Archive | November, 2013


28 Nov



Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling


               Great Britain during the Victorian era was the light of civilization, the hearth of industry and as a consequence was at a stage of development that far exceeded that of its continental neighbors. A country that was crisscrossed by canals, railways and metalled roads, where urban conurbations had sprung from rural hamlets and where a revolution had taken place in sanitation that’d introduced a populous to clean running water, sewer systems and even soap. Medieval London had been all but demolished and a steam-driven Babylon had emerged in its place; a state of the art metropolis, the envy of the civilized world. Given England’s position at the forefront of technological advancement it was said that human kind had never before witnessed such advances in the fields of science, industry and learning. Britain was a world of realized science fiction, and with the advent of industry, mechanization and commercial domination literally crushed all other nations in its path in pursuit of empire. That being so it’s hardly surprising that the British regarded themselves as superior and that the glorious work they’d been given was divinely endowed. Is it any wonder then that there was a sense of superiority? Rudyard Kipling, an author, poet and literary super-star of his age, celebrated through his work the very premise of empire. His descriptions, stories, and poetry allowed for a glimpse into the far-flung corners of Queen Victoria’s extended kingdom His was a voice that was adored by a people who were convinced of their own preeminence and who earnestly believed that all foreigners were inferior and therefore worthy of British contempt. That being said when we review Kipling’s work from the retrospective pedestal of an illuminated twenty-first century, it’s hard not to wince when reading it. His work is Anglophilic, filled with racist and cultural slurs and steeped in xenophobic prose. This being the perceived truth, Kipling has gone out of fashion and his empirical viewpoints discarded by all but those on the distant right of the political spectrum. The question remains though, is that really the case? Was Kipling such a heinous figure or where his writings merely representative of a moment in time that we today find hard to comprehend, or was he saying something else? By discovering his poem Gunga Din through the medium of historical and formalist critic we’ll see that Kipling was merely a writer expounding a new world view. Rather than racist, the views he expressed, in my opinion, although convoluted are easier to understand for the modern reader when one walks a mile in the shoes of a Victorian Britain. In point of fact, the poem is an enlightened piece of work and sorely misread and Kipling himself misconstrued by his contemporary critics.

               Gunga Din is a fireside soldier’s tale that first appeared bundled in Kipling’s Barrack Room Ballads, a collection of poems and songs that were representative of Britain’s armed forces and their stations of duty around the globe that appeared in print in 1892. The British Empire covered very nearly a third of the globe and encompassed one half of the world’s population at that time. The poem is a revelation of a soldier who has served in India and who under the duress of battles has come to understand and respect an Indian native. The poem describes the hardships of campaign, the arduousness of the country and the thousand difficulties with which he was confronted. His reflection reveals and affinity with a man by the name of Gunga Din a water carrier, “a bishti”, belonging to the lowest caste whose job it was to fetch and carry water for the troops. The man is beggarly and naked but for a loin cloth naked, whose skin is tanned and leathered, his face worn. He’s cursed and beaten and sorely abused by the British troops and must, upon their whim, perform their will. Despite the circumstance or danger he’s ordered to fetch and carry water. No sooner has he carried one load then he must return for the next, and so his hours are spent in continual industry while his betters, the British, lounge around and complain about the heat. The nature of the British expedition is of course to subdue and conquer the natives and so the narrator is frequently in battle. He tells of the dangers they were forced to endure and how death was ever-present and yet alongside death there was another who stood closed by; Gunga Din. The Indian water carrier was never far from the front line and endured the same withering fire the soldiers did, experienced the same dangers. During the heat and smoke of battle the soldiers would call for fresh cartridges to fill their empty ammunition pouches and also for Gunga Din to replenish their canteens. Din as required would do their bidding and alongside his task of water carrying would also aid the wounded, running to where they lay despite the bullets that splashed the ground around him. The story teller praises the Indian native for his bravery, how if it wasn’t for Din he would have been dead. Having fallen to enemy fire he is carried from the field and laid on a stretcher and tended by the Indian who whilst busied in his task of rescuing the soldier is shot dead. The soldier’s admiration for the water carrier is unbounded as the last lines of the poem state:

“Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”

               So who were Gunga Din and his ilk? It wasn’t uncommon for Indian natives to be employed by the Army in menial tasks, in fact Indians from higher castes were even utilized in regiments composed primarily of Indian soldiers and led by British officers. The association between the common soldier and the Indians would have been quotidian, as far as logistics and the preparation of the necessities such as cooking and cleaning were concerned, and so there would have been constant contact between the colonial oppressors and the indigenous population. Their experiences are expressed in Kipling’s poem and the descriptions although harsh are those of alien white men in a foreign land where everything and everybody is different from that to which they are accustomed. Gunga din is consequently abused at the hands of the Imperialist invaders.

