Thursday, March 29, 2007

Nick on Julian Baggini

Nick has a thoughtful review of Julian Baggini's Everytown: a journey into the English mind in this week's Staggers. The book sounds interesting and I'll probably read it some time. A couple of lines that Nick probably wrote without a glimmer of insight into himself:

"Baggini refuses to adopt the declamatory style of the polemicist. His writing is refreshingly self-deprecatory."

"Only the Daily Mail was too much for him. Six months of reading it turned a mild distaste into an unappeasable loathing."

So JB won't be getting regular cheques from the Mail group any time soon.

17 Comments:

Anonymous rioja kid said...

I think there's a problem here in that JB's book is predicated on the idea that Rotherham is more like everywhere else than everywhere else, but he - or at any rate Nick - is also keen to stress its particularism ("loyalty to a sense of place"), ie that it's unlike anywhere else. In which case, how can it be regarded as mainstream?

But this may be Nick's agenda getting in the way of what the book actually says. I take it that there's more to it than "you liberal intellectuals are sooo out of touch, so there".

3/29/2007 10:07:00 AM  
Anonymous dd said...

The trouble with all these pieces appears to be that on almost all points where the "metropolitan liberal intelligentsia" are "out of touch" with "the working class of England", it's because the MLI are right and the WCE are wrong.

I also disagree that not liking or wanting to be around people of a different race to yourself isn't racist and confess to being faintly amused by the logical contortions that people like Nick will go through to preserve the belief that racists are always and everywhere appalling people with no redeeming features.

3/29/2007 01:19:00 PM  
Anonymous matt w said...

More important, I think, is that he is a member of a group of freelance intellectuals who gather round the Philosophers' Magazine and live by their pens. None has the security of a university job, all are suspicious of intellectual orthodoxy. (Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom, two of Baggini's colleagues, produced an attack on postmodernism

Has Cohen ever talked to a philosopher in the English-speaking world? Attacks on postmodernism aren't exactly heterodox. (Not to say that they're wrong.)

3/29/2007 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

OB and JS run B&W and are thereby a key source for Nick's What's Left. Note that JB collaborates with them on The Philosophers' Magazine but *not* on Butterflies and Wheels.

3/29/2007 01:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Marc Mulholland said...

If racism is only real racism when it has no foundation in any perceived threat from 'the other', then it's quite hard to know what real racism might actually refer to. Certainly, by this token, there has never been 'real' sectarianism in Northern Ireland, as catholics and protestants did / do have antithetical interests.

3/29/2007 01:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

"Three of the last four constituencies I lived in went Liberal Democrat at the last election," he said, as he tucked into an un-English vegetarian breakfast. "And the Lib Dems only lost the fourth by a few hundred votes. I have been in a parallel country for most of my adult life."

It is worth noting that the Birmingham seat which went Lib Dem last time, Yardley, is perhaps the most homogeneously 'white working class' of any of the constituencies in Birmingham. There is also a strong WWC Lib Dem vote in places like Tower Hamlets, Islington, Newcastle, Liverpool, and Leicester.

Attacks on postmodernism aren't exactly heterodox.

Indeed, as far as I can tell attacks on postmodernism are much more 'fashionable' than postmodernism itself. But acknowledging this would mean losing their self-proclaimed underdog status.

No one calls families racist when they object to large numbers of students moving in to their street or says that the residents of Hampstead were racist for wanting to live in an area without McDonald's.

students/McDonald's != brown people.

3/29/2007 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

If Ophelia Benson and Jeffrey Stangroom work is typical of what freelance intellectuals produce, then the universities are probably safe for a while.

3/29/2007 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

What's so fucking radical about confronting England? I confront English tossers all the bleeding time! 'England' doesn't have a fucking government, Nick. Jesus Holy Christ, I thought it was only the Yanks who couldn't tell the difference between Great Britain and England.

In a private email, Captain Cabernet admitted that he is a member of a pub quiz team. The good Captain is doubtless also a 'standard member of the liberal intelligentsia' - yet when I've been in pub quiz teams, I've found that a lot of rival teams come from the part of Wales 'which doesn't listen to the Today programme.' That is part of the beauty of the British pub. You can't call pubs classless exactly, but I suspect even the pubs in which Oxford dons partake of a glass of port also serve 'people [Julian Bagini] wouldn't ordinarily notice'. Nick does live in Islington, doesn't he? Islington, when I lived there, had quite a lot of social housing, and quite a few remaining horny handed sons of toil. My girlfriend once saw Simon Rattle (definitely a liberal intellectual) among the plebians in Islington Sainsbury's.

"I'm surprised no one has thought of it before." Ever heard of 'The Road to Wigan Pier' Nick? Orwell stayed in guest houses and went down a mine. And maybe I *am* out of touch, but what working men's clubs? They've all died out.

