Wednesday, 12 February 2014

'Was Shakespeare a capitalist?'

The Cultural Banality of the British Left 
GILBERT Murray in the mid-20th Century once said somewhere that he had addressed a lecture on Shakespeare to a Socialist debating society, and in conclusion invited questions in the usual way, only to receive the sole question:  'Was Shakespeare a capitalist?'  The depressing thing about this comment is that it is probably a true story, and that some on the left would still consider that the answer to this question should govern how we regard Shakespeare as an artist, poet or playwright and even if it is worth going to see his plays.  One might equally ask 'Was Shakespeare a sexist?' or considering The Merchant of Venice and Shylock: 'Was Shakespeare an anti-Semite?'  
As Jonathan Swift once wrote: 
'When a man of true Genius appears in the World, you may know him by this infallible Sign, that all the Dunces are in Conspiracy against him.'  
Was Shakespeare a good writer?  George Orwell wrote in his essay 'Literature and the Left' (1943): 
'Most people would agree that he was [and] yet Shakespeare is, and perhaps was even by the standards of his own time, reactionary in tendency; and he is also a difficult writer, only doubtfully accessible to the common man.'  
Ought we therefore to gag Shakespeare and ban his plays; after all Leo Tolstoy declared him in a pamphlet to be an immoral writer?    
Since the defeat of the miners in 1984-85 there has been the development of a form of identity politics that dictates taste, style and even literary content according to certain standards in which you may discredit a writer or a publication by simply dragging out a set of 'correct' values imposed according to a mysterious political orthodoxy, and devised so as not to offend certain categories of people according to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or what-have-you.  Around 1930,  another change in the approach to literature occurred when literary content replaced technique, and a generation of writers tried to be actively useful to the left-wing movement and some joined the Communist Party but, as Orwell says, when 'it was found that they would not or could not turn themselves into gramophone records, they were thrown out on their ears.'  
Recently an anarchist historian told me that anarchist bookfairs depress him, and that he had ceased to attend the London Anarchist Bookfair, and when I then commented that they are very well managed and organised, he said: 
'Yes, but that is the only thing anarchists are able to organise!' 
The reason that anarchists are so passionate about bookfairs is that generally their publications are not fit for street or factory gate selling, and don't sell well commercially in bookshops and newsagents, thus they are happy to give them away to each other at their own bookfairs.  Fortunately, Northern Voices sells steadily in a wide range of outlets and doesn't need to depend on Anarchist bookfairs, although it is available at most across the country, excluding the Manchester bookfair of course which is controlled by a small political group or ghetto.
In 1943, Orwell wrote: 
'The illiteracy of politicians is a special feature of our age – as G. M. Trevelyan put it, “in the seventeenth century Members of Parliament quoted the Bible, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the classics, and in the twentieth century nothing” and its corollary is the political impotence of writers.'  
The illiteracy of the left in our age is perhaps best illustrated by the comment below which we recently received for the Northern Voices Blog
'It doesn't surprise me that Northern Voices nor the NAN are not allowed in to an Anarchist book fair [sic].  The publication has frequently been called out for homophobia, sexism, even bordering on paedophilia.'  
This writer, who is naturally anonymous, further writes:  'The publication itself lists people's names and addresses...'  Well yes, of course, one of the best known anarchists in the North West, Jim Petty, has both his name and address on each issue of NV, so people can write in their complaints and send their subs, and naturally 150 people gave their names on this Blog to condemn the conduct of the Manchester bookfair organisers in 2012 on the so-called Burnley declaration.   As many of our readers will by now understand that Northern Voices does not have a party line or conduct itself in the manner of a political gramophone for some tedious political orthodoxy, this will come as no surprise to anyone other than perhaps some strange sly and shifty Shakespearean modern-day Malvolio who, like our anonymous commentator above, is of such a serious disposition he cannot take anything light-hearted if it affects his dignity, and his dignity is always threatened unless there is someone to bow down to him.

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