“You limpin’ lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din!
“Hi! Slippy hitherao!
“Water, get it! Panee lao
“You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din.”

               There is a clear shift in nineteenth century Victorian values when one considers the spirit of abolition in the early part of the century that are replaced in the later, with the sense of empire that promotes the British as a super-race. This is the where the confusion arises. What changed and how did a people who were fervently for the rights of the subjugated become the subjugators? Some blame the spread of Empire with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859, others the economic malaise of the later part of the century. Britain despite its industry found itself in an economical down turn due to the surplus of manufactured goods and limited markets in which you sell them. A shift in policy from mercantilism to free trade would almost certainly have put financial pressure on Britain, as now it was possible for other markets to thrive. It’s easy to see how foreign goods coming ashore in England and tales of far-flung empire could have created a sense of xenophobia and self-righteous superiority. One only has to take the very modern example of Chinese goods flooding the United States today to understand the perceptions of Victorian Britains.

               Kipling is decried by modern critics for his overtly racist descriptions of Gunga Din, his lyrical lines of subjugation; but is that fair? Kipling goes out of his way within the lines of the poem to describe the torments and pains of the “bishti,” of how the oppression of Indians is felt to be quite ordinary by the British soldiers. Kipling within the poem points out the qualities of what is essentially a fellow-man who, despite his color, is a human as they. He pays the Indian the metaphorical compliment, despite his “brick-dust” colored exterior, of being “white inside.”

“An’ for all ‘is dirty ‘ide
‘E was white, clear white, inside
When ‘e went to tend the wounded under fire!”

               The man who is lower than the muck on their shoes performs the actions of a lion, is a brave as any uniformed soldier of the queen and therefore worthy of poetical praise. Kipling on the contrary, I feel, is highlighting the idiocy of racist stereotypes and instead offers an image of humanity rather than one of discrimination. Yes, he demonstrates racism, and yes he offers a portrait of British callousness, but it’s the ignorance that is shown to be ridiculous. Gunga Din is a brave soldier, a man of empathy and integrity, and possessed of all the virtues the English espoused for themselves. Having spent time in India in his youth, Kipling was acquainted with India and the Indians and therefore wrote from a position of firsthand experience. His are the words of a man who’s been and seen rather than one who’s heard and gossiped.

                Kipling eulogizes Gunga Din and that’s why, despite its post-colonial undertone, the poem survives today. Critics rather than judging his words as monochromatic should realize that in order to understand it, they have to adopt a Victorian mindset. To judge anybody from a position of historical retrospect is naive and inevitably flawed. Gunga Din is still read because its sympathies stand in two camps; one that demonstrates racial ignorance, the other which promotes the institution of common humanity and global consciousness. Although later works do appear to show Kipling’s true tendencies we also know that he wrote for an audience. Kipling wrote crowd-pleasers, that which he knew his readership wanted to hear. Gungs Din should be digested as a historical piece that identifies a duality of attitudes and subsequently is more than worthy of a modern audience and positive criticism. 




27 Nov


They walk among us.

Wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself, the capacity of man to fathom the depths of stupidity and ignorance is nothing but awesome in its non vox-pop sense.

School is out so I amble across the road to get something to eat. Loads of people; the usual university crowd on bikes, skateboards, hallucinogens and psylocibes.  I see a kid sitting in an electric cart that states in bold letters emblazoned across its sides that the university supports the inclusion of disabled people in society – very nice of them – and will facilitate them whatever it takes, or words to that effect. In short it’s a vehicle to transport less mobile people to wherever their destination on the campus may be. Good idea me thinks. Who wants to struggle on crutches or in a wheel chair across the fifty-first state that is the university campus?

I spot a man in a wheel chair, possibly a vet, with no legs. Judging by the size of his arms he’s been wheelchair bound for some time as his biceps fairly rip from his shirt. I watched as he pushed himself up to the cart and confronted the driver with nothing more than a smile.

“Hows it going?” Asks the man in the chair

“Ok,” says the youth

“Can you give me a lift? I have to be at such and such a building?”

“Do you have a pass?” Asks the moron.

The man in the wheel chair smiles ironically and points to where his legs should be.

“You need a pass,” says shit-for-brains.

Again the man waves to his legs and flashes his student identity card for effect.

Nothing doing. The wanker in the golf cart demands to see the correct paper work. “Show me ze papers, Ja! Sieg-bloody-Heil.

The poor bloke of course doesn’t have a pass, but why the hell does he need one? For Fucks Sake what would it cost to throw the cripple in the back of the cart, nip across the road and deliver him to wherever?

Clearly, despite the fact that the university is a seat of higher learning, common sense isn’t on the curriculum.

They walk among us. I see them everywhere.


