Monday 27 February 2017

Immigration: they traded lies for votes.

Now that both David Davis and Amber Rudd have told us that Brexit won't change immigration levels, it's time to say clearly that the anti-immigration rhetoric leading up to the Referendum and since were lies. The rhetoric was a deliberate attempt to use racism and xenophobia as a means to win votes, raising 'hopes' in people that their lives would be made better if immigrants were sent back and/or prevented from coming to Britain.

The result is that people in power, backed by the media have repeatedly inflamed hatred, false illusions in how people's lived can become better, deflected attention away from what has really cut standards of living, and public services.

This is one of the great scandals of our day.

Remember, we have the evidence: David Davis and Amber Rudd have told us, Brexit won't change it. People were told lies for votes.

(note: it won't change levels because the bilateral deals the govt want to negotiate will involve some degree of free movement of labour. )

Sunday 26 February 2017

George Clooney wrong man to lead the Labour Party

The varied approaches in the attempted destruction of Jeremy Corbyn:

Note, the reason for the attempted destruction is that in an extremely mild way, he and those who support him are in favour of higher pay, better conditions of work, no cuts to public services, no Trident, no punitive sanctions system for benefits, no Trum-led drift to war, plus pro- nationalisation of the railways and an assault on the tax haven/dodging going on.

Even this limited defence (it's hardly an attack) on austerity and what the ruling order wants (ie low wages, cuts in public services, privatisation of everything) has inflamed and enraged the ruling order and all those who speak for it.

It therefore became immediately essentially for them to vilify and caricature Corbyn across the whole of the media - along these lines:

1. Corbyn is a tatty old hippy whose jumpers need darning.
2. Corbyn doesn't love Britain. That's why he doesn't sing the national anthem.
3. Corbyn is a sinister terrorist.
4. Corbyn is incompetent.
5. Corbyn is middle class.
6. Corbyn lives in Islington
7. Corbyn is extremely wealthy.
8. Corbyn is wrong.

(There are many variations of these and many others.)

The drift is the same: on no account can the electorate be allowed think that the ruling order can be opposed or defied through the ballot box.

I hear some people who are essentially pro-Corbyn imagining some other person in Corbyn's position and somehow getting more support from the press - a Tony Benn figure, perhaps? People who think that should look back at the press coverage Tony got at the time of his leadership challenge. Here was a youngish, good-looking chap with impeccable background in government with a long pedigree of politicians in his family. A fluent, witty, speaker with lots of anecdotes and concrete ways of describing what's wrong etc etc. He was vilified variously as being too posh to be a socialist (yawn, yes, always that one), cynical, a secret Communist, surrounded with dangerous revolutionaries and marxists and 'loony lefts' and so on.

Ed Miliband had hardly a left policy in his baggage. He mildly proposed a 'growth' alternative to austerity. Look back at what they did to him: the man who looks odd - so he's not electable. What?! Seriously?! Yes. In fact, he was the man who couldn't even defend the fact that Labour was not responsible for the problems that global finance got itself into.

Another 'left' voice I see expressed on my timeline yearns for a great leader. I'm going to suggest that the more we yearn for a great leader, the less well we do in opposing low pay, worse conditions and cuts in services. I'll caricature it as a throwback to longing for a Jesus-Lenin figure to save us. It's tough but there really is no alternative to campaigns, and struggles on the ground. Whatever strengths and weaknesses Corbyn and the Labour leadership have, they can't do it on their own, they won't do it on their own. If a person broadly supports the Corbyn policies, there really is no point in moaning about the Corbyn leadership - particularly if you're not involved in some kind of activism, no matter how limited, how small, how local. It's armchair sniping and vilification.

This morning I've read reams of insults and criticism of Corbyn (from supporters of the Labour party) without them posing immediate, practical, viable alternatives. What's the point? He's said he's not standing down. If such people broadly support the Corbyn opposition (mild) to austerity and, let's say, the Trump drift to war, why not 'accentuate the positive' - do all you can to support these policies, do something, no matter how tiny, how limited to campaign on pay, conditions and cuts, which will draw in people to fight the Tories anyway....and avoid joining in the volley of abuse being directed towards him and the Labour leadership mostly coming from people who don't want that kind of government no matter who was leading it. 

I call it the George Clooney test. Would you support Labour if Clooney was leading it? No? Then your criticism of Corbyn is just disguised left-hating then, isn't it? Let's discuss politics instead of personalities, then. And if Clooney was leading the Labour Party, the press would think up a hundred reasons why he was wrong for the job too! (too handsome, not married for decades, gave up his job in medicine, etc ) 

Saturday 25 February 2017

Cuts, cuts, cuts, bombs, bombs, bombs

Apologies for saying this before, but it seems to be relevant this week: I thought that the Referendum had the consequence (I don't know if it was intended or not) for being a huge and convenient distraction from 'working people' (ahem) being involved in fighting for pay, conditions and services. Some people (we'll never know how many) took it to mean that the 'right' result would keep foreigners out. Some people still think that. Again, apart from this being full of racist undertones, it's a huge and dangerous distraction from fighting for pay, conditions and services.

Some more honest commentators are asking this morning to what extent the Referendum (and result) is still working on the electorate - that is May is the truest and best person to represent the Brexit vote? If there is anything in this, then the Referendum has done a fantastic service to the ruling class: it has enabled the ruling class to grab a serious and large section of working people who are totally attached to this phase in what one chunk of the British ruling class is trying to do: save itself by 'freeing' itself from a 'European' ruling class and 'go global'. The irony is of course that those who voted for this thinking that it would keep foreigners out may well find that each one of the bilateral arrangements May sets up with countries round the world, will demand free labour interchange!

