Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tariq Ali - Edinburgh International Book Festival 16 August 2009

Went to see Tariq Ali this afternoon at the book festival. He was here to promote his new book The Protocols of the Elders of Sodom which I haven't read but which sounds interesting. It's in three sections: Literature and Politics, Diaries, and Farewells (this last comprising articles on now-dead friends and colleagues such as Derek Jarman). Tariq's talk was on literature and politics, more particularly on the importance of context when reading. He reminded us, for example, that Milton, Marvell and Dryden were all deeply involved with Cromwell's government and that much of their poetry cannot be understood without taking this into account. (This also explains, he told us, Milton's otherwise surprisingly poor opinion of Shakespeare: while to Shakespeare the monarchy was a given, and any other way of running a country unthinkable, Milton viewed him with suspicion precisely because of his support for the idea of kingship.) Don Quixote, too, is full of social commentary, or as full as is possible when one is writing under heavy censorship and when everybody expected the Spanish Inquisition. Spain under Philip II was the prototype of the modern police state, and as a (f0rcibly) converted Jew Cervantes was all too well aware of its downside.

Tariq speaks as well as he writes. The questions and answers took him to topics such as writers he likes but whose politics are very different from his own, such as Celine and Anthony Powell; to parallels between anti-semitism in Europe between the wars and Islamophobia in Europe today*; to the films of Derek Jarman; and to the vigour of political debate in the USA (for example over Obama's healthcare proposals) compared to the passivity in the UK or Italy, where nothing seems to cause much excitement. (I think he exaggerates somewhat there: while it was largely an issue manufactured by the Daily Telegraph to boost circulation, the interminable saga of MPs' dodgy expense claims certainly galvanised public opinion.)

It seems strange to see a figure I remember as a student firebrand in the 1960s now old and grey (but still vigorous). I shall certainly read the new book. I bought two older ones and got them signed: Street Fighting Years (which I read many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed) and Pirates of The Caribbean: Axis of Hope.

*Tariq cited this article from the Guardian as an illustration of the kind of pervasive unthinking Islamophobia sweeping Europe today.


Post a Comment

<< Home