25 Nov




One may be forgiven for mistaking Keats’s poem for an allegory on drink and hallucinogenic substances; the desperate cries of an addict – when one reads between the lines – wishing he could escape his own unfortunate terminal situation. Through alcohol and opiates his cares, he hopes will, be riven and he’ll finally be at one with the natural world. Ode to a Nightingale is in fact a pathetic fallacy; an allusion to the intoxication of nature replete with leafy bowers and rich with the scent of eglantine.

His pen focusses on the sounds of nature, the call of the wild if you will. He senses that there’s more to the world than just the physical and that by accessing it he’ll be able to experience a very different, care-free reality. Unlike Tennyson who describes nature as red in tooth and claw Keats, being the Romantic that he was, professes the juxtaposition that nature is a harmonious paradise.

The beauty of the poem is the aerial flight that one experiences whilst reading it. Keats allows the reader to travel with him across the hills and valleys, streams and rivers, forests and fields, thanks to his intense representation. The experience, although cerebral, is a literary virtual reality where one senses and participates with nature through his words. That he’s able to generate such a brilliant splash of imagination is the true strength of his writing and the reason for the enduring popularity of the verse.

The poem is an idyllic representation of nature engendering clean crisp imagery, and an appreciation of the great outdoors. Who doesn’t want to hear bird song, to appreciate verdant grasslands and lush forests? The world we live in, as we often fail to recognize, is not for private gain but for all and is the commonwealth of man. Property is theft and land ownership and the natural resources that go with it belong to the people of the world and not to corporations. When we see oil spewing from oil rigs in the Gulf decimating sea life and killing the environment for years to come, then it’s hard to picture a nightingale singing in a forest. The hypocrisy of literary appreciation versus reality is profound. How can one profess to enjoy romantic imagery and not be offended by the ecological nightmare that’s being committed on our behalf? Keats words are surely the opiate of the masses, the alcohol he so desires within his stanzas, the mind blurring elixir that makes the reader forget the relevance of environmental stewardship. Maybe the poem is prophetic and although the birdsong has endured for all time, perhaps it’s time as a commodity that we’re running short of? The irony is that when the last nightingale has sung we’ll still have Keats!



21 Nov


(Or in Nunn’s case, the eye’s the thing)


A Comparison between William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night and Trevor Nunn’s film production of the same name. In particular Act 1, Scene 3 and the exchange between Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Ague-Cheek.




               The Hollywood revisionists, in my opinion, would have us, the paying-public, believe that Shakespeare originally wrote for what they ignorantly insist were uneducated audiences; the plays performed for the working people of London, the loiterers, bed-pressers and bear-baiters of Southwark and their no-betters, the hereditary in-bred gentry. Time and again we’re served images of ill-dressed drunkards whoring and snoring their way through what we today would consider classic performances. Such is the nostalgia for Shakespeare’s plays that the Globe Theatre has been rebuilt in London close to its original site and where, during the season, they’re performed for paying tourists. We know that the streets of London weren’t as Richard Whittington imagined paved with gold and that to see London was to smell it, but it would appear that the revised history that we’re offered is exactly that, the majority of factual information and contemporary language cut to the screen editors floor or quietly moldering on what used to pass for library shelves. Shakespeare’s language has been slashed and burned, unnecessarily embellished, rewritten and offered in brilliant Technicolor to appease the contemporary market. Although Renaissance audiences would be wowed by the spectacle that is film, they’d be less impressed with that which we hold to be possibly the most beautiful prose ever written in the English language as sadly they’re missing. According to Sean Coughlan, a journalist writing for the B.B.C., in his article on current educational standards of British youth under a common core curriculum, England is now 22nd in the world out of the leading 24 nations in literacy. A sad claim indeed and only bettered by their American cousins who were 24th. Education during the time of Elizabeth was highly valued and under the grammar school system, children were offered Latin, Greek and French. Although there was more emphasis on reading than on writing due to the cost of materials the average student was no slouch and therefore the language of Shakespeare would not have been such a stretch of cerebral elasticity as it sometimes appears to be to us today. By comparing the written play of Twelfth Night with a film bearing the same name it’s possible to discern where language has given way to style and art, and where entertainment is enjoyed more by the eyes than the ears. The film by Trevor Nunn does the original play little justice but is a cornucopia of sound and color and is a pleasant way to while away 134 minutes “for want of other idleness.”(1.5.63)

