An Old Man and his Balcony

I’ve been following developments in the British election over the last few weeks, the most radical event being the introduction of American style television debate among the party leaders – and that’s it. The best they could come up with? A facile copy of a debatable electionary tool, and such is the sheepish nature of the electorate, it really looks as if the whole election has actually turned around this puerile event – Nick Clegg redeeming himself to become a front runner, and let’s be honest, looking at the younger candidates, old Brown is just too old, too jaded, too stuffy to win this game. And did they have coherent, workable answers to the questions being put – of course not, not one of them, but that’s not the point, that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that they look as if they had the answers.

Take a little step back and what do you see – three besuited middle aged men puffed up discreetly with makeup, gestures buffed up with training sessions in how to emphasise this, to undermine that, repeating scripted phrases in an absurd simulation of authenticity, each one trying desperately to convince us that their act is more real than the next.

So what does it mean when one of them comes out on top. It means that either a Nick, or a David, or a Mr. Brown, okay, definitely not Mr. Brown, is the best actor of the lot, the most convincing in his chosen role. The substance, what they stand for, is by and large immaterial.

These are stylised politicians, politicians trying to be actors pretending to be politicians, and when we actually try and find the difference between them we are left with a tiny set of nuances, he’s a bit older, he’s a bit fresher, he’s a bit sharper, but in reality they’re all the same, constructed in the slickened image of a presidential politician devised by the various media experts floating nervously in the background. And when a bit of reality enters the scuffle, it’s a disaster – we’re all shocked, flabbergasted and outraged at the two-faced bigot who snubs his electorate – and an off the cuff remark, a plainly stupid aside given the electoral recording machine, becomes a downfall – never mind whether he was right or not.

Far worse, of course, than the candidates medial homogeneity, is the absence of any substantial difference in policy. Whatever happens, whoever gets in, by focusing on style what one ensures, what a ruling elite can ensure, is that the status quo remains the same.

Another very disturbing piece of news this week is that they’re planning to shut down Middlesex University’s renowned Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, where I studied many years ago. Closing it itself is a scandal given its world class research record and it’s not inconsiderable contribution to the University’s name and revenues. But it also seems to be a part of a wave of closures in Philosophy departments in Britain which, given the popularity of Philosophy among students, looks more and more like an attack on critical thought itself, fuelled by vacuous arguments that Philosophy is superfluous because it doesn’t help you get a job – as if learning and thinking is simply about getting a job, or as if Philosophy does not provide its students with a powerful set of analytical tools which are useful in any field. Best not to think about it, really.

If you want to support the department please sign this petition: save Middlesex Philosophy petition.

And that’s about all from me this week – all I’ve been doing is staring out of the window at the man across the way. Then I wrote a poem about it. You can read it here.

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Been feeling a bit morbid the past few days. Don’t worry, nothing serious, it’s a favourite past-time of mine, and has been since I was seven years old and my favourite hamster was found dead of exhaustion on the pavement outside our house. He had run away – so I’m sure there’s a lesson in there for all of us, somewhere. (His name was Columbo, but there’s definitely no lesson in that, and this piece of information is quite irrelevant to the subject of this post…) Anyway, since then I’ve developed the habit of envisaging the mortality of both myself and those close to me – really, sometimes the days just fly by.

But it’s the juxtaposition between all that we cherish and the inevitabity of death which fascinates me. If we knew things would go on forever they would quickly lose their significance. Love (and hate) would become mere passing fancies which we could be sure would come again,until they became indistinguishable blips on our emotional scales – if we could still talk of emotion. No, the intensity of and vivacity of love is always outlined by the depth of its loss, and this, between people, is always ultimately represented by death.

Of course, it is always a tragedy when death exposes its brutish head and transforms our love for someone into pain. We cannot avoid running this gauntlet all through our lives, but maybe our consolation is that it would be a pale and bland life without it.

As you see, I could go on and on about this topic, but I’m feeling hungry now, and despite my dark moods, I would really like to delay the inevitable for as long as possible, otherwise, how could I enjoy my funk to the full? I think I’ll have a pizza.

Okay, I’m not always impressed by technology but travelling between Hamburg and Essen, I was. I am one of the IPhoneless breed who still uses a mobile to telephone instead of tweeting, twittering and vodpodding, and normally has to sit at a desk in front of an overly large screen with a proper keyboard to go into the Internet. I was pleasantly surpised to be able to update my Blog on the train, with a simple WLAN connection. So I continued my current story, and then went on to read about gender tests on that poor South African woman Caster Semenya, as if they didn’t know beforehand…

Lots of points on this one – like, why act as if they didn’t they know before? Why wait until she wins? Is it only a problem if she wins, not if she loses? But there’s a more general point about the notion of an essential woman (or essential man) which is creeping into the discussion, and is supposed to be proved by a battery of gender experts – as if they really knew the answer to a question which has never been, can never be, adequately answered, as if they really knew what they were talking about. What’s more interesting, though, is that the whole discussion really calls into question the idea of an essential definition of a man or a woman – if there was one, they wouldn’t have so much difficulty applying it! I’m just impressed that anyone, man or woman, can run more than a hundred metres without having a coffee break in between.

If you’re feeling ambitious, or a little crazy, or just plain bored, why not try a taste of my thesis on the concept of the subject in the early work of Jacques Derrida? Everything you never wanted to know about deconstruction…

just did a bloody stupid thing – jumped on my bicycle and cycled for at least an hour, but it feels like six. And now I’m sitting here wondering how I will make it through the rest of the day with my body screeching things like “exhaustion”, “sleep”,  “fucked”, “shagged” at me. My muscles are already beginning to shrivel and are sucking up all the oxygen my brain needs to think… It immediately brought on thoughts of my immanent mortality, the pain of aging, so I started writing a poem about getting old. Although maybe, in hindsight, I should write one about getting fit…

talking of oxygen for the brain, or food for thought, i.e. the lack of it, it was always my contention that the last twenty years have seen a consistent and coordinated attack on critical thought in Britain, as witnessed by the ever increasing cutbacks suffered by Philosophy departments across the board. As far fetched as this might appear, it seems that my worst fears have been confirmed as there is now a charity to help professional philosophers in their hour of need.

I am now going to lie down…