The campaign (and it is a campaign) against Corbyn is not really about how 'ineffectual' he is. It's about the fact he in a mild way challenges the idea that any of us should detach ourselves from what the ruling order wants. We must, must, must stick with what the ruling order gives us: cuts, cuts, cuts. Tax breaks for the rich, rich, rich. Bombs, bombs, bombs.

Hey, Labour voters: don't fight, you don't exist.

When the beginning, middle and end of your politics is Westminster, parliament, constituencies and parties then the key point emerging from Copeland is that 11,000 Labour voters in Copeland don't exist. I notice that bulletins and the comments programmes hardly ever mention the raw figure itself. It sounds irritatingly big, doesn't it, boys? It's as if they think that the best way to say what happened is 'Copeland became Tory'. The whole constituency is now Tory. That's why it's a 'disaster'. Beginning, middle and end of parliamentary politics.

Now let's suppose, there is going to be a battle over the closing of the local hospital in Copeland. Who is going to lead the fight against that? Who is going to be involved? Presumably, according to Westminster/parliament politics, no one. Copeland is Tory. There is no one in Copeland who disagrees with the Tories. There are no Labour-minded people who want to defend services. We get the message: there is no one left to fight. No, I've put that wrong: we get the message, there is no one left who should fight. Don't fight. You don't exist.

Saturday 18 February 2017

Review of Zola book in 'The Saturday Paper' (Australia)

The Disappearance of Zola 


In 1893, Britain and the British literary world feted the visiting French novelist Émile Zola so grandly and warmly that he fantasised about one day returning to London and living there “incognito”. Five years later, in the early hours of July 19, 1898, he stood on the deck of the ferry from Calais to Dover, his only luggage a nightshirt wrapped in newspaper, tears welling, considering that he had never “experienced such deep unhappiness”. He, “who had always worked for the glory of France”, had been forced to flee his beloved homeland. 
In 1894, a French court had sentenced a Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfus, to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island for treason. Two years later, evidence came to light that he had been framed, but a cabal of high-ranking military officials kept the verdict from being overturned and protected the wrongdoers. The case had strong anti-Semitic overtones. Zola, a tremendously popular novelist, was the only prominent non-Jew to demand justice for Dreyfus, which he did publicly and passionately, in an open letter to the prime minister titled, “J’Accuse…!” The letter concluded: “I have but one passion: to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and is entitled to happiness. My fiery protest is simply the cry of my very soul. Let them dare, then, to bring me before a court of law and let the inquiry take place in broad daylight! I am waiting.” The letter was published on January 13, 1898. Shortly after, Zola appeared in court on charges of libel related to a particularly damning passage in “J’Accuse” and was sentenced to a large fine and a year’s imprisonment. But further appeals caused delays in enforcement and another court convened on the morning of July 18; before it could conclude, with mobs outside baying for his blood, and at his lawyer’s insistence, Zola fled for England. 
The French president eventually pardoned Dreyfus – and those who had framed him. Less than 50 years later, Dreyfus’s granddaughter was transported to Auschwitz. By then, Zola’s dream of a “kingdom of human intelligence, of letters, and of universal humanity”, one “above the secular hatreds of races”, seemed – and still seems – a distant fantasy. 
For all the seriousness of its subject, The Disappearance of Zola is a ripping great read. Michael Rosen intercuts moments of high drama with almost farcical comedy. Zola’s supporters are much tested by the ongoing problem of how to hide him from discovery by the press and French or British agents carrying orders for his deportation. At one point, Zola’s friend, translator and chief supporter-in-exile Ernest Vizetelly considers it safe to park him and a visiting French friend in a downmarket pub in a low-class entertainment district while he carries out a quick errand. When Vizetelly returns, he’s alarmed to find the Frenchmen surrounded by an excited mob. As it turns out, they were artistes who had mistaken Zola, “with his prosperous appearance” and French conversation, for a Parisian music-hall director scouting for talent.
In England, Zola, who’d fretted on the ferry that he hadn’t even enough English to order a glass of milk, taught himself to read the papers. He amused himself with taking photos and noting local customs, such as the tendency of Englishwomen to ride their bicycles in skirts rather than culottes, and he pondered the philosophical implications of the capital “I” versus the lower-case je. English food was a constant torment, as were English aesthetics – he despaired at the “habit of sacrificing beauty for utility” and detested the ubiquitous and sentimental portraits of dogs and horses. He missed home. He missed his wife. He also missed his mistress.
Rosen richly delivers on the promise of the book’s subtitle, “Love, Literature and the Dreyfus Case”. Vizetelly had to help organise separate visits from Zola’s wife, Alexandrine, and his lover, Jeanne, Alexandrine’s former seamstress and mother of his two beloved children. There is much, too, about literature: Zola’s place in it, his instinctive modernism and the novel he managed to complete in exile.  
Zola’s role in the Dreyfus affair, meanwhile, had a profound effect on public opinion generally, in England as well as France, and particularly on the progressive politics of the time. French socialists, who admired Zola’s naturalistic depictions of the poor in his novels, had previously been as inclined to anti-Semitism as the rest of the population, associating Jews with capitalism. It was explicitly thanks to Zola that, Rosen demonstrates, a “new kind of politics” came into being on the left, “combining ideas that were internationalist, against poverty, against injustice and against what we now call racial discrimination – four ideas that hadn’t always sat together in one worldview”. Zola risked his liberty, happiness and life for his beliefs. He may, in fact, have been murdered for them, according to a 1953 investigation by the paper Libération that Rosen discusses in some detail.
Rosen is a British poet, broadcaster, former children’s laureate and a recipient of a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He reveals two small but poignant points of connection with Zola’s story and that of Dreyfus. Rosen’s great-grandparents lived in the poor Jewish areas of Whitechapel that Zola visited and wrote about sympathetically on his visit in 1893. And one of his great-uncles was transported from France to his death in Auschwitz in the same convoy as Dreyfus’s granddaughter. 
Anatole France said at Zola’s funeral that “he was a moment in the conscience of mankind”. If he failed to defeat anti-Semitism single-handedly, he helped to banish it from progressive discourse, and his actions and courage inspired others. Today, another tide of hatred and fear is washing across the world. Right-wing populists here, in the United States and elsewhere, while keeping anti-Semitism on the boil, claim it is now Muslims who threaten civilisation. Like Zola, others of us hold that such violent prejudices themselves are the real threat. We need to extend the “moment” of which France spoke. This excellent book, which includes a translation of “J’Accuse…!”, may help inspirit us in these dark times.  CG

