to the examiners, thereby risking losing our own minds and our enthusiasm. This was so important to me; as fiction has always been such a love of my life. To have that messed up and destroyed by straight-jacket study methods and techniques would have been dreadful. And so, in this way, Martin Hoyles was a great saviour for me.

So, anyway, here was this book by him, on the Chartist Movement.The book is entitled: 'William Cuffay: the life and times of a Chartist leader' (Hansib, 2013). Well, our friend Dave Black has also written a book about the Chartists, so this became a 'must-buy'.  I wonder if they have met up or if we could arrange for them to meet up, I thought to myself?

So, purchase No. 1.

Purchase No. 2? One for Glenn - a book with a picture of a boy with a gun on the cover, with the title 'How I killed Margaret Thatcher' . The book was by Anthony Cartwright and published with Tindal Street Press, 2013. A work of fiction. Another 'must buy'. Something for Glenn to read after 'The Game of Thrones' - yes, all 7 of them, so will take him some time. Perhaps, Alex might want to read it too.

Purchase No. 3 -  a DVD each of the excellent film 'The Spirit of '45' (, directed by Ken Loach. Glenn and I saw it at the cinema recently. Gregory also recommended it. Perhaps, this film can do what the left politicians seem unable to do these days - i.e. engage and move people, to work towards a better and a kinder world (rather than a worse and a crueller world). Ken Loach the director of great films, such as 'Cathy Come Home' and ''Kes'. Everyone should watch 'The Spirit of '45' in my view, (bar the ruling class and the enemy - see information about 'What we are fighting for' talk below). Not that we can stop the opposition from knowing what we are up to in that way, but still...

The film showed how the NHS was set up following the Labour landslide after the 2nd World War; and how many of the other state-provisions came into being - e.g. council housing, railways. After people fought for their country and following on from all the death, misery and suffering that people went through, and how brave they had been for their country, something had to be done (or else there might have been riot and revolution). And so the state intervened and did all these wonderful things for the ordinary people. And then Thatcher gets into power, and ever since then, all this good work is being systematically undermined and dismantled. This was what the film showed so clearly. It brought tears to my eyes.

Then, decided - enough purchases for now. Let's look round the stalls. Great variety - Housmans, Virso, Zero, Feminist Library etc etc. Picked up various leaflets.

We missed some of the talks as we got there late, but no matter - 'just enjoy the day'.

Next on the agenda - a talk about Children's Radical Publishing. Excellent. 2 childrens' authors talking about 2 books that they had recently written and published.

Jeanne Willis on 'Wild Child', published by Walker, 2012 - see

Sarah Garland on 'Azzi in Between', published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2012 - see

Both books were entered for the Children's Radical Book Prize at the fair. Sarah Garland's book won.

In regard to the talks, Jeanne Willis spoke first. She has over 200 books published. Jeanne spoke about and read her latest book, a picture book called 'Wild Child'. It was wonderful. About a child that was able to go off to play and wander all day in the countryside. Jeanne spoke about how she was able to do this with her sister when they were children and how today children are often not allowed/not able to 'run wild' in this way. There is now this great concern with 'safety'. And children are being turned more and more into consumers at ever younger ages.

Whilst  'Azzi  in between' focuses on the topic of refugees trying to integrate into the community and the difficulties they face. As it says on the publicity flyer for the book:

"Escaping from her home in a war zone, Azzi has to leave her Grandma behind and embark on a long and difficult journey by land and sea to the safety of a new country. Here, everything is strange to her. How can Azzi learn a new language? How can she make friends at her new school? Will she ever see her Grandma again?"

The book is in a graphic format, thereby making it available to a wider range of ages. Sarah Garland drew the pictures herself.