Anyway, to come back to the racism question, how popular is Le Pen is France? I thought he led a small minority party. That paragraph about holidays abroad is complete tosh. Quite a lot of your educated liberals learned some French at school, so if they talk about sharing a glass of wine with some old Frogs, they may actually have managed a conversation that went beyond 'Haw-he-haw-he-haw' on the French side and 'Quite, old boy' on the English. And if they are the racists Baggini or Cohen paint them as, then JB's friends have met some people they wouldn't normally notice, haven't they?

3/29/2007 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I suspect even the pubs in which Oxford dons partake of a glass of port

I should say that I lived in Oxford for fifteen years, spent much of it in pubs (many of them in North Oxford) and I don't think I once saw anybody order a glass of port.

And why bother if you can probably get it at High Table for free?

3/29/2007 03:38:00 PM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

The Captain has lived in France and has shared more than a few glasses of wine with the locals. Sad to say, casual racism, especially about Arabs, is pretty pervasive and much more socially acceptable than in the UK.

(Oh and Le Pen got 18 per cent of the vote in 2002, about the same as the Lib Debs managed in the UK the year before.)

3/29/2007 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

"I now find it hard to say that liberal middle-class culture is better than looking after your garden, going fishing and watching ice hockey. There's nothing intrinsically less in that than in listening to opera."

I find this a bit strange. Gardening, fishing and 'watching ice hockey' are now the most prominent aspects of working-class culture? The middle classes don't garden?

And opera - why is opera always trotted out - what proportion of the middle classes watch/listen to opera?

3/29/2007 04:21:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Well I've got Callas on the CD player and no bloody money.

Middle-class tastes and working-class income, the old trouble.

3/29/2007 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I must say I find it hard to think of Alan Titchmarsh as a working class icon rather than a middle-class one.

I would second Cap's view of French culture as having a really nasty strain of racism. It's one of the more interesting cultural differences that the French middle class doesn't share the British middle class taboo on making straightforwardly racist statements, although I think it's pretty tangential to Baggini's argument.

NB by the way that Nick Cohen really is determined to hunt with the hounds and run with the hare on this one - here he is, and in the Observer too, doing a big deal about Middle England and London being "another country" and having a go at the metropolis. But in the Evening Standard, it's quite different; the "typical household" is earning £100,000 a year and we're all up in arms about Kate Winslet getting a parking ticket.

3/29/2007 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

on the ice hockey connection, presumably it's in the book, but AFAICT, the nearest ice hockey club to Rotherham are the Sheffield Steelers. They do have one of the country's biggest roller hockey franchises though at the "Virtual Ice" inline arena.

3/29/2007 04:58:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I think there are several false statements and implications in that paragraph about France, not withstanding what CC and BB have said.

1) As the Captain has ably demonstrated, some (I suspect a largish majority) of liberals speak good enough French to know what the 'old boys' in a French bar actually say. So JB or NC are wrong to suggest that French conversation is as meaningful to them as the buzzing of wasps.

2) JB says that he lived in Lib Dem constituencies and that these are some kind of parallel universe. The Lib Dems poll around 20% of the British vote (source Anthony Wells) again Le Pen's 18%. If he wants to call the Lib Dems the voice of a minority, why does he assume that every Frenchman pines for the Front Nationale? They clearly don't.

3) It's also a bit much to assume that because someone is an 'old boy' they're also a Nazi. There are going to be lots of people in France of retirement age who fought the police in 68 or opposed the Algerian war. There are leftists over 50, you know.

Also, Nick's phrase "people he wouldn't ordinarily notice" reminds me of this. Justin and I aren't the only ones with middle class tastes and working class incomes.

3/29/2007 07:10:00 PM  
Blogger Dr Zen said...

Rotherham is not like everywhere else. It's a bit of an anomaly in its locale even.

If you want headturning racism, you need to come visit Australia. It's horrible. This is something I've seen several times: Buses go every half an hour round here. So the drivers will wait for passengers that they spot running for the bus. No one minds. We know that it's a pain to have to wait so long for another. But here's the thing. Run for the bus when you are of East Asian origin. You are out of luck. And who will say a word? Me. I've seen it maybe five, six times and never a word from anyone else.

You know, here's a thing. Only the intelleksherals feel any need to study "the other half" as though they were curious beetles. You don't catch the WC writing about their year in Hampstead. Maybe they should.

3/29/2007 11:28:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

some (I suspect a largish majority) of liberals speak good enough French to know what the 'old boys' in a French bar actually say.

Not sure about this. Being able to communicate in a foreign language and being able to follow other people's conversation are two very different things. I've lived in Spain for just over a year and I can still barely grasp what's being said to me, let alone understand quickly-spoken colloquial Castillian at the next table.

Run for the bus when you are of East Asian origin. You are out of luck.

This is of course a theme in Melvin Van Peebles' Watermelon Man.

3/30/2007 09:45:00 AM  

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