The Cold Light

Nick Clegg announces the pact to the Lib Dem rank and file

At least my hair wasn’t white this morning, although if I’d voted Liberal Democrat I may well have torn out clumps already. Five cabinet seats – I reckon that’s six pieces of silver each, unless Clegg has pocketed the whole lot. I wonder how many people voted Lib Dem in order to keep out the Tories, only to see them coorie down together now. Oh well: I suppose that oppression and impotence in the face of reactionary politics has traditionally been a good catalyst for art.

I was at Edinburgh Napier last night for the launch of Sara Wasson’s Urban Gothic and the Second World War: Dark London which managed to be one of the most affecting and intellectually exciting launches of an academic monograph that I’ve had the privilege to attend. It’s an ingenious reading of gothic texts as a counter-narrative to the heroic story of the Blitz: and, indeed, it would seem only natural that a devastation that made “homes” simultaneously so vulnerable and lethal would translate into an unheimlich genre. Sara mentioned the shocking fact that there is an unspoken rule that academic work on the war has to stress “community spirit” and even a certain triumphalism, so her archaeological work on these books and manuscripts is a pretty heroic endeavour. Instead of a lecture, we got eight readings from the work of writers such as Mervyn Peake, Elizabeth Bowen and Anna Kavan that did seem radically at odds with the conventional war narratives.

It reminded me of having to “do” poetry at school. We all dutifully read “Dulce Et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Own and “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death”, and the message was rammed home to us that War was a Bad Thing but Human Dignity was always a possibility. It’s worked to the extent that I’ve never invaded Poland or crossed the Maginot Line, but apart from that it seemed intellectually lazy.

In the cold light of the first day of the Reactionary Pact, I’m glad I’ve got Slavoj Žižek’s Living in the End Times to see me through. On the rest of the pile for this week: Christopher Hitchens’s memoirs, Hitch-22; Roger Scruton’s The Uses of Pessimism and Elaine C Smith’s Nothing Like A Dame. The reason for the last title will become apparent over the next few weeks…

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