The talks were followed by questions and comments from the floor. A lady who had recently completed a PhD on children's literature asked a very interesting question. She made the point that the authors were adults, aiming to look at the world through the eyes of children. She said that all that was fine, but wondered what the authors thought to the idea of children getting more involved; with children's thoughts and ideas being valued in this way. The 2 authors seemed to be struggling with this one, so I then suggested the possibility that gifted children could work with adult authors such as themselves, but that this can be very difficult as publishers need to get material published as quickly and efficiently as possible, in order to enhance their profit margins.  I was thinking here, in particular, about Victor growing up, being encouraged by his teacher to publish and so much wanting to do it; putting so much effort into it, but how we were not able to achieve it on our own. Jeanne Willis said that if a gifted 9/10 year old contacts her she provides them with information about how to get their stories published, so everything is fine. They can become successful writers; no worries and all that. But I think that Jeanne is being rather romantic here. For most children, it is a lot more complicated and more difficult than that. Perhaps, Jeanne has not come against the rawity of capitalism in the way that we have!

I wanted to say something about Jeanne's book; how wonderful it is but how it is much more difficult for urban children to be able to wander off all day and have these wonderful adventures. I also thought about Glenn and D. H. Lawrence who were bought up by or near the countryside and were able to wander off like this as children and enjoy all the plants, flowers and wildlife etc. Whilst, as an urban child, I was much more confined and could not have such great adventures. Although, I did play in the street - skipping, 2 balls, he, hop-scotch etc. And so I turned to my story books. But I never got to say that in the end; oh well, not to worry.

Next talk: ' What we are fighting for'. This was 4 men talking about their recently published book 'What we are fighting for: a radical collective manifesto', edited by Federico Campagna and Emanuele Campiglio (Pluto Press, 2012). This was also excellent. So much so, that one person at the end of Federico Campagna's talk said that he had been waiting to hear something like that from the left for 30 years. Wow! So what was so important and significant about this? It was the tone of the deliveries, in particular, with the emphasis being on how to defeat the right.

Federico Campagna made it clear that he thought that we were in a War, but that the left do not realise this enough. Thatcher realised this, which was why she was so successful. The left, on the other hand, are too concerned with being tolerant, considerate and peaceful.

Now, whilst we must obviously be against capitalist and imperialist wars, this should not lead us to being against the idea of war in general, he said, when it comes to thinking strategically (as opposed to actually using weapons and killing people).  But Victory is what we are after; and the aim is to win; it is not just about a beautiful gesture. The enemy - is someone that has to be defeated. This does not mean that, as individuals they might not be nice people; but one has to differentiate between individual people's personalities, and what side they are actually on/representing.

Also, that we need to be fully aware of the fact that the 'right' have control of 'reality engineering', with PR, advertising, tabloids, TV etc., so they have so much stacked up in their favour in this way. So, we need to know what we are up against.

In addition, we sometimes need strategic disengagement, to enable the left to set longer term goals. Thus, a multiplicity of strands is needed, and different terrains. One man said, for example, that he saw the SWP as his ally but not his comrade. Also, how we are often complicit in our own subjection to power. And that if we can't protect our own Labour party how ever can we defeat capitalism? I thought this was a very good point; well, they were all good points. So, we need a different strategy. The left also needs to work together through the different strands, focus on attacking the actual enemy, with the aim of winning and victory, rather than the left having in-fighting amongst itself. In contrast, 'resistance' is no good as an aim; it just means that one is resisting dying. Something far more positive is needed. We thought it was all really good and very much got to the heart of the matter.

Unfortunately, the session over-run, so there was no time for questions and comments. But Gayle Chester, from the Feminist Library, and acting as Chair, made a closing comment though, which I thought was very unfortunate, to say the least. She asked where the women's voice was; now, as far as I am concerned, this once again, is dividing the left; the very thing that the editors and writers of the book were aiming to overcome. Oh well, such is life.

The contributors in the book include Owen Jones, David Graeber, John Holloway, Nina Power, Mark Fisher, Franco Bifo Berardi and Marina Sitrin.

Then, on to the book prizes. Nina Power was one of the judges. Now, Glenn told me to look out for her and her book, 'One Dimensional Woman' (Zero Books, 2009). She is also a Philosophy lecturer. We wanted to buy this book, and also 'What we are fighting for' - but both were sold out at the fair! Wow - shows how popular they are. I did talk to someone, though, that runs 'The Fuse Book Club', a monthly book club on left non-fiction works, held at Housmans Bookshop. So, perhaps, will get involved with that. Looks interesting, but have to see.

