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