'I see myself as a historian with a camera'
British photographer Brian Harris has been obsessed with the battlefields and cemeteries of World War I since a teenager in the late 1960s.
For this summer’s centenary of the war’s beginning, he went back to some of those places at the behest of More Intelligent Life, evoking memories that are just as strong now as they were when he first stumbled upon them during a holiday to Belgium:
“We stayed in Blankenberge, played on the beach, got drunk on Stella Artois. And we went to Tyne Cot cemetery on the battlefields of Passchendaele. None of us had a clue. I was utterly taken by what I saw. I just couldn’t believe that each headstone represented a life.”
Conservative art for conservatism’s sake
"In art you become familiar with due process. You simply can’t write people off or send them to hell."
— Saul Bellow, “Ravelstein”
Adam Bellow, the son of the late acclaimed novelist, wants to create a conservative arts movement not for the sake of art, but to counter the strong liberal sentiment in contemporary American culture.
But this notion gets a good and thorough takedown in Tablet from Adam Kirsch, a nominally conservative critic and poet who thinks it’s got to be about the art above all, and not the politics:
"What he wants is not good books, but political victory, and revenge—revenge against the smug liberals who so haunt the right-wing imagination. In short, he wants reassurance, the certainty that reality—of which literature is the perceiver and guardian—is always on the side of his political beliefs. But the first principle of the literary imagination, as Trilling argued, is that it is broader, deeper, and truer than political convictions; that politics must be corrected by literature, and not vice versa. If most writers are liberals, perhaps it’s because they instinctively understand this liberal principle."
As Kirsch points out, Adam Bellow would do well to reread his father’s classic anti-1960s novel, “Mr. Sammler’s Planet,” which was powerful not because of its conservative political message, but for its cultural and artistic astuteness. This is a passage very early on in the book describing the protagonist, Artur Sammler, a Holocaust survivor, whose ideal world is rapidly eroding before his eyes:
"He saw the increasing triumph of Enlightenment — Liberty, Fraternity, Equality, Adultery! Enlightenment, universal education, universal suffrage, the rights of the majority acknowledged by all governments, the rights of women, the rights of children, the rights of criminals, the unity of the different races affirmed, Social Security, public health, the dignity of the person, the right to justice — the struggles of three revolutionary centuries being won while the feudal bonds of Church and Family weakened and the privileges of aristocracy (without any duties) spread wide, democratized, especially the libidinous privileges, the right to be uninhibited, spontaneous, urinating, defecating, belching, coupling in all positions, tripling, quadrupling, polymorphous, noble in being natural, primitive, combining the leisure and luxurious inventiveness of Versailles with the hibiscus-covered erotic ease of Samoa. Dark romanticism now took hold."
The late Christopher Hitchens, a liberal cultural figure, said Bellow the elder was an “author who came up with such graphic expressions for vulgarity and thuggery and stupidity — the debased currency of those too brutalized to have retained the capacity for wonder.”
50 shades of feminist corrosion
Bookslut editor Jessica Crispin (previous post here) has some of the same concerns over feminism we share — namely, how the ballyhoo over “The Sisterhood” masks an ideology that does nothing for the female as an individual human being.
She finds feminist hand-wringing abounding in reviewing two books written in response to E.L. James’ “50 Shades of Grey:”
"The constant questioning, the incessant evaluation, is exhausting. Maybe we can read 50 Shades’s popularity less as the sign of feminism’s failure than as a response to the constant anxiety about what women’s choices mean: given all the interrogating, no wonder so many women fantasize about someone just telling them what to do. How pleasant, to have a break from the opinion polls and commentary about what your individual choices mean for women everywhere and the feature articles on how you should be doing that thing you are doing differently because it is harming your children/feminism/marriage potential. Just: eat this, do that, lean over."
Exhausting, indeed. Crispin praises “Hard Core Romance” by Israeli scholar Eva Illhouz as “a reasoned, thoughtful examination of gender relations, women’s desires, and the role of passion in contemporary society.”
On the other hand, “50 Shades of Feminism,” a British anthology, “grows from the post-Grey anxiety that oh no feminism must be dead.”
Feminism is, of course, a response to the male power structure that has dominated human civilization for thousands of years. But after 40 or so years, feminism has reached the stage of “now what?”
"But something has to replace the hierarchy. What we’ve chosen as a replacement, it seems, is a not-dissimilar power dynamic. If everyone is equal, and the playing field is (theoretically) level, then the only thing keeping you from your success is yourself. The fight then becomes to gain power."
"In this anthology, feminism becomes less a political philosophy and more of a justification for narcissism. Every decision that each person makes can be explained away with ‘because feminism.’ Want an epidural and to bottle-feed? That’s feminism! Want to get married and move to the suburbs? Feminism! Do you want to make a big deal out of refusing to diet or maybe instead spend a lot of time playing around with clothes and makeup? Either way, both are feminist! Here, feminism is not used as a filter to assist with the decision-making process. The argument presented is this: your action is feminist because you are choosing for yourself. The result is a ‘feminism’ that’s not only depoliticized but also desocialized: “feminism” becomes a word to slap onto a choice after the fact, as a way to protect a decision from any criticism."
It’s not just narcissism at work; it’s a sort of mindlessness that reflects what establishment feminism has become: a political creed and cultural coffee klatsch for a certain kind of woman — typically liberal, well-educated and geared toward white-collar employment — instead of a vehicle to help all women overcome persistent, legal inequities.
Now, present-day feminism, in all of its increasing irrelevance, has been reduced to empty buzzwords. Crispin smashes them too, to reveal the checkered humanity behind half the population:
"But there’s a difference between collectivity and the kind of ‘sisterhood’ advocated in Fifty Shades of Feminism, which is simply self-interest in a social guise. Beware the woman going on and on about the sisterhood. She’s likely to be the first one to stick the knife in the moment your back is turned."
The scrap heap of the Iron Curtain
Photographer Rebecca Litchfield went all over the former U.S.S.R. to capture the ruins of the Communist bloc, and has turned what she saw into a book, Soviet Ghosts. Russian officials interrogated her at one point because she was traversing in areas for authorized personnel only.
Communism may be gone, but authoritarianism is as strong as ever in Vladimir Putin’s empire.
More photos from The Guardian.
More on Litchfield’s travel saga from fastcodesign:
"Some people may see the ruins of this time as destructive, but I see the beauty in the decay, like a memory hanging on that will soon be lost in a breeze, a museum that no one gets to see."
— Former England star Gary Lineker