So, all in all, what a great day. We had a bite to eat. What next? We didn't just want to go home. It had been such a wonderful day.

So, what next? Go and watch a film? Go and see a play? Go and see a musical? We wandered round. We went in the Arts Theatre at Leicester Square for a tea. Should we see the play, a love story, that was on there? Alex thought not; he wanted something that had more fire in its belly; preferably something that exposed some of the horror of capitalism. We ended up at Piccadilly Circus. Noticed that 'The Place Beyond the Pines' was still on in one of the cinemas. I told Alexander that Glenn said it would be a good film. We knew nothing much about it; but we went for it - purely going on Glenn's recommendation (not that he had seen it - he was just going on the reviews). But what a winner it turned out to be. It was sensational; it was amazing. Addressing class issues; addressing police corruption issues; addressing the 'Eternal Return of the Same' issues. I would certainly really recommend it. It stars Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes and Ray Liotta. See:

Came home tired but very satisfied and happy and gave the various goodies to Glenn.

P.S. A few days later, I could not resist it - I had to read 'How I killed Margaret Thatcher' by Anthony Cartwright. A very good book, although not quite what I had been expecting. The story was told through the eyes of a 9-year old boy. The author was born in 1973, so I suspect that what he was describing was the type of Thatcher-world that he saw as he was growing up as a boy. Co-incidentally, Anthony Cartwright has also worked as an English teacher in schools in East London.

Take this great paragraph as an example from the book, following on from the boy Sean talking about Thatcher taking away the school milk:

"She must really hate us, I think. You can see if you watch her on telly or even if you hear her voice coming out of the radio that we make her angry. At least, someone makes her angry. Even when she said that Saint Francis stuff, it was like she was telling everyone off. Things are getting out of hand. She wants to stop people going to work, let all the factories close. That's what my grandad says. I want to know why. I don't know what we've done to upset her, but we've done something. If we know why she's angry maybe we can stop her." (p. 86)

The whole book also got me thinking; why did she so much want to destroy various communities - close factories, shut down industries, force pubs and libraries to close in villages etc? And why did she and do the Tories want to make ordinary people pay for their health care and schooling etc? I thought it was just that they did not care about the ordinary people; were not bothered about what happened to them, as their concern is with defending the interest of their own class. But perhaps there is more to it than that.

Perhaps, Thatcher thought that there were just TOO MANY ordinary people; TOO MANY working class people. Sir Keith Joseph said, at the time, that ordinary people were breeding too much; perhaps, we should take his words more literally.

So, what has happened is that ordinary people and communities have died and are dying through neglect; and this will increase now that the National Health Service no longer formally exists (as from 1st April of this year) and private capital starts to make more and more inroads into the NHS. Then, it will be - do or die; pay or die. So, just how different was Margaret Thatcher from Adolf Hitler, one might start to wonder? Is it just another way of getting rid of unwanted people? What a scary thought. But coming back to 'What we are fighting for', if one has a clearer idea about what the enemy is about, what strategies it is using, and what its long-term goal is, then one is better armed, and more able to defeat the enemy.

'How I killed Margaret Thatcher' is definitely a book that I would recommend.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Never Ending Story

What is this about? The Never Ending Story?

Well, this is a film that I re-watched with our middle son, Victor Rikowski, over the Easter period (at Victor's suggeestion). This is one of Victor's favourite films, and indeed, it is one of my favourites too. Victor was given this by his Auntie Julie, when he was quite young (about 8 years old). But even more surprising is the fact that Glenn took Alexander to see it in the cinema in Cromer, Norfolk when he was only about 6 years old. At the time, they thought it was a bit strange. Victor, Gregory and I watched it later on (when we got the video from Aunt Julie), and we all really liked it. Well, Victor and I really loved it, in fact! And now, we have just re-watched it.

