Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes

A Guardian article today on the forthcoming Ballet Russes exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum that doesn’t mention Tamara Karsavina!

Tamara Karsavina was the grace of the three graces (Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Olga Spessivtzeva) during the time of Diaghilev. Serge Lifar will tell you. He will also argue that Karsavina's name is inseparable from Diaghilev's (in his book, The Three Graces). I think I will faint if the Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929 exhibition doesn’t include a reference to her.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Vulture Funds (continued)

What is happening on the Vulture Funds front?

TheyWorkForYou.com quotes Harriet Harman in the House of Commons on Thursday:

“I appreciate my hon. Friend's support for the Bill. I share in that support, as do the Government and hon. Members from across the House. He will recognise that we need to make progress on that Bill and on the "vulture fund" Bill not only in this House, but in the House of Lords. The House of Lords does not have the same timetabling arrangements as this place and we do not have the same Government majority in the House of Lords. This is private Members' business, not Government business, so in order for progress to be made the Opposition need to ensure that they will not block it and will ensure that it can progress. This is really a question for the Opposition: will they withdraw their opposition so that these Bills can make progress?”

Political football but no time mentioned for the debate.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Vulture Funds

An article in The Independent today reports that David Cameron has hit a "glass ceiling" in support and needs to do more to convince liberal voters to back his rebranded Tory party. Ken Clarke, the shadow Business Secretary, reportedly told Andrew Marr: "So many seats have to change hands. We have got to get through the glass ceiling by winning over more liberals."

Well, they aren’t going to do it by blocking the Debt Relief Bill.

The Independent explains: "A landmark move to protect the world's poorest countries from debt sharks was blocked yesterday by a single Conservative MP during extraordinary scenes in the House of Commons. Vulture fund investment companies buy up defaulted third world debt and sue for immediate repayment. The Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill was designed to curb their activities, ensuring that creditors cannot pursue debt repayment beyond the level assessed as fair and sustainable by the World Bank.”

Who would want to block this legislation?

The Tories don’t want to tell us: “One lone voice piped up: "Object!" Three Conservatives were in the chamber – Christopher Chope, Andrew Robathan and Simon Burns – but it was not clear at the time who had intervened.”

Mr Chope?

Mr Chope told The Independent: "If you are concerned about this Bill making progress, you should be asking why the Government hasn't given it extra time. As far as today's proceedings are concerned, there's a big Government spin operation to shift the blame to other people."

If Hansard doesn’t keep a log of objectors, then it should.

But the bottom line is that if this Bill is not given the Royal Assent before the General Election, it won’t get through.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Reason, Fiction and Faith

Cognitive theorist, Steven Pinker, drew me to the RSA this lunch time. I was wooed by the title of the debate: “Reason, Fiction and Faith – Are any of the arguments for the existence of God any good?” as well as the chance to see a fellow Romantic in the flesh. However, it wasn’t Steven who was doing the talking. He was there to give his wife, the philosopher and novelist Rebecca Goldstein, a boost by sharing a platform with her and acting as her interviewer. A powerful partnership.

But it was by no means disappointing to listen to Rebecca (with Steven at her side). I was particularly interested in the way she described Plato’s influence on her work. She went as far as to say: “I write novels and short stories he would approve of. He is the father figure whose approval I want.” In the Q&A after the 35 minute interview, I asked her whether she saw Plato as her superego or as her muse. If she answered superego, then I would have wondered where her inspiration came from. If she answered muse, then I would have been inclined to alter my understanding of the role of the muse: not only called upon to inspire, but also to grant approval. Her answer was “both” so, in my understanding, the literary and psychoanalytic definitions remain distinct friends.

Other revelations Rebecca made on her insight into her own creative process included the reflection, “some issue compels me to write” alongside eulogistic anecdotes about how Plato awakened her when she was a girl. She made a valid criticism of Gertrude Stein: "Who wants to read Gertrude Stein? Fiction should be about enchantment." And she laid into Kingsley Amis: “I am not motivated by posers. I want to present characters for whom this is a life and death struggle”. Amen.

As for religion, Rebecca said it was much more than just belief. She said that, for her, religion was wrapped up in questions of self-identity, group identification, loyalty to a community and loyalty to historical narratives. She said she saw parallels within the academic world to the religious community in terms of its hierarchal structure. For example, a professor and his “disciples”; graduate students who hang on his every word, changing their opinion whenever he changes his. I can understand why an American academic might look to religion for examples of just about any working structure. Religion is so much more dominant in the US and is related to differently. In the UK, for instance, we can look to the monarchy for hierarchal parallels.

Then there was her argument that romantic delusion takes on from religious delusion. I am currently critical of clichés like “sex was her religion” or “romanticism was his religion”. It’s not really helpful to say, for instance, that “science is Dawkins’s religion”. It clearly isn’t or he wouldn’t attend an Anglican Church services.

I thought Rebecca’s observation that “philosophers are seen as heretics” was more interesting as it reminded me of Jonathan Sacks and his desertion of philosophy.

It was Steven, however, who made me rethink my attitude towards agnosticism’s present status as the comic fool. He retold a joke about how a Jewish couple consulted an agnostic chaplain for advice about their crumbling marriage. The husband goes to see the agnostic chaplain first. The chaplain listens to his point of view and his complaints about his wife. When the husband has finished his story, the chaplain says, “You know what, you’re right”. Then the wife comes to see him and he listens to her take on the situation. When she’s finished, he says to her, “You know what, you’re right.” The agnostic chaplain’s wife has been hiding in the wings and has heard the whole thing. She confronts her husband and says: “How can you say that?! How can you tell them they are both right? They can’t both be right!” And the agnostic chaplain says to her; “You know what, you’re right.”

I thought that was funny. Humour is a great peacemaker.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Equality Bill

The clergymen getting all hot under the collar over the fantastic events in the House of Lords yesterday should loosen up.

The amendment to the Equality Bill, which would enable gay couples to celebrate their partnership in a consenting religious place of worship, is a permissive piece of legislation. It will allow Churches and other religious groups the liberty to choose. The progress will be welcomed by the Quakers, the Liberal Jews and the Unitarians whose organisations already bless civil partnerships and want the freedom to be able to bless them in their places of worship. It’s a question of religious freedom, not enforcement, and there are still many legal issues to be addressed if the amendment forms part of the final Bill.

So, reading the front page of the Telegraph today that “clergymen could be sued if they refuse to carry out homosexual marriages in church” one wonders how the common good in this world might be furthered if traditionalists stopped knee jerking and started thinking.