Bargaining with people's lives: EU citizens in the UK, UK citizens in the EU

We must always remember that when a politician talks of a principle, he or she is talking of something for sale.

The Tory on Today programme said the rights of EU citizens in UK depends on the rights of UK citizens in EU! Yet in the referendum they talked of immigration with no reference to UK citizens in EU.

So there you have it. When they campaigned they said that immigration levels from the EU were intolerable. They hardly spoke of the fact that this was a reciprocal arrangement that many UK citizens benefited from or chose to use.

Now when it comes to the negotiation suddenly they threaten to use people as a bargaining chip. That's millions of people's lives to be affected.

(In discussing this, please don't put me in either the Brexit or Remain camp.I've explained elsewhere why I didn't vote.)

Friday 17 February 2017

"Native population", "indigenous people" - racialising talk about immigration

People who argue against immigration often use phrases like 'native population' or 'indigenous people'. When they use it on the media, it usually passes by as if people listening are all agreed on what they mean and that what's being said has some kind of universal agreed meaning.


It may seem obvious in a place that has had a largely stable population (apart from 'native' people heading to Canada, Spain, France, Cyprus etc over the last 50 years) and that more recently some migrants have arrived. Perhaps it's more obvious to them. But what about in big cities where people come and go, people arrive, take up UK citizenship, have had children here, while some 2 million Brits have moved abroad and had children overseas...Who's 'native'? Who decides? Quite clearly, from interchanges I've had with people who say they're 'not racist but...' they have ideas about parentage that are positively 'racialised' if not racist. That's to say they have unwritten, unsaid notions of who is 'really' British, and it usually means white, and with both parents and probably all four grandparents as having been born in the UK.

Ireland of course raised a problem here because clearly the big cities have large populations of people with at least one Irish grandparent in them. Hurrah for that. But this 'native population' bit often slides 'Irish' into the category 'native' partly because Irish people are mostly white, mostly speak English and because of the nearly 100 year arrangement re freedom of movement between the Republic and the UK. However, that obscures the fact that 'native' in this case, really means 'native' (whatever that means) plus 'Irish'. ie another inconsistency, another unstated anomaly.

Of course, none of this is stated openly, it just emerges from chat. By not challenging the phrase 'native population' and 'indigenous population' we leave this sort of racialised stuff going on under the surface.

Thursday 16 February 2017

Launch of "Harold Rosen: Writings on Life, Language and Learning 1958-2008"

Harold Rosen Lecture

by John Richmond
introduced by Michael Rosen
to mark the launch of:

"Harold Rosen: Writings on Life, Language and Learning, 1958-2008"

Edited with an introduction by John Richmond

at 5.00 pm Monday March 20 2017
in Lecture Theatre 1, UCL Cruciform Building
Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT
RSVP Sally Sigmund
Tel: 020 7911 5565

Paul Nuttall limerick

There once was a bloke called Nuttall
who was forced to make a rebuttal:
"The quote I made
was made by an aide."
- which actually means f**kall.

Paul Nuttall

Paul Nuttall says that he knows Stoke like he knows the back of his head.
Paul Nuttall says that his greatest hope is to represent Stoke-on-Brent
Paul Nuttall says that he's very grateful that BBC Newsnight is not covering his statements on Hillsborough tonight.
Paul Nuttall says that he drives a Nuttall Corsa.
Paul Nuttall says he thought he lost friends at Hillsborough because he's always found it hard to keep his friends
Paul Nuttall says that Stoke is one of the great Yorkshire cities.
Paul Nuttall says that when he said he invented the famous chocolate spread, he meant that he likes it.
Paul Nuttall says that he loved working with Mary Berry on the Great British Bakeoff but will take the brand to Channel4
Paul Nuttall says that when he said that he lost friends at Hillsborough he meant that he lost his glasses
Paul Nuttall says he's very proud that people in Liverpool say, 'He's Nuttall there.
Paul Nuttall says that the best central defence in the top flight English league was Alan Hansen and Paul Nuttall
Paul Nuttall says his great inspiration is Shakespeare's Henry V:
"No, Nuttall these thrice-gorgeous ceremony..."
Paul Nuttall says that his brother is Midsomer Murders star John Nuttall.
Paul Nuttall says that his favourite book as a child was Beatrix Potter's wonderful little book, 'Squirrel Nuttall'.
Paul Nuttall says that the legendary Everton manager Howard Nuttall was his father.
Paul Nuttall says that he remembers when the names on everyone's lips were: John, Paul Nuttall, George and Ringo.
Paul Nuttall says that Nelson's last words were 'Kiss me Nuttall'. Paul Nuttall says that little green men write the comments on his website.
Paul Nuttall says that he lost his hearing in the trenches.
Paul Nuttall says that he didn't lose a close friend, he lost his bottle. Paul Nuttall denies he lost his credibility over the Hillsborough matter, as he's not sure he had any in the first place
Paul Nuttall says he lost an eye at the Battle of Agincourt but found it in the bath where his mum was storing coal
Paul Nuttall says he didn't lose his rag. It's just that he prefers to use paper hankies now.
Paul Nuttall says re his website and who writes what, he's lost track. And cars. Scalectrix eh? Easily done.
Paul Nuttall says that he didn't lose his shirt on the 4.30 at Sundown but in a bare knuckle prize fight in Toxteth
Paul Nuttall didn't lose his bearings. They're still in the ball-race on the car that his father was too poor to buy
Paul Nuttall says he didn't lose his train of thought. It was on platform 4 at Liverpool Lime Street.
Paul Nuttall says that he did not lose his temper. It was in the parlour is his two-up two-down back-to-back terrace
Paul Nuttall lost an argument but found it in Nigel Farage's trousers
Paul Nuttall lost his thread because, he says, Jeremy Corbyn closed the cotton mills.
Paul Nuttall said that he did not lose his hair, it lost him.
Paul Nuttall lost his way on the way to Hillsborough but he found it again when he decided to stand for parliament
Paul Nuttall lost his leg on a midnight hike and found it in the Lost Property Office on Liverpool Station