So, what is this film about? And what is so special about it? Well, it is about the land of Fantasia. And this land is only kept alive by children's imagination. But the land is dying, the people are dying, the different species are dying; the emptiness is threatening the world of imagination, and the 'Nothing' is taking over. This is because children's imagination is dying. They are being turned into consumers at ever younger ages, of course. This was not stated explicitly, but the message is there implicitly.

The film opens with a young boy, Bastian, being bullied. He escapes by going into a book shop. The man running the bookshop is reading a book, but tells him that it is not for the boy; that it is no ordinary book. That, of course, is 'The Never Ending Story'. The boy runs off with the book. He gets very absorbed in it; he seems to become part of it. How easily I could relate to that! Getting away from bullies, and into a book instead!

Meanwhile, in the story we have the boy child, Atreyu (the other side of Bastian) that is on a mission to save Fantasia; a young Artistic Warrior one could say.

I thought of Nietzsche and his ideas around the übermensch, the overman, the superman and all that. Yes, I have suddenly started pouring myself into the ideas of Frederick Nietzsche and I am really fascinated by it all! I got it wrong; I have been unfair on him. But then again, it is all so complex. Whilst now, Victor has turned right away from him. Oh well - such is life! These great geniuses and thinkers move and shake us in all sorts of ways. But they are where it is at - that is the most important thing to remember, in my view. The great books, the great thinkers, the great writers, the great artists: those people that want to transcend and indeed, are often driven to transcend, every day reality.

Such people take us on to another plane; they take us on to another level; another way of thinking, being and existing. And I am part of that. I have always been a part of that. But I have not had many of the advantages that many of the greats have had, so I am not being taken as seriously. Nietzsche had a very tough life in many ways and he was, indeed, very courageous, and he broke through so many boundaries and said just so much that others would not dare to say. Well, never dare to think, let alone say and write. But he did have the advantage of being a Professor at a young age, which gave him a head start, in terms of confidence and getting taken seriously (D. H. Lawrence was the same here). But anyway, we all find our own way and I am finding mine. But I do also think that women have to be more careful and cover themselves more (and those from less privileged backgrounds even more so). If a woman wrote as Nietzsche did she would almost certainly be accused of being head-strong, prejudicial, irrational etc. etc. And a woman is also more vulnerable to such attacks, because at the end of the day, most women are physically weaker than men. But anyway, we all find our own way, which is what Nietzsche wanted. And so, as I say, I am finding my own way.

Coming back to the Overman, this is what Nimrod Aloni says in his great book 'Beyond Nihilism' about Nietzsche's overman:

"...the overman stands as the materialisation of the theme that the primary element through which life grows in value or attains power is neither knowledge nor morality, but the creative form-giving, value-assigning, meaning-introducing human enterprise. In other words, in the doctrine of the overman Nietzsche associates the enhancement of life, the elevation of man, and man's metaphysical destiny with a self-determining creative process that is dominated by the will to power, manifested in the introduction of ever-new forms of patterning experience, and continually aiming to surpass and perfect its prevailing state of being." (Aloni, 1991, p. 176)

So, we have the creative outlet driven forward by the 'will to power'.

Then, a little later, and very near the end of the book, Aloni says:

"Nietzsche places the highest value on continual self-overcoming through the spiritualization and creative employment of the passions, identifying man's highest form of self-affirmation with 'the power of creating beyond oneself ' without losing oneself." (Aloni, 1991, p. 185)

Thus, self-overcoming; taking hold of one's life; 'going for life' etc.

Also, the 'Nothing', from an adult perspective, can be associated with Nietzsche. A nihilist state (which could be equated with 'the nothing') that Nietzsche thought had to be reached and recognised in order to then overcome it and move beyond it. Reject Christian morality, reject conformist value systems, all of which leads to sickness in humankind: 'God is dead' (Nietzsche). And so we then have a state of nihilism. Then, the overman can create a new set of values, 'a revaluation of the previous values'  (Nietzsche) and so the 'nothing' is overcome. This is one adult way in which 'The Never Ending Story' could be developed and built on.

