Archive | July, 2013

Introduction to John Clare

22 Jul

This was the title of one of the workshops I attended last weekend during the Southwell Poetry Festival. I went to the workshop completely blank on John Clare. The only thing I hardly knew about him was that he was a poet from the Victorian era.

I walked into the workshop room, the Powerpoint was switched on, and a colourful portrait of the pale red-haired poet was projected on the wall. The presenter was standing next to it in a semi anxious waiting pose, looking at a half-empty room. I asked, ‘Is this John Clare?’ She smiled and said, ‘It is.’ I realised instantaneously that she thought I was talking about the portrait not the workshop, and I sat on the second nearest seat from where I stood, trying to deflect any unnecessary attention I brought upon myself by fondling with the survey card that was on my seat. A minute later a woman in her fifties walked into the room and sat next to me. ‘So you didn’t strain any muscles with your heavy lifting this morning.’ I was still self-absorbed in my embarrassment and for a second I didn’t get what she meant. Then I remembered my helping with the chairs in the workshop I attended earlier. She must have been there too. ‘Ahh! I see what you mean.’ She smiled and got out a sandwich from her handbag. ‘There is just not enough time between sessions.’ ‘No there isn’t’ I humoured her thinking that I didn’t know what to do with myself to waste the 45 minutes in-between. ‘Brilliant poet John Clare!’ She said, ‘Do you know that he wrote prose too.’ I shook my head.’Unfortunately most of it is inaccessible because someone called Eric Robinson has claimed copyright to it.’ She said before drawing her attention back to her sandwich.

Soon the room filled in, and the presenter closed the door and introduced herself as a poet and a member of the John Clare Trust and the rest was brilliance. The pictures she used of the village where he grew up, the stories she told of his struggles to get published and his mental issues brought the dead poet to life to me. Apparently he is viewed as the first British ecological poet and the father of environmentalism. One of the things she spoke of was how growing up as an agricultural labourer has shaped his work. Clare loved walking in the communal fields and often found inspiration there and the ban of access to these fields came as a big blow to him and the other agricultural labourers of the area. The ban was something he opposed strongly in his writings.

This piece of fact, along with what the lady sitting next to me had told me before the workshop started struck a major irony in my mind. Here is a poet who promoted communality and open access of property in his work and yet his own work after his death was copyrighted by a non-Clare who prevented the reprinting of it and public access to it. How outrageous Clare would have found such claims had he been still alive!

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Review: Dombey and Son

20 Jul

Dombey and Son
Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I didn’t enjoy Dombey and Son. The novel is yet another one of Dickens’ sentimental overwritten books. Although the themes of Dombey and Son are quite deep;the value of money, women’s place from business, women’s place from their husband’s pride, unfortunately the themes are tackled in a childish way. Giving the popularity of Dickens in his day, this would maybe explain something about the Manichean Victorian mentality and why this kind of stories appealed to it.

One of the things that have been hinted on in the story is that Dombey’s wealth and fortune come from the colony Barbados, hence very likely slavery. In this case this would strike a great irony as Dombey’s haughtiness due to his money would be all built on the meanness of invading and looting someone else’s property and the cruelty of even taking these people for slaves.

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Review: On Socialism

8 Jul

On Socialism
On Socialism by John Stuart Mill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What I like about this book is that it is one of very few and early attempt of visualising a way of putting the Marxist theory into practice. Even at this early stage of socialist thinking, Mill realizes that distributing the wealth onto the proletariat will lead to a state of routine work, where there is neither motivation nor anxiety, however he does not realise that this state of routine will devoid performance of excellence. What he realizes though is that this equality in ownership might need to a lack of managerial quality due to lack of extra bonuses for managers, however he turns it around by assuming that those capable of quality management will eventually decide to be in charge for the overall good of the community which includes there’s. Mill is overlooking two points here: firstly that people including those most idealistic in them don’t tend to do anything without reward whether emotional or monetary; secondly that even if these capable leader decide to take charge who says that the rest of the assumedly less capable community accept their leadership.

In spite of disagreeing with Mill, I respect him for being a pioneering thinker in many emancipatory fields.

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Review: Structure, Sign, and Play

1 Jul

Structure, Sign, and Play
Structure, Sign, and Play by Jacques Derrida
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Derrida,a pioneer of post-structuralism, explores the mysterious relationship between the signifier and the signified and how what we say is never exactly what we mean. To me however stripping words of what they are meant to represent deems any conversation one is trying to have hollow and deprives it of any prospect of fulfillment.

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