               Nunn’s production is rich in costume, sound, and visual brilliance. The actors are world class and clearly no expense has been spared. In fact the only thing that seems to have been spared is the language. Act 1, scene 3 is our introduction to the characters of Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Ague-Cheek, two of Shakespeare’s’ most amusing characters. Sir Toby is, as his title suggests, a member of the gentry and cousin to one of the plays main protagonists, the Lady Olivia.  Toby is a wit, with charm and grace whose faults are many and whose drunkenness is profound. For whatever reason we discover him under the care of his cousin, snoring in her garden, drunk from the previous evenings libations. Nunn portrays him in the scene as an inebriate still holding a bottle and who, due to the late hour he’s kept, has been locked out of the house and forced to sleep outside. The original text is not adhered to and Nunn opts to skip to line 14 of the original dialogue and instead of Belch being the first to speak we’re introduced to Maria, a ladies maid. In the authentic text Belch utters the immortal words, “I am sure that cares and enemy to life,” (1.3.2) no doubt performed in an intoxicated manner to which Maria replies, “By my troth Sir Toby, you must come in of nights.”(1.3.3) Shakespeare shows in words what Nunn chooses to portray. The film audience has to visually digest the fact that Belch is a drunk by the proffered images, where as our Shakespearian seat-warmers are offered a man staggering onto the stage waving a bottle and ranting. Nunn’s portrayal is flaccid and does little to inject action or comedic effect whereas Belch, as a Falstaffian figure dominating the stage, would’ve been hilarious. Maria’s indictment is considered to be important enough to be included however, not until later in the scene, towards its end, and then spoken by Sir Toby to Sir Andrew. Nunn decides to negate the humorous exchange between Maria and Sir Toby and the rich language steeped in metaphor and double entendre is completely negated. One has to ask oneself, why? The deleted exchange, although recognizable as modern English, is rich because of its Elizabethan qualities. Clever and witty, “l will confine no fitter than I am. These clothes are good enough to drink in.”(1.3.10) These utterances are complete, drunken, rubbish but they’re funny. Nunn instead of showing the dulled wits of a sharp man simply shows the figure of a drunk being hauled off on the shoulders of two servants.

               Enter Sir Andrew Ague-Cheek a man as thick as two-short-planks with the intellectual edge of a stick of butter; a comic portrayal of the upper class who, despite their airs and graces, are portrayed as idiots. Quite a brave move by Shakespeare considering the censorship of the Master-of- Revels but clearly one he got away with the. The administrator was probably in on the joke and equally aware of their betters not being so much better? Sir Andrew is a moneyed and titled idiot, the buffoon in the comic duo, a coupling of the straight and funny man that we’ve seen time and again in the likes of Laurel and Hardy and such. Although Sir Andrew is a fool, he has money and this is why Belch plays him like a viol-de-gamboys. In the original text Toby describes the attributes of Sir Andrew casting him “as tall a man as any’s in Illyria” (1.3.20) and is quickly rebutted by the maid Maria. The exchange is quick and witty and the characters are very swiftly defined. The original text is brisk, sharp and cutting but in Nunn’s production it’s completely ignored and the very best is parsed to the point of non-existence. Instead we are to rely on back ground music, the cheap giggles of bit part actresses and facial expression. In this aspect the film is more of a movie than a talkie and Nunn neglects to flesh out his characters. The façade of Shakespeare’s creation is as deep as table-spilt coffee and such a waste of comic genius. Again why? Why would the director dispense with over twenty lines of dialogue in favor of facial expression? Could it be true that a picture paints a thousand words or does Nunn decide not to tax his audience? The thing with Shakespeare is that it takes a little effort, as do most things worth having. Knowledge of Shakespeare requires historical research, a sense of the historical period, and also to have actually read the plays and discovered the language. Clearly Nunn’s ideal wasn’t to achieve celluloid prowess but to produce a product. There again, wasn’t that what Shakespeare was also trying to do? We know that in the enclosed spaces of the Black Friars Shakespeare added lighting and music to his performances but his plays were performed as were. Even in a more intimate setting where theatrics were possible the plays were still true to themselves. Unfortunately in Nunn’s production we’re given spectacle and not much else.

               Maria, the ladies maid and admirer of Sir Toby in the original copy has an exchange with Sir Andrew that is lyrically composed and worthy of a second listen. Her wit is acute and her jests acerbic, against which our errant Knight has little chance. Performed on the stage in front of an audience the exchange would’ve been extremely amusing. In Nunn’s production it’s all but nonexistent. The lines are completely negated and the scene is as barren as the jests at the end of Maria’s fingers. In the original it helps to prove what a fool Sir Andrew is but in the film we’re once again exposed to very little of the original. An Elizabethan audience would no doubt have delighted in the verbal duel and loved the depth of character portrayal. Any experience, in my opinion, at a theatre is so much more profound than a viewing. The sights and the sounds, the atmosphere, all help to make theatre a rich spectacle. Rather than the brain lapsing into Theta and Delta, whilst being stimulated by popcorn and cola, the mind through live performance flourishes in the Alpha. This is the obvious difference between Nunn’s confection and Shakespeare’s sustenance.

               Sir Toby’s final exchange with Sir Andrew where they discuss his dancing ability and the Knight’s confession that he is “a fellow of the strangest mind” (1.2.109) is lost in the production. Nunn chooses instead to display and idiotic dance sequence that is neither amusing nor bright; a parody of a mad dance performed by a fool rather than an exchange of minds in a conflict of adept brilliance. The dance would probably have been more fitting for the stage and the exchange better for the film, and yet that isn’t the case.

