Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Ted Hughes, radio and Secondary Modern School children

When we were making the programme about Ted Hughes's 'Poetry in the Making' ('Poetry in the Re-making' Radio 4 Sunday) I visited the BBC written archives in Caversham. In one of the first letters that the BBC Schools producer, Moira Doolan wrote to Hughes asking him to do some poetry programmes (and a couple for children on how to write a novel) , she says that she wants them to appeal to 'secondary modern' pupils.(the assumption was that grammar schools would listen to the programmes anyway or could look after themselves). It's worth pondering a moment on this (and I know I have a vested interest in thinking that BBC School Radio was and is a good thing). A BBC producer is asking one of the finest up and coming poets of that time (it was the early 60s) to think of all children and school students and to think of them all as writers of poetry and fiction; don't 'stream' or 'select' or 'segregate' your comments. So, while the education system of the day WAS selecting and segregating with the eleven plus, Doolan and Hughes are thinking of how their broadcasts would and could not segregate.

BBC speakers sat in pretty well all state schools - they were big brown wooden things - and those few words that Moira Doolan said - and Ted Hughes responded positively to - represent an outlook to education and learning at that time. It was a commitment to a humanist and creative outlook towards all pupils.

"I aspirationally abstained…."

"As your Labour MP, I would like to say that I aspirationally abstained last night on the grounds that people have told me that they are in favour of poor people becoming poorer and I am aspirationally unable to explain to them why that might be unfair or unjust. It has been pointed out to me that 'poor people' might include some 'people' and that presumably such 'people' (if they are 'people') might not think it's OK for poor people to become poorer. Interesting point but not aspirational. Thanks for supporting me."

'People' didn't know about the Nazis in 1933. Apparently.

Thank you Newsnight for providing excuses for why it was possible for the Royal Family to have a larf doing HItler salutes in 1933. Thank you Newsnight for not doing half an hour's research on what the left was saying about the Nazi party in the late 20s early 30s. Thank you Newsnight for not checking out what those monitoring anti-semitism were saying about the Nazis at that time.

Yes, there was a quick mumble about 'laws against trade unionists and Communists' (i.e. the Reichstag and 'Enabling' laws that were enacted in Feb and March 1933) but that was quickly diffused into how the Nazis were seen as the party of 'order'. Even in bourgeois democratic terms, what the Nazis did in those first two months was end democracy. Both guests seem to think that people wouldn't have really known about all this…

That's because the 'left' aren't 'people' in that version of history. There is only parliament and the privately owned mass circulation press. That is what they mean by 'people'.

,,,but Cameron loves segregation

Don't know what Cameron was on about when he was talking about 'segregation'. Posh Tories like him love segregation. People like him are segregated from birth, sent off to schools where they only meet other boys like him, a place waiting for them at Oxbridge or Durham or Bristol, a business where someone in the family is employed, or in his case, in the Tory Party, where people like him enact laws which help society become more segregated, none more so than in education where the creation of academies and free schools has encouraged groups of parents and/or teachers to set themselves apart and create a kind of 'only-us' type schools, of many different kinds - our religion, our outlook, single-sex and so on.

Mixing is anathema to people like him. Their phoney notion of freedom is entirely based on people's 'choice' to be in public institutions separated off from whoever 'I' might think of as 'them'. And if 'I' am not given that choice then if 'I' have money, 'I' am told it's 'freedom' to buy that separation and segregation.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Odysseus hears how the people (and Penelope) are on the streets

