Monday, May 19, 2008

The Decent Woman of Szechuan

Nick does drama criticism, with predictable "reviewing the audience" results. This sort of boilerplate goddamm-those-commies! style of reviewing was frankly pretty aged in the McCarthy era, and the attempt to reinvent it for the new milennium isn't really necessary (do I detect the ghost of a conversation with Oliver Kamm here? Yes I think I do, as, note, Nick's comments about modern China are entirely about its embrace of market capitalism - China's still not a democracy you know).

Brecht was, of course, a talented writer who was so affected by his terror and revulsion from Fascism that he immediately and unquestioningly jumped straight into the arms of a wildly unpleasant and illiberal regime, just because it seemed like the only alternative capable of defending society against it ...


Blogger ejh said...

It's awfully good of Niock to remind us that Brecht was a Stalinist - I think up to now it had almost entirely been forgotten.

It reminds me that one of the great things about Shakespeare is that so little is known about what he actually thought. Thank Christ for that, otherwise you'd never be able to see the plays for the ideological discussion. (Actually given the other great contemporary literary preoccupation, it's a mercy we don't even know for sure who he was knocking off while Anne was back in Stratford.)

It's actually Decent philistinism again - in this instance the inability to see a work of art detached from the politics of the writer (let alone the inability to see that if we're going to make this sort of judgement, the selection of artists who haven't attached themselves to some disastrous project, be it Communism, jingoism, empire, the Great War, Decency or what you will, is going to be severaly reduced).

5/19/2008 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Just going through the CDs I have up here in the corner.

Puccini - supposedly applied to join the fascists

Tchaikovsky - Russian imperialist

Bach - reactionary Catholic

Mozart - not sure what we can pin on him, freemasonry perhaps?

Beethoven - apologist for revolution and dictatorship

Verdi - see Beethoven, pretty much

Scarlatti - don't know anything about him but I'm sure Harry's Place could think of something

Gregorian Chant - say no more.

5/19/2008 09:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there is more than a touch of Paul Johnson about this article. Nick has a nasty story about Brecht from the "Socialist" Sidney Hook. This story is most prominently repeated in Paul Johnson's 1990 "intellectuals", which is a template for part of "What's Left". Funnily enough, Nick's description of Hook as a "socialist" isn't quite the whole truth. Hook only told the Brecht story in his own memoirs, some fifty years after the supposed "event". By that time , Hook had become an enhtusiastic supporter of the Vietnam war who voted for Richard Nixon. Socialists for Nixon, lefties for the Vietnam War - these are Nick's kind of people

5/19/2008 09:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mozart = the usual dodge is dirty infantile mind (cf his letters to sister nannerl)

5/19/2008 09:31:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Actually, I was reminded of the mention of Eliot a couple of postings back. I went to a reading of the Four Quartets a few years ago and you just knew that, sure enough, somebody would raise the question of anti-Semitism in the questions. And I just thought, couldn't we just accept in advance that yes, Eliot was an anti-Semite - even though Anthony Julius says he was - and not bring it into every bloody discussion of Eliot that ever happens?

Of course there are pieces and books to be written about Eliot and anti-Semitism - and Brecht and Stalinism, or for that matter manyt of the great nineteenth-century English writers and their attitude to the Irish. But is it really possible that we don't actually needed to be reminded of this whenever their works are enjoyed, not because we've forgotten but because we already know?

5/19/2008 09:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bach - reactionary Catholic
actually a Protestant (Lutheran); but thinking he was a Catholic is quite a common perception - the music transcends dour Lutheranism all the time.

Sidney Hook: frequently claimed by Oliver Kamm as a great inspiration: seems worth someone's time sorting out just what kind of an Anti-Communist he became.

While we're on Anti-Communists, has anyone been following the ineffable Paul Bogdanor's recent HP contribution? ('Western leftists and third world sadists'). See especially his comment yesterday at 2.03 pm. (having trouble with making the link in this software)

This particular current is going fast now now - we seem to back in the USA in the McCarthy days, with researchers going through back numbers of the Left press, looking for incriminating evidence.


5/19/2008 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I stand corrected re: Bach. And relieved too - now I can enjoy the Brandenburg Concertos again.

Bogdanor is strictly in the pop-eyed class of Decents and for that reason probably not worth very much attention. (Cohen is also in this class, of course, but as he's a little more prominent you can't really ignore him the same way.) I would imagine the game of digging up people's past statements and asking if their previous views have been renounced will be an almost infinite source of entertainment to people of that cast of mind.

5/19/2008 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

See here for previous Bogdanor dicussion.