               The film although it adds something to the play, takes from it so much more than it gives. The colorful language, depth of meaning and inside jokes are forfeited for visual opulence. When one reads a book it engenders thought and creates and individual reality whereas film offers generic space where one is forced to endure the imagination of another. How often have we heard that the book was so much better than the film? In Nunn’s reappraisal of Shakespeare the director loses hands down. If one where to see the film without having read the play, or watched it merely without truly understanding it, then one would probably come away thinking that they’d just witnessed a period drama rather than enjoying a timeless piece from a dramatic historical period. The reason we remember the Renaissance is not because of film directors but instead thanks to writers such as Shakespeare and Johnson. Henry V was all but forgotten and yet thanks to Bill is now perceived as one of the most English of English kings despite his military incompetence and near defeat at Agincourt. On the other hand, we the British love an underdog as evidenced by our victory at Dunkirk and Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade!

               Nunn has taken a mainstream piece and sidelined it into something cheery and colorful. Thankfully the play will be remembered for itself and not for the inept, portrayal of face making actors who have so few lines they couldn’t help but con them well. When one compares Nunn’s cinematic production with that of Kenneth Branagh’s we see a world of difference in portrayal. Branagh’s play is austere and all the action unlike Nunn’s travelogue, takes place on one set. The costumes are basic, as is the stage, but it’s a worthy performance in that unlike Nunn’s is truer to the original text. In Branagh’s Twelfth Night, although in very little else he’s produced in my opinion, he offers something memorable, a play within a film. Nunn offers a distraction.



19 Nov




Ozymandias wasn’t written in a burgeoning time of empire, but after the French revolution and more importantly after the defeat of the revolutionary French by the British at Waterloo in 1815. In an age of singular innovation, Britain was the workplace of the world, the mother, literally, of invention and the epitome of national hubris. The sun of the late 19th and early 20th centuries never set on Queen Victoria’s estate and Britain was supposedly forever. British culture was the most exulted the world had ever seen, or was it?

The statue of Shelley’s Ozymandias lies buried in the sands of some distant land. Crushed and forgotten the debris lays half buried in what are clearly the sands of time. The once prominent dominions of the great leader now destroyed and forgotten, the only indication that ever there was empire is the inscription on the pedestal. My name is Ozymandias king of kings: Look on my works you mighty and despair. Despite his forlorn state, the cruel sneer of command still plays on the decapitated lips of a once great but now forgotten king. How the mighty are fallen, and that’s exactly what the poem expresses.

Post colonialism is aptly applied in that it shows us that nothing is forever. Empires come and go and although they may leave a stain in some corner of a foreign field their demise is nothing but predictable. Who hasn’t held power over the centuries and who no longer has it? Certainly there are countries such as Britain where there are still those who cling to the old adage of empire, retrospective optimists of an era when the country was both great in name and state; now however, much to their chagrin, not so much.

Quotidian media announces ad nauseam the rise of China and how China, unlike our broken king, is surmounting the world stage and carving a pedestal of its own. What people forget is that when Italy was a collection of city states and the Renaissance hadn’t even been considered, China was already a power to behold. Shelley’s lesson proclaims that we live in a cyclical world where that which once was old is once again new and vice versa. China will rise again but it’s unlikely that our statue in the antique land will do the same. Shelley’s poem is a warning, a timeless epitaph to those who believe that the centuries will not destroy nor the years hold them accountable. The forlorn hope that somehow one will escape the ravages of time will, just as the Titanic and our forgotten king, slip silently beneath the waves and wind driven deserts. The lesson of post colonialism is exactly that, a warning against overt hubris and a keen lesson to those blind to change.

Viva La Revolucion!


18 Nov




The proverbial silence of a tree falling in a forest is heard within the realm of eco-criticism. Nature, incontrovertibly,  is the genisis of all human experience and the epitomy of awareness as everything else is manufactured and therfore construct. Whether its culture or politics none would exist if it weren’t for mother nature. Consider the juxtaposition of the third world and its crushing poverty as a natural phenomenon, when in reality material status and economic wealth aren’t based on nature but on man. Therefore, nature must be distinguished separately from culture and accepted as an omnipotent entity that affects all life wherever it’s to be found; the underlying importance of our world, our environment, and its place within literary criticism.

Nature is often regarded as either that which is beyond parity and god given or the cause of disaster and human demise. It’s the idea of nature in a cultural or political representation that this form of criticism attempts to analyze; the relationship between man and nature and its discovery or lack thereof within the pages of literature. With the recent rise of environmental awareness and the politics that focus on anthropocentric causation, eco-criticism is rising steadily in popularity. The postmodern perception that a larger focus be placed on the natural world and our place in it as stewards is worthy, but one mustn’t forget that eco-criticism can also be used for political leverage in exactly the same way that literature has always upheld the propaganda de jour.

