Archive for March 4th, 2007

Sine Nobilitate

“Now that man there,” my ex-boss said to the three people at his desk, “That man there looks like he would be into that sort of thing.”

“What sort of thing?”, this man here asked.

“Dan Brown. The Da Vinci Code. I bet you’ve read it.” My ex-boss is nothing if not up-to-date with the latest literary sensations.

“I have.” He knows me so well.

“And did you like it? I thought it was brilliant.”

I really wanted to tell the truth and say that I thought it was terrible. But saying that might mean explaining why, which might mean explaining why it is designed specially to appeal to people who don’t read much, which might mean my boss thinking I think he is an idiot. I don’t think he’s an idiot; no, in fact, I do, but it has nothing to do with the books he reads.

“Ahh.. it was all right.” Let it stop.

“Did you not think it was interesting? Let me guess, I bet you’re going to say you preferred Angels and Demons.”

“It was interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing. And no, I haven’t read Angels and Demons.”

“Well, you should. It’s brilliant. Really interesting.”

I hate conversations about literature to people who have no real interest in it. If they want to spend their time reading the Da Vinci Code and the like, then fine. I have no problem with it.

What annoys me is when they start saying stupid things like “Oh well if I happen to think that Philip Roth is dreadful and Dan Brown is wonderful, what gives you the right to say that my opinion is any less valid than yours? And if Dan Brown sells millions of books, doesn’t that say something?”

This is the literary equivalent of going into a top restaurant and demanding that they serve you a plate of chips, even when they aren’t on the menu. So, what my palate likes is an uncomplicated mush of salt, starch and fat, and since what I like reigns supreme, I want chips. Anyone who would think otherwise has to be some sort of snob. Likewise, I don’t know much about books, but I know what I like, and since what I like is Sheila O’Flanagan, anyone who would criticise such a thing has to be an intellectual snob.

In The Zone

I breezed (broze?) through Jonathan Franzen’s The Discomfort Zone last week, as part of this thing that I’m really starting to get sick of.

It’s a while since I read anything else by him, so I had forgotten what he sounded like. The book is basically a collection of personal memories mixed in with some musings on the environment, religion, literature, politics, birdwatching and things.

Even though he portrays himself as some sort of awkward nerd with whom one couldn’t bear living for more than 15 minutes, he still manages to be very likeable in recounting his memories of growing up in a rather uneventful American Midwest -which comes across as really quite a pleasant place- without ever descending into Wonder Years territory.

One People, One Religion, One BVM

The British National Party is building an alliance with radical anti-abortion activists in an attempt to reach out to Catholics and secure their votes in future elections.

So says Henry McDonald in today’s Observer. Furthermore:

Griffin (Nick, the party leader) claimed that amplifying the party’s ‘pro-life’ policies would win it new votes among Catholics. ‘There used to be a perception in Northern Ireland and Scotland that we were an Orange party. This is not so,’ he said. The BNP, like Dowson, wanted to reach across the sectarian divide.

It is hard to see the BNP reaching across the sectarian divide to reach right-wing Catholics in Northern Ireland. I suppose stranger things have happened, but I get the feeling that the ‘British National’ part of the name might be a bit off-putting.

One of the books I have not bought yet due to my self-inflicted programme is Chris Hedges’s American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America, but I did fondle it covetously in a Dublin bookstore the other day.

From what I could see, Hedges uses the outline of Umberto Eco’s essay Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt as a starting point for the inquiries of his book.

Eco begins as follows:

In spite of some fuzziness regarding the difference between various historical forms of fascism, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

This stirring piece of writing sprung to mind in the course of my lonely-as-a-cloud clicks the other day, as I was reading Catholic Power, a New Year message published in the Hibernian Magazine, which is edited by Gerry McGeough, who is an independent Republican candidate in the upcoming Northern Ireland assembly elections. He’s interviewed here in United Irelander.

Below I juxtapose some of the features identified by Eco with elements of Catholic Power.

Continue reading ‘One People, One Religion, One BVM’

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March 2007