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Archive for March 8th, 2005

One more for good measure

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One more clip from this weeks LRB for good measure. How about this gem from Bernard Porter’s review of two new books on the Kenya Emergency and the end of the British Empire…

[A]fter the scandalous British beatings of detainees at Hola camp in
1959, which left 11 dead and 60 seriously wounded… Alan Lennox-Boyd, colonial secretary for much of this
period, and one of the villains of both these books…  [at first] denied abuses, then when that was no longer
possible he dismissed them as exceptional (‘bad apples’), and appealed
to his critics to remember what they were up against in Kenya: not an
ordinary policing problem, but an outbreak of atavistic ‘evil’ – a
useful word when you are confronting something you don’t understand.

Familiar ring to it, no?

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March 8, 2005 at 11:42 pm

Posted in History

The Scapegoating of Unhappiness

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Also in the LRB this week: Adam Phillips on Peter Barham’s Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War. (Subscription only – why don’t you grab yourself a copy…)

Sneaky good review… Almost skipped it. But it seems that Barham’s up to something very interesting indeed in this book. According to Phillips, this is the story of how mental injury in or ineligibility for the first world war laid the medico-ideological groundwork for the welfare state. I know, sounds a little strange, but take a look at the article… Here’s a snippet:

Barham has surprisingly little to say about religion – or indeed about
patriotism as ersatz religion – but a great deal to say about a
politics organised around the scapegoating of unhappiness. The ranks of
those who found the war unbearable – there is a difference, of course,
between saying something is unbearable and actually, like the lunatics,
being unable to bear it – were forging, in his view (though they didn’t
know it), a new kind of heroism: they were the prophets, one might say,
though Barham doesn’t quite spell this out, of the forthcoming
politically sanctioned welfare state. It was the mental health
casualties rather than the ‘physical invalids’ of the war, Barham
intimates, who raised the question of whether a case could be made, in
political terms, for the value of vulnerability. Could emotional
fragility be any use to society?

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March 8, 2005 at 11:37 pm

Posted in Books

Very belatedly: The Gates

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Kept meaning to write something caustic about The Gates, and just never got around to it. Maybe this is the problem – not provocative enough to hate, detest, run home and shrill about… Just there…

Hal Foster seems to agree. And he even must have overheard the conversation my wife and I had about it as a index of the banal benevolence of the powers-that-be in the City toward happy art – and complete lack of tolerance when it comes to ugly political protest…


The Gates
made for friendly city politics and nice holiday
aesthetics, and no one can be against sociability in the park. Yet for
what exactly was this festival of the people staged? The Gates
prettied up an extraordinary public place, but the fanfare was empty of
social consequence: the city blocked a demonstration against the
Republican Convention in the park, but gave a green light to Christo.
Out of one eye, then, I saw an enjoyable mass art event; out of the
other, a telling instance of high kitsch in the Bloomberg-Bush era, a
cross between the Yellow Brick Road and a grand opening where the
packaging was literally all.

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March 8, 2005 at 11:17 pm

Posted in Art