One only has to regard the literature and films that were promoted during World War II and compare them with the genre of novels that are gaining contemporary popularity. Book stores are filled with tales of environmental survival in a world that’s dying, or of humans attempting to survive in a wilderness of an apocalyptic zombie universe. The popularity of the Hunger Games novels and the government’s machinations regarding Agenda 21 could almost be considered predictive programming.

That symbiosis exists between eco-criticism and other forms of literary critique such as post-colonialism and even multiculturalism is obvious, and one can very easily see how they might be combined. The rape and plunder of lands by foreign powers for natural resources, the dispersal of populations, the irrevocable damage caused by industry and warfare can all be reconciled within eco- criticism. One mustn’t think that it’s just about the environment or the ponderings of Victorian poets, but rather nature’s effect on us and us on it, and how that’s represented in the written word. When Plato wrote about Atlantis I’m sure that it wasn’t eco-criticism that he had on his mind, but in our modern age of alleged rising sea levels it could be construed that the man was a visionary!


16 Nov


  I was told whilst growing up that the sun never set on the British Empire and that the Union Jack, the flag of Empire, never stood in the shade. My father would proudly, as a proponent and veteran of English colonialism, display his old school atlas where the countries shaded pinkish-red signified Britain’s dominance over the globe and her dominions. At one point in time the Britain controlled over a quarter of the world’s population, or rather it raped and pillaged, usurped and stole, misused and maltreated a significant portion of the earth. But isn’t that what colonies are for? Isn’t the colony supposed to support the motherland with the riches it doesn’t itself possess? I’ve since come to understand that the sun never set on the Empire because God would never have trusted the English in the dark!

               Post colonialism is such an eclectic lens through which to view literature. How does one determine who the colonizer is and whom the colonist? Take the English for example. Much as America loves to see itself as a melting pot, Britain could make an equal claim, the evidence for which is to be found in our literature. The influence of foreign invaders has shaped modern Britain, the language we speak and the way we do things; from the Anglo Saxons and Beowulf, through the Romans and Tacitus, to the Normans and the Doomsday Chronicles. The English language of yore is not what we’d understand as English today. Try to read Chaucer in Middle English and see how far you get without a little study; for that matter attempt Shakespeare and try to understand that which is written in apparently modern English from just a few hundred years ago.

               Post-colonialism attempts, via literature, to understand and recognize the effects of the hybridization of cultures through the imposition of foreign will and customs on indigenous populations. The locals resist, accept or succumb and therefore it’s the confluence of literary style that’s accepted, included or even ignored that is the lens of post-colonialism. Elements and ideas that came from an exchange of cultural fluids that are apparent in the works of the likes of Rudyard Kipling and, dare I say, Zane Grey. After all, wasn’t there a subjugation of indigenous peoples here in the Americas as well? Not just by the British on the neo-British colonists but of the post-colonial Americans on the American Indians?

               One of the many things to come out of colonialism was the mutation of national identity into multiculturalism where that which once was strange infuses with the familiar; where boarder lines are clearly defined and yet strangely blurred around the edges, an apparent enriching of one culture through another or perhaps the loss thereof. It’s common enough to hear of the dilutions of populations due to immigration, how loss of color, creed, tradition and home values are to blame on such-and-such a population. On the other hand the new population will see a change in their own traditions and customs and view it similarly as either a benefit or detriment. This is the lens of multiculturalism, the changes and similarities that are reflected within literature. The adoption or rejection of dissimilar styles that’s recognizable in contemporary writing. Whether it’s Quentin Crisp in New York or Salman Rushdie in Britain multiculturalism is apparent in attitude, tradition, style and politic. Of all the critical lenses multiculturalism and post-colonial may just be the broadest.


15 Nov


The poem written by Wilfred Owen, is as relevant today in the twenty-first century as when it was written at the beginning of the twentieth century during the First World War of 1914-18. Young men dying and fighting for a political cause in a country they may have had difficulty finding on a map. The youth and the deluded giving their lives for those age weary courtesans patriotism and freedom; flippant misconceptions dispersed today by centrally controlled media outlets to ensure cognitive dissonance. The serving men and women whom we view, or rather the media would have us perceive, as our bravest and best, how without whom our freedoms would be non-existent. Given that our freedoms and rights are already enshrined I offer this syllogism. If our soldiers are heroes then they’re fighting wars of integrity, defending the sovereignty of the nation? There must be armies massing on the Mexican border or perhaps in the North on the Canadian? There must be an imminent possibility of invasion? This of course is not the case and our troops are involved in operations far from American shores. Literature shows us that in the main the protagonist is the hero and the antagonist the villain. In the wars of the twenty first century the coalition-of- the-willing have fought for antagonistic policies and therefore I say that our troops aren’t heroes but human beings; pawns in a political meat grinder of which they’ve no control. Why would a sane nation send its bravest and best when are prisons are filled with our least desirable and our governments with even less reputable characters?