Children, on their own, cannot overcome nihilism. The fear is that if it was all just left to children, then barbarism might well take a hold and take over instead (e.g. Golding's 'Lord of the Flies'). It is all too dangerous, and too much left to chance. So, we need to find another way; an adult way but one that is inspiring, fulfilling, creative (and not where the adult lives in an alienated and sick state). But this would build on the power and beauty of children's imagination; of taking adults when they were imaginative children and building on this.  Able, gifted and fortunate children that are able to develop creatively and imaginatively.

But Atreyu, as a child is using the force of his personality, his strong beliefs, his courage and his bravery to try to find the Empress and to call forth Bastian in order to defeat 'the nothing' and to save Fantasia. And of course, in a story it is possible; well anything is possible in stories and in one's imagination. Also, these are very courageous and different young people of course (or the same person, but we won't go into that one here). And if stories and fiction writing in general can help to enrich our real lives, and be real lights to us in the process about how to live more fulfilling lives, so much the better. But we need more than that; we need to put it into an adult context.

And then we have these incredibly wise words from Karl Löwith, in his good book Nietzsche's Philosophy of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. He says:

"The teaching of the eternal recurrence repeats The Birth of Tragedy and makes possible the 'revaluation of all values' that follows, because this teaching pertains in its principle not to just any single value but to the now problematic 'value of existence' as such and as a whole: the reversal of the will to the nothing of nihilism, into the willing of the Being of the eternal recurrence of the same." (Löwith, 1997, p. 26)

Yes, a 'revaluation of all values', to overcome nihilism; to overcome 'the nothing'.

"To Hegel the death of God is the abyss of the nothing into which all Being sinks, in order to emerge anew in the movement of becoming." (Löwith, 1997, p. 39)

Yes, becoming and:

"A superhuman will of the man of the future, a will that creates itself and the world as its own, takes the place of God, who creates Being out of nothing." (Löwith, 1997, p.43)

And so again, we have Nietzsche's notion of the 'will to power'.

In general, I wasn't understanding Nietzsche before - well I never studied him formally. And I had got caught up in the hype with the right-wing and fascist propaganda, his many 'anti-women' remarks, the madness, the post-modernists taking him up (seen to be their godfather) and much else besides.

But Glenn and Victor's persistence and enthusiasm with Nietzsche over many years made me think that there must be something important in it all and that I should really try to get to grips with some of it. Also, then, there is my own personal love of D. H. Lawrence who was heavily influenced by Nietzsche of course. And so, this is what I have been turning my attention to of late. And in some strange way, things seem to be fitting together. And I now realise what a genius Nietzsche was.

But how could a child achieve so much? How could any child, on his/her own, save Fantasia? Well, you could argue that, of course, she/he could simply because she/he is a child, and it is a childlike world that he/she is trying to save - the world of children's imagination. So, if children have a strong enough and powerful enough imagination (which Bastian clearly did) then Fantasia can be saved. But one can take this a step further; and indeed, I think it should be taken further. That society, in many ways, tries to force us to be in the supposed 'real world'. Working and functioning in capitalism; being both producers and consumers. And only using our imagination where it fits in with capitalism; such as going to the movies, and spending money, but not getting too sucked into it all, as we need to go out and labour in capitalism again. But this is not good for us. We need our imagination; we need our fantasies; we have to escape from the real world; we have to get beyond day-to-day reality in many ways. And so we do. And so the contradictions continue.

But can all this be really achieved by a child? Well, clearly not. And that perhaps is where the confusion comes in. Perhaps, Victor thought that, in some way, he could achieve it. That would make sense, with his enthusiasm for Nietzsche. That as a child; then as a teenager; then as a young adult, he could have some big impact on the world creatively and artistically. Well, one can in various ways of course, but it is very hit and miss and it is very difficult to make a real and lasting impact. It is still something worth striving for though, as it makes life worth living. Also, it means that one is sharing one's gifts, one's work, one's creative output, one's ideas etc. with others, and thus hopefully helping to enrich the world in general in some way. Or at least, that is a good aim, I think.