Monday 13 February 2017

Labour shortages? What? But you said immigration is 'too high'...

Well, well, well if ever you wanted an example of what we Marxists call the gap between 'ideology' and 'conditions', this is it! For years, those in power have let it be known that there is something undesirable about immigration. In short, they say that immigrants are a problem - even 'the' problem. If you (the people) are in any way worse off (mentally, emotionally, materially) the fault is immigrants. That's been the story and the press have loved it. We've even had the repeated bogus business of interviewers rushing off and talking solely and obsessively to 'people on the ground' (nearly always old and white) and letting them 'voice their concerns' - ones that the media and government have stirred up over and over and over again even to point of objecting that immigrants speak their own language (what a crime!), practise their own religions (crime again!) and do the lowest paid jobs with the worst conditions whilst simultaneously sponging off 'our' benefits system. All this has been 'ideology' ie a consistent set of untruths, half-truths and a deliberate attempt not to present the whole picture of how immigration supports the kind of economy that the UK has.

Meanwhile, there are the 'material' conditions. That's to say, the organisation and cycle of work, production, distribution, and the making of profits. Quite clearly, immigration has been essential for this in a variety of ways. So there is a gap between what government and press have been saying and what has actually been happening. That's why Cameron talking about 'bringing down the numbers' was always hooey. He would have been told over and over again by employers' organisations (natural supporters of the Tories) that their businesses were only sustainable on the basis that young workers were coming in able and willing to do those jobs.

So now having 'won' the ideological battle: hooray we can 'control our borders' (euphemism for 'keep foreigners out') they're losing the material one ie businesses are short of labour.

This is an extraordinary moment. We'll have to see how serious it is, but a Tory government is going to find it extremely difficult to turn round to an electorate primed up to think that 'bringing down immigration' (or even telling immigrants to 'go home') was and is a 'solution' for something (it isn't), whilst at the same time maintaining the same levels of immigration.

Watch this space.
With the right to work uncertain after the Brexit vote, many non-UK nationals are returning home or seeking jobs elsewhere

Sunday 12 February 2017

"What do you do at Goldsmiths, Michael?"

People sometimes ask me what I do at Goldsmiths, University of London.

I have a job there: I am a professor of children's literature, working part-time throughout the academic year, co-teaching two terms of seminars on our MA in Children's Literature:  'Theory and Practice of Children's Literature' and 'Children's Literature in Action'. I helped to co-devise the course and we tweak it each year in response to students' comments.

The 'Theory and Practice' term looks at the kinds of critical approaches one can take towards children's books - e.g. psychoanalytic, historical, from the point of view of genre and so on. The 'Action' term asks students to devise a project, taking children's books to children themselves and observing what happens. It can be school-, home- or library-based (or any other environment) which brings children and books together.

I tutor most of the students doing their 5000 word assignments for each of these two terms - they receive two half-hour one-to-one tutorials and I mark these assignments.

I also give one-off lectures, occasional seminars with BA students on their education courses, and offer some supervision of MA dissertations.

People doing the MA in Children's Literature at Goldsmiths can choose between three pathways: Critical, Creative, and Illustration. I only teach on the Critical pathway. Why not the Creative? Because I'm not very good at it. I have enough trouble teaching myself how to edit my own creative work!

The course is open to people who have a good first degree and can show interest in the subject. Those who want to follow the Creative and Illustration pathways have to present evidence of their work.

"Strong Economy" - strong for who?

"Strong economy"
NHS cuts
"Strong economy"
Cuts in school budgets
"Strong economy"
Wages not keeping up with inflation
"Strong economy
Punitive sanctions system with benefits
"Strong economy"
Rise in zero hour contracts
"Strong economy"
Bogus 'self-employed' contracts so as to avoid workers' rights
"Strong economy"
Unequal pay
"Strong economy"
Bogus apprenticeships
"Strong economy"

"Strong" for who?

Thursday 9 February 2017

Revelation: Corbyn is not God.