Owen proffers a view of war that is anything but glorious. There are no resounding military bands, shiny medals or flag waving crowds, there’s simply, mud, gas and oblivion. Vain glorious ideology swept away by the omnipotence of death. When Owen wrote this he was recovering in hospital and yet the image he shows us is, as if he was there. Perhaps he was, perhaps this is a true recollection and if so, we see how it’s engrained in paper and how it endures time. His imagery of men drowning in a sea of mustard gas, of a man being burnt alive by the effects of gas inhalation is both horrific and poignant. Given that the centenary remembrance of the First World War is next year then Owen reminds us that nothing much has changed. The First World War which was known as the war to end all wars was clearly just another conflict in a history of conflicts that hasn’t yet run its course. History has taught us that the war of Owen’s youth was empirical in nature just as history will show that the wars of today are corporate and nation building in nature.

Owen offers ring-side views of what it truly means to be a soldier; the enduring fatigue, the continuous state of shock, the oblivious attitude to yet one more vista of horror. Their deafness to the 5-9’s as they whizz toward them with their murderous payload whilst their minds are focused on rest and a couple of days behind the lines. The panic, the stumbling, like old women bent double under their packs. Where are the recruiting posters, where are the recruiters in their smart uniforms who haunt the corridors of our high schools? Owen shows us none of these. The poem isn’t about men in war but rather a warning to those who’ve never experienced it. His is a voice of reason and experience in a world of hubris, bravado and utter madness. Owen makes it clear that death is forever and that a mouse-click doesn’t revitalize in a true combat situation. Poetry is meant to invoke, to carry a message or feeling; a recollection perhaps of a memory and that’s exactly what we perceive through his words. I’ve never fought in the trenches and yet, after reading the poem, feel as though I have.

Probably the most poignant part of the poem is the description of the gas casualty whom they’ve thrown on the cart in front of them. Is it an understanding of the wastage of war that Owen perceives or is it a gratitude that it’s the other man rather than himself who lies dying? Perhaps even indifference and resignation that if not him, then me? Owens words are evocative and resound from the page.

The realization that it’s not a sweet and honorable thing to die for one’s country is the undercurrent of comprehension. I believe that without this title Owen would have stated his case coherently to the point of reader understanding. The poet’s words should be read to our young people before they enlist. Unfortunately, when I joined the Army, as is true now, that wasn’t the case.


“There are hundreds who want to be soldiers, but there are millions who want to be civilians”

                                                                                                                                                           SUPPORT THE TROOPS – BRING THEM HOME.


11 Nov





A proposal of “non-forgettance”  for the forthcoming centenary of the First World War

        In the black and white whirl of news reels and historical film footage the First World War – the war to end all wars – or as it’s known in the popular vernacular the Great War, wends through our collective memory. Happy smiling Tommies bidding fond-fare-wells to loved ones and parents, to the strains of brass bands and the vocal largess of “It’s a long way to Tipperary” and “Roll out the Barrel,” before being bundled into France-bound trains. From the flinty promontory of hindsight we observe and safely muse, that in point of view of our own unstable society, a war to end all wars seems a little presumptuous. The war which devastated world population and in particular our own in Britain during the first quarter of the twentieth century is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary. That’s the cause of my concern; is it a celebration or an act of remembrance? The British Prime Minister David Cameron has already stated that it will run along the lines of the diamond Jubilee, in a speech he gave in October 2012 at the Imperial War Museum in London; a speech he used to announce that more than £50 million had been allocated for next year’s commemoration of the outbreak of the war. (Monday 11 November 2013; THE INDEPENDENT)

In every town and village throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom stands a memorial, a cenotaph of granite that lists and names the glorious dead. Men who gave their lives for King and country, who died so that we might repeat the same mistakes just forty short years later. Gulled into the mud and filth by patriotic fervor and misunderstood political maneuvering, men who’d lived the peace of the pre-war years where suddenly hurled into oblivion. The horror stories are rank, even though we’ve not necessarily heard them first hand from our grandfathers who refused to talk about the war due to the horror they witnessed. We do however remember the looks in their eyes as we climbed upon their knees as children or played with the medals that were so carelessly thrown into biscuit tins and ash trays. All they wanted to do was forget, so why should we remember?

Is it a celebration of valor and national sacrifice or is it simply stoking the fires of militarism? Not that the embers need tending given the current state of world peace. Marching bands and uniforms, the attraction of straight limbed youth parading through our high streets with their flags unfurled, patriotism dripping from their blood soaked colors. What would the doomed youth of the 1914- 1918 conflict say of a remembrance of centennial carnage, historical idiocy and incalculable loss?