And that is one way where we can go wrong with the geniuses; with the greats. We can expect too much from them. They are only human, when all is said and done. We should appreciate the fact that they give so much to the world. And so with Nietzsche - his work 'blows one's mind' and can, on one level, seem contradictory - or far worse of course. But we should appreciate the fact that he was trying to find a different way to live, and challenging conventional wisdoms. To such an extent that in the end he went, mad of course. Well, enough said on that one, for now. We also need to bear in mind that life is quite short, so any one person, any one genius, can only ever do so much. Nietzsche can't sort everything out; Marx can't sort everything out; D. H. Lawrence can't sort everything out. And on top of all of that, they had so many prejudices against them, as applies to so many great thinkers, movers and shakers.

So, coming back to Victor, he decided that it was all dangerous nonsense (after reading Geoff Waite's book Nietzsche's Corpse); and currently he has no time much for the notion of the 'Artistic Warrior' or Nietszchien-type stuff in general. Oh well! I was certainly very much against Nietzsche at one time, so who am I to talk? And I still can't really read much of Nietzsche's raw text, it has to be said, (so am reading some good books by others interpreting his work), but hopefully in time, with the help of this reading, I will be able to read more of the raw text, and continue to make more sense of it all. Having said that though, I also now realise that Nietzsche did not really intend for his books to just be read from cover to cover. He was just such a very different thinker and writer - it is often more appropriate to 'dip into them'.

I realise now though that Nietzsche's philosophy was about a way of life, and not confined to reasoning (and that is very important). As Alistair Kee says:

"...he [Nietzsche] set himself to develop not a system of philosophy, but a philosophy by which to live." (Kerr, 1999, p. 20)

And for me, that is also the essence of philosophy; although thinking rationally is also vitally important in capitalism. Because the capitalist system is just so mad, one has to use one's reason in order to be able to function in it. But people are going to be very disappointed if they think that by such sensible behaviour they will then be living in a sane and rational system! No way!

But coming back to 'The Never Ending Story' - well, I think we need a 2nd good film, showing how an adult artistic warrior can take all this forward. That is my conclusion. And, of course, that also fits in with Nietzsche (overcoming nihilism). Now, there is the film 'The Never Ending Story II: the next chapter' (this is on the same video actually). But it just isn't very good at all. It just does not capture one's imagination (strangely enough!), is not very gripping, and has too many adults in it (but not doing very worthwhile and interesting things either).

Suddenly, I wanted to find out more. Surely such a great film, must be based on a book? So, I did a search on Amazon, and - hey presto, I was right. It is based on a book by the famous children's fiction author, Michael Ende. Amazing! But I should have guessed that before! So, I had to find out more. I found out that the 2nd film was not really based on the book - so that explains that one! Some were saying that it should be a classic, and I quite agree. I then went into my local Waterstones bookshop, found it on the shelf (great!) and bought it. I will read it soon. Then, I read a really interesting review of the film by Kylopod on Amazon (see They say:

"No fantasy film I've seen has tapped more successfully into the kinds of philosophical thoughts that kids have...This is the type of film that greatly appeals to introspective kids who think about things like infinity and the end of the universe. Do children think about such things? I did. People who find that surprising have forgotten how profound children can sometimes be."

I did too! That is really profound, I think. But a little later the person has this to say:

"Bastian never grows as a character, he never learns to put his feet on the ground, something the early scenes suggest will happen."

And this is, indeed, the problem, I think, and why it could confuse and mislead intelligent children in particular, and why a second, good film is needed to try to address the problem.

I also think they were right about some of the characters that the director, Wolfgang Petersen created in the film, and that he did not seem to have a clear enough idea about what age group he was filming for. As Kylopod says::

"Some of the scenes are quite scary and violent, making this film inappropriate for younger children. Yet, the muppet-like characters are presented in an annoyingly condescending way that I doubt older kids (not to mention teens and adults) would appreciate."