How about run the alternative scenario as of the referendum result forwards? The country votes for Brexit. A huge time and effort is put in explaining that the main reason for the unexpected swing etc etc is because millions feel 'left behind' especially by the 'metropolitan elite' which the media interpret as 'especially Jeremy 'Islington' Corbyn. So Corbyn was neither very pro-Remain or very pro-Brexit. So what? The nation itself was neither very pro-one or the -other. There are very good reasons to be not very pro-one or the -other. So, the question arises as to what a political party does with the result. Ignore it or go with it or abstain. The SNP have the 'alibi' of saying they are a 'country'. Corbyn has no such 'alibi'. If he chose 'ignore', let's pause a moment and imagine the chorus of hate, abuse, misrepresentation and mockery that would come down on 'Jeremy 'Islington' Corbyn's shoulders. "Corbyn Ignores Labour Heartlands' 'Corbyn Runs with the Luvvies' etc etc.

So Corbyn says that he'll go with the referendum. For this, he gets barrel loads of abuse from Labour-supporting Remainers most (not all) of whom hate him anyway and will do anything to get him out. Anything. And this paper gives them all the airspace they want and more. Meanwhile on the ground, Brexit voting voters 'in the north' (perhaps Labour or ex-Labou) are told every day that Corbyn's deserted you and only cares about refugees - even though he's just voted with them! The people who've 'deserted' them are the Remainers who are still 'Remaining' but who themselves say that they are the true Labour people - Owen Smith etc.

Corbyn says that now we fight. Which is exactly what is what would have happened had Remain won. The same issues are on the table: wages, conditions and services. Only crystal ball experts can say for certain whether the fight for these was going to be harder or easier given the two options that were in front of us at the time of the Referendum. I, for one, am prepared to put hand on heart and say, I couldn't discern which of those two options looked for certain (yes, for certain) offered the better option for working people and the unwaged poor. There were, and still are, too many variables to tell. And just because politicians talk about 'good for the economy' doesn't mean it's good for working people and the poor. In fact, there is everything to indicate that no matter what trade blocs we are in (or not) the future of capitalism is about increasing amassing for assets and wealth (not just income variation) in the hands of a tiny few, while the mass of working people are kept on as low as possible an income. Anyone looking at the segment on automation on the TV the other night,could see that the size of investment required to keep pace with the rate of automation, and the sheer amount of automation offer a frightening prospect for working people. How that would be different according to whether we are in or out of the EU is highly debatable.

So, Corbyn went with the referendum result in part perhaps to avoid the shit-storm. But as shit-storm is what it's been deemed he should have, he gets it anyway. Meanwhile, as he says, there is tomorrow: same old fights. All those flinging the proverbial at him, are you going to sign up for the fight for jobs, conditions and services, or simply go on and on and on and on and on saying that Corbyn is crappier than crap?

Remember the Number 322

Remember the number
Three hundred and twenty two
That's the number of the MPs
who voted against guaranteeing EU citizens
the right to stay in the UK.
Three hundred and twenty two
elected representatives have said to their
neighbours, "If they come for you in the morning
I am one of those who has given all the power
needed for them to take you away."
You won't need to have done anything wrong,
you won't need to have broken any law.
All you need to be is 'European'
That's what 322 MPs think is wrong with you.
That's what 322 reasonable, rational MPs have done.
If they come for us in the morning
remember the 322.
Three hundred and twenty two

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Zola and anti-semitism - short review of my book

A review by someone called 'Paul' - (I don't know him!) - on a site called 'Good Reads'. I think he's got what it is I was trying to write about. (But I would say that, wouldn't I!)

"When anti-semitic forces in 19th century France wrongly jailed Captain Alfred Dreyfus, novelist Émile Zola put his head above the parapet with his famous 'J'accuse' letter. Zola was found guilty of libel and sentenced to a year in prison. Instead he fled to London and Michael Rosen tells the story of Zola's time in exile. 

With fascinating insights into Zola's way of writing, complicated family life and the slowly changing political situation in France this is a warm and engaging read. The influence Zola had on socialist thinking on anti-semitism and the reaction to his novels in contemporary France and England I found particularly interesting. 

I've long been an admirer of Zola's work, and after reading this book now have a much richer understanding of Zola as a person. Also the striking modern resonances of this case make it so important to learn from this story. "

Tuesday 7 February 2017

Suggested ways of categorising pupils' talk about books, poetry and plays

When we make comments about literature (or when children or school students are in pairs or groups in a classroom) it's possible to evaluate how they are talking.

One way to do this is to make transcripts of what they are saying.

These can be when they are in conversation with the teacher or with each other in pairs or groups.

The nature of the conversation will depend greatly on how it is set up: what kinds of questions the teachers sets, or indeed if the questions originated from the students themselves.

This is worth experimenting along the lines of what seems to be the most useful and fruitful way to set things up so that pupils do the most amount of engaged reflection.

When you look at a transcript of how the students talk, it's possible to categorise the comments. Here are some suggested categories:

1. Experiential - this where we relate what is in the text with something that has happened to me or to someone I know.

2. Intertextual - this is where we relate what is in the text to another text.

3. Intratextual - this is where we relate one part of the text to another part.

4. Interrogative - where we ask questions of the text and voice puzzles and are tentative about something.

5. Semantic - where we make comments about what something in the text means.

6. 'Harvesting' - where we indicate that we are making a comment based on 'harvesting' something from elsewhere in the text.

7. Structural - where we indicate we are making a comment about how a part or whole of the piece has been put together, 'constructed'.

8. Selective analogising - where we make an analogy between one part of the text and something from anywhere else (e.g. as in 1, 2, 3). There will be an implied 'set' or 'series' being constructed here around a motif or theme or feeling. (see previous blog).

9. Speculative - where we make speculations about what might happen, what could have happened.

10. Reflective - where we make interpretative statements often headed by 'I think..'

11. Narratological - where we make comments about how the story has been told e.g. about narrators, methods of unfolding a story, what is held back, what is revealed. ('Narratology'). It may include an awareness of how stories have episodes, and sudden 'turns' or 'red herrings', flashbacks, flash forwards etc.

