Consumptionomics by Chandran Nair

This interesting text is an attempt to learn ideological lessons from historic events. Firstly, it is a response to the international economic crisis. Secondly, it is a celebration of Asian economic success. Thirdly, it is an effort to address the growing environmental problems that threaten the long-term future of capitalist development. Fourthly, it is an attack on the ideal of liberal democracies with small states.

The basic problem is that it falls into the trap of seeing East and West as distinct political and economic blocs. It underestimates the complicity between different governments. It exaggerates the political and economic disparities between East and West. It arguably neglects the conflicts and tensions within the ill-defined blocs, while basically ignoring much of the world. As a result of the gaps, it does not perceive that there is still the potential for progress at many different levels of governance.

It seems to partly accept that the realities of the West and the East fit with the ideal types put about by their cheerleaders. While it is rightly critical of the lack of sustainability of the American economic system, it downplays the potential for reform within the country. Similarly, the political difficulties of Myanmar, North Korea and Thailand get scant attention. The complexities of the international economy are not captured by a text which is lacking in comprehensive analysis. In short, the optimistic take on the environmental future of the East is responsible for a pessimism about other possibilities.

Nevertheless, the book makes many telling points about the need for change. The scepticism about the power of the market to come up with solutions to environmental dilemmas is refreshing. The enthusiasm about progress in Japan, China and South Korea makes for a stirring conclusion. And it is hard not to agree that people need:

“a constrained form of capitalism.”


Virginia Woolf by Professor James King

This penetrating biography of Woolf might not be as encyclopaedic as that composed by Hermione Lee. Nor is it as beautifully written as that produced by Lyndall Gordon. And it does not have the advantage of being put together by someone who was acquainted with Woolf like Winifred Holtby had been. However, it is still an intriguing work despite these problematic comparisons.

Nonetheless, the book has been criticised for several specific reasons. It has been accused of highlighting the feminism of Woolf excessively. Further, it has been knocked for its psychological approach. And it has been attacked for building scandalous theories from fragments of evidence.

While the biography should be acquitted for stressing feminism over modernism, and defended for its psychological focus, it is awkward to be comfortable with the degree of detail with regard to actual and potential incest. However, this is still such a small part of the massive whole that the work cannot be condemned.

The narrative of the life of Woolf makes for thrilling reading. It is always interesting to be thinking about people who thought deeply about thinking. And to be reminded of the toil and pain behind their pioneering achievements is to be connected with the mud of life. The sharp wisdom of Woolf shines through the text:

“if your father & mother die you have lost something that the longest life can never bring again.”

The Poetry of Birds edited by Simon Armitage and Tim Dee

This anthology is a beautiful book. There is a fascinating mix of poetry to enjoy, with some of the included work familiar to the common reader. However, for every poem by the likes of Yeats there is one by the likes of Carver. It is this juxtaposition that makes it into an extraordinary collection.

Each reader will have their favourite poem and many tastes will be satisfied. It is awkward to write much more. However, it is worth saying that those who prefer their poetry to be simple and effective will be in bliss. Of course, the incredible difficulty of composing elegant poetry must be underlined.

The poem which epitomises the genius of this collection is ‘The Common Cormorant’ by Christopher Isherwood. Isherwood produced some fine prose in his day, but this wonderful poem highlights his versatility.

The Odyssey: Missing Presumed Dead by Simon Armitage

This play superficially seems to be an enjoyable fusion of The Thick of It and The Odyssey. However, a close study of the text shows a degree of unpleasantness behind the liberal philosophy and the classical references. The comedy appears to have a brittle edge and the digressions about contemporary international politics carry a subtle menace.

The dark side of the text seems to be inherent in the assumptions made about Turkey and the Arab League. While English hooliganism is denounced, an Orientalist fear seems to lurk behind the lines of the play.

There is something quintessentially English about the text. This is evident in the pervasive idea of the threat of barbarism within and without. It would have been nice if the great thinker Edward Said had lived to analyse this odd, ill-timed and unnecessary concoction.

Sex and death: the marvels of the Mayan civilisation

The ghost of Sigmund Freud could have helped to curate ‘Mayan World’ in Liverpool. A floor of the large museum was devoted to the worship of time, breeding and rituals of death. Repetitive obsessions apparently haunted the minds of tourists as they wandered around the artefacts.

It was possible to forget the capitalist imperative which had driven people to move lumps of the past of Mexico to the museum. A deliberate phallus caught the eye, attempting to fuse power and fertility. And a brick with a crocodile suggested that death was always round the corner.

The civilisation had its roots in ancient times. Pictures of old pyramidal structures were intended to tempt the affluent to visit Mexico. However, as the afternoon drew to a close, the sinister coupling of the death and sex drives was palpable.

A great mess, a greater Britain: corked Cameron

The Prime Minister made a long triumphalist speech yesterday. It was unstructured, light on policy and full of nonsense. Perhaps it was not entirely his fault. There comes a point in the career of any politician where the level of their success takes them far away from reality.

While a sycophantic media noted down his banal and dangerous remarks, Cameron elaborated a bizarre vision of a greater Britain. As a result, he forgot that the nation is an imagined community as Benedict Anderson once theorised. It is a social construct which cannot carry the weight that reactionary politicians place upon it. Patriotism alone cannot unite a country. Nor can an economic strategy which is inherently divisive.

The speech should have been a conciliatory one. It could have contained policies which were generous to Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the poorer parts of England. Instead it trumpeted a faux concern for equality of opportunity and social reform. With a small majority and a critical referendum on the EU to come, Cameron fell into the trap of attacking Labour. His cheap jibes and contradictory attempts at policy triangulation were not worthy of him.

The UK faces the real prospect of rising inequality and potential relative economic decline. Its diverse people need a break from ham-fisted politicians who are deaf to environmental concerns. Climate change will put much more strain on the system just as the managers of that system focus on more nebulous matters.

Should Corbyn hug a Tory?

When David Cameron was trying to alter the Tory brand, he tried to show empathy with young people. Back in 2006, he was concerned that his party was perceived as remote from the problems facing disenfranchised youth. He even spoke of the need for social justice.

However, once in government all this rhetoric was shelved. Cameron perceived that young people were not an engaged electorate. His policies soon cut into the benefits and opportunities which young people had enjoyed. The alienation from the political process which had previously concerned him was perhaps seen as inevitable given the realities of governing after the international economic crisis. His commitment to the vision of a charitable Big Society was exposed as somewhat shallow as social problems mounted.

In 2015, the Tories seem to be in an odd position. With a narrow majority, their major policies are poised to divide the country yet again. They seem remote from the lives of many ordinary people. Perhaps they are as lost as the juvenile delinquents who Cameron once referenced. Maybe a few of them could recover their empathy. As part of Corbyn’s kinder politics, he could try giving one of them a hug. Whether this method of connection would work in practice is open to question.