And I think this was what Glenn didn't like.

I checked further and found that a 3rd film has been made - 'The Never Ending Story 3' - but that is even worse that the 2nd one apparently, and actually features in the '' website, would you believe. What a tragedy. All getting worse, rather than better. Dear oh dear!

So, anyway, instead, a completely different kind of sequel is needed. This should be where an adult artistic warrior takes it all forward. This could be done in various ways by the adult; such as through sophisticated fiction writing, through art, through philosophical writing, through music etc. Indeed, perhaps more people writing like Nietzsche. And people writing and/or living in real and genuine ways; where they really try to become themselves; be true to themselves (and not get taken in by the propaganda etc); to 'go for life'; to be real; to be genuine. And this of course, was what D. H. Lawrence also very much took up (being inspired by Nietzsche and all that) - 'going for life', aiming to be a whole person, taking risks etc. He wrote a letter to his friend Catherine Carswell, for example, congratulating her on her marriage, saying that:

"I only want to know people that have the courage to live."

That about sums it up.

Then, at the end of his book Apocalypse (which he wrote just before he died), he said:

"What man most passionately wants is his living wholeness and his living unison, not his own isolate salvation of his 'soul'...What we want is to destroy our false, inorganic connections, especially those related to money, and re-establish the living organic connections with the cosmos, the sun and earth, with mankind and nation and family." (Lawrence, 1974, pp 125-6)

So, this childhood, innocent wonderment could be taken into adulthood and in that way, it can drive it all forward (as D. H. Lawrence did with his novels of course), and help adults to live a better life; one where consumerism does not dominate. Lead by example, and all that. Use one's adult brain, but use it wisely.

To just leave it with the child being the saviour, is rather dangerous on one level and can give people (especially children) false hopes, I think. Children thinking that they can change the world by adopting childlike ways of behaving, with their vivid imagination and that, in this way, they can do better than adults. And giving themselves too much self-importance.

But of course, this cannot be done, because capitalism is just too powerful. Take Michael Jackson here as an example. Michael Jackson trying to remain childlike, living in Neverland and wanting to be Peter Pan. But of course, it was not possible, and the cruel, capitalist, greedy society basically 'got to him' and killed him. And Thatcher as good as defeated the unions and old Labour, and much else besides, when all is said and done and crippled and debilitated the working class. How much easier it would be, and is, for the 'right' to defeat children and childlike mentalities. They don't really have a leg to stand on!

But I want to find ways forward, in general and indeed, that is what I intend to do! A way to overcome; a way to take control of one's life; a way to live a fulfilled life; a way to live life in a beautiful, creative and meaningful way, but where fantasy and escapism (which ideally should first be developed in childhood) also has its important part to play and can shine through. Yes, even guide us forward. And that is where Nietzsche's Eternal Return of the Same comes in, but that can be for another time and another day.

N.B.  In my blog entry 'Fiction Write-Ups' I make clear that I am moving away from the type of
fiction write-ups that I have previously entered on this blog. This entry builds on this (and is no deviation):

1. It is about a film, not a book
2. Only parts of the plot are revealed
3. It deals with some important philosophical issues, which not many of my other fiction write-ups have dealt with; 'The Age of Reason' by Sartre being one big obvious exception here. Also, Sartre's 'Nausea' and Douglas Kennedy's 'The Moment'.
4. It provides an introduction into my newly discovered understanding, thoughts and insights into Nietzsche.

Link to film:

Link to book:

Aloni, Nimrod (1991) Beyond Nihilism: Nietzsche's healing and edifying Philosophy, University Press of America, Lanham, Maryland

Kee, Alistair (1999) Nietzsche agaist the crucified, SCM Press, London

Lawrence, D. H. (1974) Apocalypse, Penguin, Middlesex (first published in 1931)

Löwith, Karl (1997) Nietzsche's Philosophy of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same, University of California Press, London

Waite, Geoff (1996) Nietzsche's Corpse, Duke University Press, USA