12. Evaluative - where we make value judgements about aspects of a text of the whole.

13. Eureka moments - where we announce that we have suddenly 'got it'.

14. Effects - where we sense that an 'effect' has been created in us (or in others we have observed) because of the way something has been written.

15. Storying - this is where we make a comment which is in essence another story. This is not trivial. It will almost certainly involve the making of a 'set' or a 'series' ie something has been selected from the original text in order to trigger off the new one. This is an implied generalisation.

16. Descriptive, - where we recount aspects of the text. This may well be more significant than it first appears because we can ask, why was this moment selected for the recount?

17. Grammatical - where we draw attention to the structure of sentences - syntax, or how individual words are used grammatically.

18. Prosodic - where we draw attention to the sound of parts of the whole of a piece ie the 'music' of it.

19. Effect of interactions: where we draw attention to how people interact ie how people (any character) treats another, how they 'relate' and what is the outcome of how they relate.

20. Imaginative - where we move to another artistic medium in order to interpret what we have been reading or viewing....this may well involve more 'generalising' or 'abstract thought' than first appears because it involves 'selecting' something from the original text and creating some kind of 'set' or 'series' with it in creating something new. If pupils are asked 'why' this can be teased out.

21. Emotional flow: these are comments which show how feelings towards the protagonists change. Some people have invented 'flow maps' where  you can draw up a kind of graph or chart, with the key moments in the plot along the bottom axis, and emotional states on the vertical axis...then you can label the line on the graph.

22. 'Author intention' - this might come partly under the category of 'speculative' - above - ie what the author could have written. Or it might be part of 'effect' ie how has the author created an effect. Word of warning: if this is separated from 'how it affected me' or 'how it affected someone else', this is of course speculation. The routine of a good deal of 'criticism' is to assume precisely the opposite ie because there is a certain literary feature - e.g. alliteration using a 'hard' sound, that it has a specific 'effect' - e.g. being insistent or heavy - and that the author intended these, which may or may not be the case.

23. Contextual - every piece of literature comes from a time and place. The person reading or spectating it will not be in exactly the same time and place. Many responses and critical ideas and thoughts go on because of this 'gap'. Students may well know or speculate about the gap, or the context ('They didn't used to do that sort of thing in those days') and of course, may ask questions and/or we offer them information or they are encouraged to research the context(s).

24. Representational or symbolic - where we make comments about what we think something 'represents'. This might be about 'character' where we say that a person 'represents' the class or type he or she comes from...'typical x kind of person'. It might be about parts of the landscape or the nature of the landscape - as it represents a particular kind of challenge to the protagonist. It could be a feature in the landscape/cityscape ie a particular kind of tree or building. It could be a single object that represents something more than itself - a torn piece of paper. And so on.

25. Extra-textual - comments that have apparently nothing to do with what's in the text and are about what's going on in the classroom or they are about pupils' interactions. Often these are as they seem to be but just occasionally they may well relate to how the pupils are interpreting e.g. a personal comment about 'You always say things like that...' may well be an indirect comment about this text and others.

In terms of teaching, we may want to emphasise one, some or several of these responses. We may want to develop one, some or several. We may want to induce the students to ask 'why' about any or all of them so that we can advance their ability to reason and rationalise. We may want to compare any of these with how the teacher or critics have responded in order to take the comments and thinking to a new level.

This list is derived from several years work with MA students looking at how children and school students have responded to literature in the classroom. The students have been on 'Action Research' courses and it evolved that they wanted to access their pupils' ways of thinking about literature and to help them develop and advance as critical readers.

Feel free to use, adapt, change in any way you want. You may want to add for example specific aspects of texts to do with e.g. syntax, plots.

On the other hand: you may want to dispense with all of this and simply offer pupils a matrix for how to interpret a given text, with key points in the text explaining it in the approved way,  followed by standard ways of presenting these points in writing. Some people believe that is a better way to proceed.

Or you may want to combine some aspects of the exploratory method with this final point so that it's not an either/or.

The arts, literature, purpose, feelings, critical thoughts

1. What are the arts? 
Traditionally they are activities and outcomes ('things') or ('productions') like:
film and TV drama and dramatic series, soaps and serials
musicals and opera

2. What are they for? Many different things including
To entertain and amuse
to show us aspects of life and 'nature' (ie the world as seen by us)
to help us think about aspects of ourselves
to draw us into thinking and wondering about materials
to draw us into thinking and wondering about how we communicate with each other
to show us possibilities for thought and action through inviting us to think about how others do things, say things, feel things...(empathy)
to offer us a 'safe place' (sometimes called 'containing' us) in which we give vent to feelings or witness feelings, we find difficult to voice or admit.
to offer us hope

3. Is there anything particular about literature?
Literature, traditionally, is poetry, drama and fiction but clearly overlaps with such things as film and TV drama.
Because these are so wordy, they have the possibility of exploring many different ways in which we talk to each other, think, have emotions, and write.
This doesn't make literature better or more significant than other arts.

4. What do we do with literature?
Primarily we read it, or we 'spectate' it if it's performed.
The reading process is complicated and involves many aspects of our minds and faculties:
our feelings
our willingness to be convinced by the creatures, beings and people and their interactions
our willingness to be affected by these
our ability and willingness to 'gather up' whatever precedes the moment we are reading or spectating. This enables us to 'follow' what's going on.
Some of this is to do with language - how words stick together (and of course individual words themselves)
Some of this is to do with recognition of motifs - that is scenes and interactions that exist in other parts of literature and in other arts
Some of this is to do with a willingness to find several meanings at once in 'figurative' language such as metaphors, metonymy, similes, allusions.
Some of this is to do with our willingness to allow our own experience to help us find parallels with moments in the literate which are similar or analogous with our own.
A willingness to reflect on any or all of this, either on our own or with others.