5/19/2008 11:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a few years since Cohen commented after Christopher Hill's death, rubbishing his history on the grounds that he was a member of the CPGB for a number of years. Naturally Hobsbawm was also criticised.

This type of behaviour, analysing and criticising someone's work because of their politics, is ironically very Stalinist in nature. Though presumably the irony will pass over Cohen's head.

Igor Belanov

5/19/2008 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Wow, Brett is seriously deranged. That "nigger's balls" argument on the post about the "dam busters" is just nuts. And this is a "progressive" site?

5/19/2008 01:23:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Sorry, random Harry's Place comment above. Hit post slightly early. Harry's Place is just, well word's fail me.

5/19/2008 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Incidentally was that Nick's first theatre review?

I wondered if "Szechuan" had broken his duck.

5/19/2008 03:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He does little comments on theatre & film in his Standard columns, the theatre ones usually bemoaning the stultifying claustrophobic agreement of intellectual theatre in London, which just fails to believe war is fun and terrorists are bad

5/19/2008 03:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surely a typo above? Shouldn't it be 'fails to just believe that war is fun and terrorism is bad'?

5/19/2008 04:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there is more than a touch of Paul Johnson about this article.

That's what I thought after I saw it listed in the arts blog. It's not new (Martin Esslin pretty much tried the same line in his book Brecht: A Choice of Evils) In fact it's been a bog-standard way of taking down BB for years (imagine: the temerity of choosing to stay in East Germany...)

I still haven't had a chance to read Nick piece: every time he tries arts criticism I get extemely irritable; my typing fingers have been itching to have a pop, but (a) I'm busy and (b) I gave up on NC ages ago, and his attempts at arts reviewing just reinforce why. He's part of that tradition that expects every work of art to be valued for its contribution to The Struggle (see also negritude, certains strands of identity politics and 'socialist realism', aka 'Boy Meets Tractor').


By the way ejh, what would Decent Nick do with Shostakhovitch?

5/19/2008 08:13:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

He'd fucking struggle. As the anonymous contributors did with my duck joke.

5/19/2008 08:22:00 PM  
Blogger Sonic said...

The ahistorical nature of Nick never ceases to amaze.

We all know the crimes of Stalinism, but what side would Nick have been at Stalingrad, a plague on both your houses?

It also slightly rankles to see a comfortable UK newspaper writer call a refugee from Nazi Germany a coward. Especially when during the rise of Fascism he could write this

5/20/2008 08:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, about the one thing Cohen is right about is that Brecht deliberately intended his plays to serve political ends, even to provoke political action, which isn't to say that they are simply propaganda. He spent a lot of time trying to figure out how he might write work which encouraged the audience to think and to think criticallly and politically. His politics aren't really analagous to Eliott's anti-semitism, because Eliott didn't spend years and write volumes of theory about how one might develop a new poetics which would encourage people to think anti-semitically.

But pretty much everything else that Cohen says about Brecht is bollocks though.

5/20/2008 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Yeah, but the fact that he wanted to provoke his audience to think means that they're not propaganda. Now Brecht may have expected his audience to become communists upon reflection, but that's a comment on his faith in the power of communism rather than his art.

Of course Nick doesn't trust the audience to think for themselves - that's the basis of most of his complaints about art when you get down to it.

5/20/2008 12:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

5/20/2008 06:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wot ho chaps. The new Harry's Place -where real leftists hang out - is doing a nice line in google ads for Muslim brides.

And I ask you: imagine if there was a (faux/phoney/fake/in alliance with far right/delete as appropriate) leftist site out there that talked about Jews so much that Google software figured it would be a good place to feature ads for Jewish weddings.

What would Harry's Place have to say about that? Eh? Answer me.

5/21/2008 02:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Probably nothing nice. But I have a difficulty with using projection and hypothecation as rhetorical devices. Especially when the targets are in any case vulnerable to all sorts of other criticism.

Let's just wallow in the irony of the Google-ads, shall.

By the way, if anyone wants an insight into the Decent way of thinking, I recommend that you check out the portrayl of the 'prominent anti-fascist' in Orwell's _Coming Up for Air_.

Chris Williams

5/21/2008 02:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But I have a difficulty with using projection and hypothecation as rhetorical devices.

Yes, but if we managed to get rid of your difficulty, you would find it hilarious, like I do.

5/21/2008 02:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, I got over it and now I'm laughing. I was already smirking about the 'Find Military Love' ad gracing their pages. Or was it their new strapline?

5/21/2008 03:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

for similar reasons, they also often carry Google ads for books by Noam Chomsky.

5/23/2008 10:15:00 AM  

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