Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Does history repeat itself? Does this sound familiar? On the origins of Trumpism...

No, I'm not comparing Donald Trump to Hitler or his supporters to the Nazi movement, but there are similarities between the social forces that drove the popularity of yesterday's demagogic and charismatic leaders and today's political clowns like Trump (who has quite a few things in common with Mussolini, but even more with Berlusconi.) Below is a long quote from a classic analysis of the rise of totalitarianism in Europe. Read and reflect.
"It was characteristic of the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany and of the Communist movements in Europe after 1930 that they recruited their members from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention. 
The result was that the majority of their membership consisted of people who never before had appeared on the political scene. This permitted the introduction of entirely new methods into political propaganda, and indifference to the arguments of political opponents; these movements not only placed themselves outside and against the party system as a whole, they found a membership that had never been reached, never been "spoiled" by the party system. 
Therefore they did not need to refute opposing arguments and consistently preferred methods which ended in death rather than persuasion, which spelled terror rather than conviction. They presented disagreements as invariably originating in deep natural, social, or psychological sources beyond the control of the individual and therefore beyond the power of reason. This would have been a shortcoming only if they had sincerely entered into competition with other parties; it was not if they were sure of dealing with people who had reason to be equally hostile to all parties. 
The success of totalitarian movements among the masses meant the end of two illusions of democratically ruled countries in general and of European nation-states and their party system in particular. 
The first was that the people in its majority had taken an active part in government and that each individual was in sympathy with one's own or somebody else's party. On the contrary, the movements showed that the politically neutral and indifferent masses could easily be the majority in a democratically ruled country, that therefore a democracy could function according to rules which are actively recognized by only a minority. 
The second democratic illusion exploded by the totalitarian movements was that these politically indifferent masses did not matter, that they were truly neutral and constituted no more than the inarticulate backward setting for the political life of the nation. Now they made apparent what no other organ of public opinion had ever been able to show, namely, that democratic government had rested as much on the silent approbation and tolerance of the indifferent and inarticulate sections of the people as on the articulate and visible institutions and organizations of the country.
Thus when the totalitarian movements invaded Parliament with their contempt for parliamentary government, they merely appeared inconsistent: actually, they succeeded in convincing the people at large that parliamentary majorities were spurious and did not necessarily correspond to the realities of the country, thereby undermining the self-respect and the confidence of governments which also believed in majority rule rather than in their constitutions. 
It has frequently been pointed out that totalitarian movements use and abuse democratic freedoms in order to abolish them. This is not just devilish cleverness on the part of the leaders or childish stupidity on the part of the masses. Democratic freedoms may be based on the equality of all citizens before the law; yet they acquire their meaning and function organically only where the citizens belong to and are represented by groups or form a social and political hierarchy . . . "
(Hannah ArendtThe Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951)

Friday, October 9, 2015

"Knausgaard transcribes; Ferrante transforms. Her prose is wine to Knausgaard’s mop water."

I was already thinking of reading Elena Ferrante when the latest issue of The Nation arrived with William Deresiewicz's essay about Ferrante's Neapolitan suite. It's brilliant and made me move Ferrante to the top of my reading list now that I have finished re-reading James Michener's novel about the 1960s - The Drifters (which as one can expect from Michener is exhaustively long, complex and highly analytical, but often woody and laden with stereotypes).

Then, in the third paragraph, he delivers this terrific comparison between Ferrante and Knausgaard:

The obvious comparison is to Karl Ove Knausgaard, the Norwegian author of My Struggle, another multivolume first-person epic that has burst upon the literary scene in recent years. Knausgaard assures us, in prose of aggressive banality, that every word is accurate to his experience. Ferrante, in The Paris Review, offers a direct (and perhaps deliberate) rejoinder. “It’s not enough to say, as we increasingly do, These events truly happened, it’s my real life, the names are the real ones, I’m describing the real places where the events occurred. If the writing is inadequate, it can falsify the most honest biographical truths.” Knausgaard transcribes; Ferrante transforms. Her prose is wine to Knausgaard’s mop water. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

On the InterRail Way of Travel

The InterRail Pass was introduced in 1972 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Railway Union (Union Internationale des Chemins de Fer). Youth under 21 years old were offered to travel for one month in 21 member countries at a very low cost, less than 30 British pounds or about 50 U.S. dollars.

  Watch a 2012 documentary celebrating the 40th anniversary of the InterRail Pass. 
 

About 5,000 young people bought the InterRail Pass in 1972, and it was so popular that it was repeated in 1973, when about 85,000 young travelers bought the card. Over the years, the InterRail Pass had expanded its reach to more and more countries, while the travel offers has become more varied and even includes First Class travel. Outside Europe the card is known as the Eurail Pass.

For most young people traveling with the InterRail Card/Pass in 1973 was very, very different from how you travel today. Most kids traveled without credit cards, cellphones, Internet, Web, Facebook, WiFi, guidebooks and with very little money. If you couldn't find a campground or a bed in a youth hostel, you had to sleep on a night train, on a beach, with a friend, on a railway station or wherever you found a place to rest your head. It was not always safe, but kids who had come of age in 1968 didn't worry much about safety. They were naive and willing to take risks. And most of them made it home alright.

Hubble Telescope Images