5. It is quite possible to construct very different means of getting young people to explore some or all of this. For over a hundred years, there have been a variety of methods of getting  young people to answer questions about the literature they've been asked to read.
This may include questions about:
what the author intends
what is the meaning of very small parts of the text (words, phrases, single sentences)
how a text is constructed
what are the effects of different parts of the piece of literature
what is the overall meaning of the text
how the text fits (or doesn't fit) a given 'genre'
how the text is 'in conversation' with some other texts that precede it ('influence')
how the text has 'used' texts which precede it ('intertextuality')

It may include questions of
what the text has to do with the time and place in which it is written ('context')
how the text has been interpreted differently by different people at different times

6. The problem with some of the previous types of question is that they assume a generalised 'reader' who does indeed know what the author intends, what the 'effects' are on readers, what symbols or metaphors 'mean'.

7. In schools we have the problem of wanting children and young people to enjoy literature whilst having to fulfil some very specific demands given to us by questions in exams. There is a 'correct' way to respond to literature and an 'incorrect' way. This may well run counter to some of the reasons in my number 2 (above).

8. One key way in which we respond to literature is create literature (and other arts). We may well find out a good deal about a piece of literature by trying to write something 'like it'. There isn't much room for this in school curricula because it isn't 'critical'. However, it may well be something that can feed into critical approaches. It may well clarify a good deal of things to do with structure, purpose, how to create effects, and generalised views (see 11 below).

9. It may well be that in the limited time available there isn't time for young people to explore fully what kind of effect a piece of literature is having on them. The critical approach has to kick in very early on. It may turn out that the young people hardly have a chance to explore 'affect' ie how the piece really does produce emotional effects.

10. Some of the categories that occur in the critical approaches may run counter to how literature works. One of these is 'character'. I would argue that we are not first and foremost affected by 'character'. We are affected by interactions between characters and the outcomes of those interactions. This means we are affected by parts of scenes in a 'dynamic' way. . It's what characters do with each other in the piece or say to each other or about each other (or what the narrator tells) that causes the effects. Again, if we examine things in too small pieces - too much on single words -  we may not notice that it's the comparisons and contrasts across a whole piece that do the work.

11. An interesting part of how we talk about the arts is that when we select things to talk about or when we make comparisons between something in a piece of literature with another piece of literature, or between a piece of literature and something that happened in our own lives, we are in fact 'generalising'. In other words, we don't need to make a general comment or an abstract comment in order to generalise! When we select one 'event' and compare it to another 'event' that we've selected, we are creating a 'set' or a 'series'. We have noticed some common characteristics. Even very young children can do this. It may well be that in order to help young people make generalised comments, that we can first elicit the comparisons ('what were you reminded of?' In your life? In other pieces of literature? In the arts in general? On TV?) and then ask them to reflect why? The generalised or abstract or evaluative/reflective comment may well flow after.  General, abstract, evaluative, reflective thought may be reached this way.

12. There are some key aspects of how a piece of literature is told ('narratology') . There are key differences in narration, in how we know what we're being told, how things are revealed and concealed, how we are given specific and selective viewpoints, whether characters' and or narrators' views are 'reliable', 'true' or 'ironic', how we know (or not know) what characters think.

13. Even if we know how to talk about literature it doesn't follow that we can write about it. This is one of the hardest things to learn how to do. This blog does not address 'how to write an essay'!

Saturday 4 February 2017

What'll happen if 'business' gets fed up with Trump and Bannon?

Business (capitalism) likes to present itself as 'not political'; it just gets on with doing business. Some of us think this is nonsense: it just kicks the huge, daily, pressing matter of how we are organised to make a living (and how we are engineered to be so unequal) into touch. It's supposedly just 'nature', 'life', 'how it is'. (It isn't 'nature'. It's humanly made and very political!)

Even so, every now and then, business has to get political and all sorts of 'voices of business' come into the political field and express an opinion because, they say, what's going on is 'threatening business' - and we should all quake. That's because, as I say, 'business is nature'. If business is 'threatened' then surely that must mean the end of all things and we won't know how to organise ourselves to make and distribute the things we need and want.

Usually, what 'threatens' business are people like Corbyn because they want to shave off a teeny bit of the tax privileges, or defend areas of public ownership or dare to suggest that everyone is entitled to live somewhere or have enough money to live off without borrowing themselves into the grave. All this 'threatens' business.

The Remain-Brexit thing was interesting because 'business' was forced to argue with itself about which of the two arrangements was better for business. Clearly, they can't make up their mind about that - and anyway we should always remember that no matter how united business are that the mass of people should earn the least possible money, they are not united on the matter of how to beat the next business person. They are at each other's throats in competition with each other, and the key way for them to do that is to keep pay as low as possible.

Now business has got another problem: Trump-Bannon. Their aim is to create a new world. They are biblical. They want a new world where all those old alliances based ultimately on America being world top-dog, battled for through wars and 'spheres of influence' is being pushed to one side. The new dominance has got to come through nationalism - which as a bloke on the radio said this morning - we know how that ended 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. So, though US sanctions on Iran may look like good old US foreign policy, a new nationalism is being pursued, with something else behind it: a weird and mystical 'end of times', 'last battle' thing: some kind of final showdown. These people are mapping the biblical Armageddon on to the modern world.

We might quake in the face of this. Why not? We might wonder if we have enough resources to combat it. We might wonder if there are enough people in the US to defy it. I do.

