There’s always plenty to learn from the Daily Mail. Today’s insight (which I owe to a Twitter tipoff from @mslorriehearts) is that now that the indulgence of Xmas is over, we have to reinscribe cultural scripts of femininity. Women may have eaten food over the festive period, and this makes them flabby and overweight. At any moment their husband or boyfriend, or any man they meet in their ordinary lives, might want to sustain an erection at the mere sight of them, so it’s important to lose those extra pounds and get straight back onto the shelf as a desirable little physical commodity that red-blooded men can take down and consume whenever they fancy.
I wish I were exaggerating. The married couple pictured here, the subject of an article in the ‘Femail’ section of the Daily Mail website, are Samantha and Pascal. Pascal says that he will divorce his wife if she becomes ‘fat’. The article, allegedly written by the woman, charts a terrifically cynical course through fake sympathy to a reinscription of the rightness of excessive dieting to the point of endangering health. It reveals a lot about the ideological coding of our sexual image of women and that of children. Continue reading →
As a way of filling out the picture of what the Tories mean by the Big Society, Francis Maude proposes that we should be prompted to give to charity when we withdraw cash from a hole in the wall, fill in an official form, or win the lottery. The majority of commentators on the Guardian website seem to be demonstrating their excellent common sense. ‘Charitable giving should not replace taxation’ is the popular view, with which of course I agree. But the general context of charitable giving is more complex than that. Continue reading →
Wilhelm Humboldt, founder of the modern research-university model
An interesting New York Review of Books piece on three books on the modern British and American university – two academic studies and one five-year plan by HEFCE, the quango responsible for holding the British university system in a headlock over a vat of hot oil – analyzes the causal links between the modern bureaucratization of higher education and some brainy schemes hatched by American management consultancy firms from the first Bush era onwards. It adds a dimension to the familiar narrative of capital’s Anschluss of higher education and encourages us to reflect more intelligently and honestly on the cause of the current malaise, which we often blame too easily on government. Continue reading →
Zoë Williams’s Guardian piece is a nice analysis of the connexion between desire, self-belief, and consumerism. She wonders why Stella English won the Apprentice simply by insisting that she desired it more than her rival.
OK, maybe at a stretch business is different from other jobs. Business, politics, alternative medicine: there are fields in which self-belief is indivisible from talent, in which there’s no such thing as a gift, there’s only a will. But even on MasterChef and Come Dine With Me, even on Strictly Come Dancing, passion is the mantra. What happened to just being good at something?
We should turn this question round and ask instead ‘what is the mode of being that capitalism inculcates in its participants?’ Continue reading →
Vince Cable has been caught on tape by some extremely disreputable right-wing journalists. His claim that his resignation — which might come sooner now than he’d intended — could bring down he government has rightly been ridiculed, but it isn’t so very far from the fantasies of many journalists and interested citizens.
We tend to think that embarrassing government ministers, or otherwise making their lives uncomfortable, is an important part of our democracy. This principle is the basis of the BBC’s interrogative style. John Humphrys, Jeremy Paxman and the like consider that they are giving politicians a hard time when they ask pointed questions. When Wikileaks shares embarrassing secrets from those in power, the left is excited by the very fact of the discomfort it causes politicians (the fact that the ‘secrets’ are already well known is immaterial). Continue reading →
The latest UKuncut protests have been going on this afternoon, closing Topshops and other malfeasants in 50 or so cities across the UK. The liberal left is of course entirely supportive both in print and in person. On the first weekend in December even Polly Toynbee turned up to protest at Topshop for the first time, and wrote approvingly of the quality of the targeting in the Guardian a few days later. Continue reading →
Review of Gillen D’Arcy Wood, Romanticism and Musical Culture in Britain: Virtue and Virtuosity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010). Published in the Times Literary Supplement, 17 December 2010, p. 32.
Franz Liszt attributed his poor British reception to a critical ‘aristocracy of mediocrity’ that despised his virtuosic display on a point of moral as well as aesthetic principle, and he was not wholly wrong. The British certainly considered virtuosity – the summum malum of that already problematic arena, musical activity – troublingly effeminate and cosmopolitan, liable to corrupt the upright: in short, and in a decidedly negative sense, virtuosity was often seen as ‘foreign’. We flatter ourselves, British or not, that we can see through such crude xenophobia these days, and recent scholarly reconfigurations of the status of the virtuoso in industrial bourgeois culture, to which Gillen D’Arcy Wood’s book makes an original contribution, have tended to grant the figure of the virtuoso a less marginalized place in cultural history. Continue reading →
Google’s latest search gizmo, the Google Books Ngram Viewer, allows users to make statistical graphs of word usage in books from its digitized collection between 1500 and 2008. The metadata attached to Google Books – the publication year and other things (including the text of the books themselves) is unreliable, as this study shows, but with that caveat in mind the scholarly and teaching potential of the new Ngram Viewer isn’t negligible.
I inputted some simple words related to sexuality to see what came up. Of course scholars in the humanities, who are aware of the work of Michel Foucault, know that sexuality is a medical invention of the late nineteenth century, so the appearance of this graph, which shows instances of the words homosexual(ity), bisexual(ity), heterosexual(ity), and sexuality itself between 1700 and 2008 isn’t surprising.
Google Ngram of sexuality words. Click for full size image.
Professor Mark Blyth has an excellent video explaining how Osborne’s (and everyone else’s) ‘logic’ of the need for austerity conceals the truth that everyone knows but non-economists can’t properly articulate: the tory boot is being stamped in the face of the poor, forever.
The Browne report and its (modified) adoption by the coalition government last week, as ugly as they are as events in the history of the university, are not the ideological revolution that most critics have assumed them to be: they are only the latest symptom of a decades-long reconfiguration of the economic, political, and cultural space occupied by universities – the best currently available Thatcherite vision of higher education, but nothing essentially new. It is precisely because it is little more than the obscene expression of ideas already embedded in government attitudes to the sector and the sector’s own craven and inert behaviour in the face of government that the coalition found it possible to apply the bulk of Browne’s recommendations (Lib Dem claims for progressiveness notwithstanding).