On the first day of the Somme in 1916 Tommies, British soldiers, waited in the mire of water filled trenches for whistles to blow; the signal to go over the top. A barrage that’d lasted for over a week with the expense of millions of shells had finally come to an end. The great push Eastwards was about to take place and in a moment of utter madness the British were about to climb from their trenches and walk across no-man’s land, as they had been ordered, towards the German trenches. They’d been reassured that not a rat would be left alive after the horrendous hammering the enemy had received. Whistles undoubtedly blew and men would have cheered and clambered up wooden ladders into the expanse of land that separated the two protagonists. We know, as a matter of record, that the soldiers kicked footballs as they went. With complete confidence that theirs would be a total victory, they walked line-abreast towards the enemy.

The Germans who’d hidden in their deep underground shell-proof dugouts also heard the whistles and urged on by corporals and sergeants, rushed from their places of safety back into the world of mud and death. One can only imagine their horror as they set up their Maxim machine guns to repel the attackers and defend themselves at the sight of thousands of British soldiers coming towards them. The mechanical chatter of the guns must have come as a huge shock when first heard, and as their comrades fell around them the British must have felt deceived and betrayed. Twenty thousand men died on the first day of the Somme, the greatest loss of life ever incurred by the British Army in a single engagement. In total, a staggering 420,000 casualties would be sustained throughout the continuance of the campaign that would last four months. Eventually those in charge reversed their decision and the Army went back to the war of attrition. One has to wonder what it was that finally changed their minds? Was it the last soldier who died, the last hundred or the last thousand?

Now Flanders fields are ploughed under, the only reminder that men once brutalized one another upon the acreage is the annual iron harvest. The continued excavation of weapons and munitions by the ploughs that are carefully collected and stacked by the roadside for the bomb teams to dispose of. The bones of the unidentified are stacked likewise to be interred elsewhere or placed into an ossuary at some field of remembrance populated by marble headstones. The names of the fallen are inscribed for all to read, a tourist attraction for visitors for whom the war is just a story, another Kodak moment. But perhaps I’m being a little too cynical and perhaps those who visit are there to remember because they can’t forget?

So how should one commemorate? How will the sensitive souls in Whitehall decide to mark the moment, the lives and actions of the men who fell in a war that although it was fought never should’ve been? A culmination of peace pacts, promises of assistance and of failed short sighted policy that did nothing except tear Europe apart. I can already guess. It will be the massed ranks and bands of the British armed forces with all the gaudiness of military tattoo; flags and drums, emblems and uniforms, badges and medals. A display of pomp and circumstance that we haven’t seen since the last time. Twenty four gun salutes, R.A.F. fly-overs and the most malephluous of all, the moment of silence, where we, the British public, are given a moment to reflect, rather than the early death that those who fell were given, and thank them for the peace in our time.

 Is it really necessary to have soldiers carrying weapons to commemorate those who died by them?

Instead of soldiers marching through the streets I propose to have a single family. A mum and dad with a couple of kids walking through empty streets of London without the unnecessary hindrance of patriotic fervor. Instead of crowd lined streets, let’s have empty pavements and nothing but the whistle of the wind, the sound of their footsteps and the occasional peel of some far off church bells. How much would that say, how much would that exemplify loss of life, how much would that mean to a forgetful nation? Nothing fancy just a simple walk down Whitehall or the Mall, not because of any royal significance but because it’s an easily recognizable location, with a camera crew to follow them to witness the empty vista. One can imagine the public crowded around TV sets with their volume controls turned up as they watch in silence. The thoughts that such a walk would invoke and the ensuing collective energy that would emanate from such a simple protest of remembrance would be felt the world round. How they would turn to each other and remember, wipe their tears and shake their heads.

It may take a good twenty minutes for the family to cover the distance, twenty minutes of unmitigated silence and pure thought. No stomp of British boots but instead the soft tread of Britains.

Perhaps, a remembrance parade to end all remembrance parades?



5 Nov

Dismantling the NEW WORLD ORDER one skateboarder at a time.

The annual Broadway Bomb, where thousands of Long-Board skaters ride through Manhattan.

Despite the uniforms, their guns, their training and their dedication to protect and serve the established power,  a little determination and self respect from free thinking people ensured that the event carried on unhindered.


Justice doesn’t come with a badge and a gun it comes from the heart.

“The Broadway Bomb brings together more than 2,500 longboard skaters each year in New York City to push eight miles through Manhattan, from West 116th Street to the Charging Bull in the Financial District. Since it’s inception in 2000, the NYPD has tried to hamper the event by hassling skaters, blocking roads, and handing out tickets. This year the NYPD busted out the orange netting to try and corral the skaters. They failed miserably. It was so bad that someone set the folly to the music from Benny Hill and it couldn’t be more appropriate.”