On the other hand, Trump-Bannon have another problem: business. Business likes to be non-political? Well, one of their biggest guys decided he would be. That seems to have gone down well with at least one section of people as represented to us as the 'rust belt'. If not 'well' then 'well enough'. But how is modern business taking it? Trump-Bannon seem hell-bent on making enemies of anyone they think of as 'liberal', not as committed to their view of a world conflict with Islam and so on. One problem: a vast section of business is 'liberal'. I don't mean socialist, or even socialistic. I mean with liberal attitudes to social and religious matters. What's more business doesn't like cataclysm. Business likes consent. Business doesn't like thousands of people out on the streets. Business doesn't like the pages of its newspapers full of stories about chaos in central government.

I very rarely do crystal ball stuff but I can't help feel that very soon, Trump-Bannon are going to face real problems from their own kind. All sorts of big business types are going to express serious worries about what they're up to.

We often talk of fault lines and contradictions for those in power. I can't help thinking that Trump is going to face some of these: big ones.

I wouldn't do anything more by way of the crystal ball than that. I would hope that those who supported Bernie Sanders and many others would know how to stick up for working people, if those in power were at each other's throats.

Friday 3 February 2017

Tory and LibDem lies about Labour wrecking the economy

Every BBC Question Time,  a Tory or LibDem politician comes on and talks about the terrible deficit inherited from Labour and 'Labour wrecked the economy'.  Here's the raw stat: 

2007-08 – £ 40.3 bn
2010-11 – £ 145.1 bn

That large hike was caused by the crash-and-bailout. 

(Economists can argue about: what is a 'sustainable deficit' in either gross figures or in figures in relation to the GDP. They can also argue about what this deficit means for a country that has a currency that is held by other countries (ie sterling). They can also argue over whether even that large deficit was 'sustainable'. They can also argue over what was the best way out of that higher deficit - austerity which lowers government income or spending on growth projects (a la Keynes). )

Ultimately, though the lie is that 'Labour caused the high deficit' and that Labour 'wrecked the economy'.
The crash-and-bail-out caused the higher deficit. 

If anyone on the Question Time panel who blames Labour for this, then it's down to them to say what they would have done instead of the bail-out. At the time no one was saying £40.3 bn pre-crash deficit was too high, and very few right-wingers were saying that the bail-out was wrong. 

So, the lie is sold over and over and over again.

(There is of course the question of what caused the crash in the first place! It wasn't 'Labour', it was an economy in which it's fine for people to sell debt to each other without that debt being related back to anything in the real world ie ('speculation'). So money was being 'invested' in projects that had no chance of producing returns. And people lent huge amounts of money to those doing this phoney investing. The worst thing that Labour did was not contest this. But of course neither did the Tories or LibDems. They all thought they could ride this and take the cream off the top. At the end of the day, though, politicians didn't cause the crash, the crash was capitalism doing its thing at a particular stage in a particular part of world capitalism.)

Wednesday 1 February 2017

My Emile Zola tour! See you at one of these?

I'm doing various events over the next few months to talk about 'The Disappearance of Emile Zola, love, literature and the Dreyfus Case' published by Faber and Faber.

February 8 Goldsmiths, University of London

February 13 Conway Hall, London - arranged by Newham Books (Sold out)

February 21 Five Leaves Bookshop, Nottingham

February 23 Bookseller Crow, Crystal Palace, London

February 27 Tabernacle, West London, 5 x 15

February 28 Jewish Book Week, London

March 1 Festival of Idea, Bristol

March 10 Ways with Words, Keswick

March 15 Muswell Hill Bookshop, London, 6.30

March 22 Bookmarks Bookshop, London, 6.30

March 28 Oxford Literature Festival, Oxford

April 21 Cambridge WordFest,  Cambridge

April 24 Prospect (magazine) Book Club

May 4 Shakespeare & Co Bookshop, Paris

May 12 Institut Français (French Institute) London

May 24 Charleston Literature Festival

May 25 Bath Literature Festival

May 27 Hay Literary Festival

June 4 Stoke Newington Literature Festival, London

June 15 York Festival of Ideas, York

"Look-and-guess"? That's not the 'alternative' to universal, systematic, synthetic phonics teaching!

Strong advocates of universal systematic synthetic phonics teaching (what is in place in English schools at the moment) will buttress their case by typifying what others do or have done as inviting the children to 'look and guess', and/or 'look at the picture and guess the word.' This is, in short a lie. It's not what the opposing argument claims.

This use of the word 'guessing' is overcharged. Let's leave to one side the 'words and picture' example for the moment. The word 'context' can mean a variety of things including: the underlying grammar of a sentence - which children will know; it can mean the underlying and implied semantics (meaning) of the sentence as implied by, say, the opening two or three words.

It's very difficult (impossible?) to tell whether a child, at exactly the moment when reading a phonically regular text is using which of these three elements to read-for-meaning: phonics, semantics, syntax. So, take one of the phonics schemes. Ask a child to read it. It may well be that the child will use all three of these methods in different combinations at different times.

It's a great irony. The phonics schemes are trying very hard to make their texts fun and enjoyable. They've employed the great Julia Donaldson, for example. The irony is that the more fun and enjoyable they are, the more a child will want to read for meaning and you can't stop the child doing that. If you want to only teach the alphabetic principle, then forget the enjoyment bit! Just do word lists, blending, nonsense words. That's the abstract way. But of course the phonics schemes writers and devisers know that that's not possible because of young children's motivation. So they mix 'alphabetic principle' with semantics - and by virtue of the sentences being coherent and cohesive - with syntax too.

It's a triumph of mixed methods! Which is where we all started from - in my case 'The Beacon Readers' devised in the 1920s, still going strong in the 1940s/1950s which strongly advocated 'mixed methods'.