…and messengers came from Ithaca with news from Penelope, Odysseus's long-suffering wife.
'O Odysseus,' said the messengers.
'It's alright, I know what you're going to say. Penelope has heard that I lingered too long on the Isle of Ogygia in the arms of Calypso.'
'No, my lord,' said the first messenger, 'that's the least of your worries.'
'Really? What else can be bothering her?'
'She and all of Ithaca is starving, my lord,' said the messenger, 'and they all looked to you to relieve them of their hunger pangs.'
'To me?!' said Odysseus incredulously, 'but I saved them from the horde of men in long grey pants. If it wasn't for me, they would be at our door.'
'Yes, my lord, but the point is, they've come through the door. They're now supping at your table…and mine…and all of our tables.'
'My Penelope!' screamed Odysseus in a jealous rage, 'O my Ithaca!'
'Well, actually,' said the messenger who was a Cynic.Or a Sceptic. Or an Epicurean. Or all three…'Penelope isn't at home. She's on the streets.'
'On the streets?' shrieked Odysseus.
'Not like that, you fool,' said the messenger, 'she and all of Ithaca are on the streets. You would do well to harken unto them.'
'What does that mean?' said Odysseus who was unacquainted with ancient Greek.
'Listen. Note. Take heed. Learn from the people…, that sort of thing.'
'Hmmmmmmmmmm, 'said Odysseus, remembering the last time he was afflicted by self-will and how that had brought the wrath of Poseidon upon himself and his men….'hmmmmmmmmmm, ' he repeated.

IMF: Circe Lagardos chides Odysseus

..and Odysseus returned to the wood where Circe Lagardos lived.
'O Odysseus,' she lamented, 'did I not warn you of being brought low at the hands of the men in the horde of men in long grey pants?'
'Actually, no,' said Odysseus, 'what you actually said was that it's always best to stay well in with the horde of men in long grey pants.'
'Did I?' said Circe.
'Yes, you do seem to forget things these days. I have heard from the oracles that you are insistent that we Ithacans pay our tribute to the city and yet you yourself pay none.'
'You must learn to overlook petty detail, Odysseus and look to the bigger picture. My message to you today is that no matter what is the agreement you have made between you and the horde of men in long grey pants, it is no more use to you than swine turd.'
'How come?' said Odysseus looking deep into the wine-dark sea.
'Because, dear Odysseus, even people like me have come to realise that a people who eat nothing, make nothing. People who make nothing, are unable to furnish the likes of me with any drachma at all.'
'How strange to hear these words from you, Circe,' said Odysseus ruefully rubbing his beard.
'Never fear, Odysseus, such humanity on my part won't last long. Soon I will be back to turning people into swine.'
'And will you be paying your tribute to the city at any point in the future?' Odysseus queried.
'Never,' said Circe and returned to her offices.

I wonder if we could sell swine turd to travellers who visit Ithaca, Odysseus pondered….

Tragedy ("when the feeling's gone…" ), Giovanni Aurispa, musty ole books etc...

I often get interested in 'cultural transmission' and 'cultural mediation' because no matter how much energy we devote to interpreting 'texts', we only have those texts because people (for a variety of reasons) made it possible for us to read them and who are themselves part of institutions and fields of thought. So, there is a wonderful book called 'The Past We Share' by E.L.Ranelagh which tries to show the routes of transmission of certain kinds of story-telling from Sanskrit and Arab cultures into the West. This kind of transmission is often below the eyes of scholars because it's 'just story' (as if this story-telling was NOT at the basis of our means to narrate and understand narration). Be that as it may, of much more interest to scholars of so-called high culture has been the cultural transmission of ancient Greek culture to Italy and from there all over Europe and the world.

I don't want to subscribe to the one-great-man theory of history here, but just occasionally you do come across individuals in this process who have a catalytic effect - which is not to say that others wouldn't or couldn't have done the same or similar; nor is it to deny or omit the fact that the wider picture of WHY such people did what they did, and WHY people were interested.

Anyway, preamble over: here's one such individual who, as a result of what he did (much of which can probably be described as plunder) we ended up looking at, for example, 'tragedy' (care of Shakespeare in particular) and how that structuring of the human condition (self-brought-on disaster permeating down through families and society) ends up in e.g. Zola, the Godfather, the Sopranos and, I suppose, ultimately the BeeGees….

Please note, I'm not telling the history of culture here as one in which there is a corridor of writers and scholars handing each other texts down through the centuries, and audiences just buying into this stuff because it's 'good' or 'great' or 'universal'. At each moment in the cultural transmission there have to be social, political and material reasons why a writer or scholar is assembling and reassembling such texts, and why audiences become (or do not become, in the decades of silence) interested in them.

Anyway, like I say, here's one such individual in the social mix I'm talking about: