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Category archive: Propaganda
I am reading In Defence of History by Richard J. Evans. The attackers are the post-modernists. In Chapter 3 ("Historians and their facts"), Evans writes about how evidence considered insignificant in one era can become highly significant in a later era:
The traces left by the past, as Dominick LaCapra has observed, do not provide an even coverage of it. Archives are the product of the chance survival of some documents and the corresponding chance loss or deliberate destruction of others. They are also the products of the professional activities of archivists, which therefore shape the record of the past and with it the interpretations of historians. Archivists have often weeded out records they consider unimportant, while retaining those they consider of lasting value. This might mean for example destroying vast and therefore bulky personnel files on low-ranking state employees such as ordinary soldiers and seamen, manual workers and so on, while keeping room on the crowded shelves for personnel files on high state officials. Yet such a policy would reflect a view that many historians would now find outmoded, a view which considered ‘history’ only as the history of the elites. Documents which seem worthless to one age, and hence ripe for the shredder, can seem extremely valuable to another.
Let me give an example from my personal experience. During research in the Hamburg state archives in the I98os, I became aware that the police had been sending plain-clothes agents into the city’s pubs and bars during the two decades or so before the First World War to gather and later write down secret reports of what was being said in them bysocialist workers. The reports I saw were part of larger files on the various organizations to which these workers belonged. Thinking it might be interesting to look at a wider sample, I went through a typewritten list of the police files with the archivist, and among the headings we came across was one which read: ‘Worthless Reports’. Going down into the muniment room, we found under the relevant call-number a mass of over 20,000 reports which had been judged of insufficient interest by the police authorities of the day to be taken up into the thematic files where I had first encountered this material. It was only by a lucky chance that they had not already been destroyed. They turned out to contain graphic and illuminating accounts of what rank-and-file socialist workers thought about almost every conceivable issue of the day, from the Dreyfus affair in France to the state of the traffic on Hamburg’s busy streets. Nobody had ever looked at them before. Historians of the labour movement had only been interested in organization and ideology. But by the time I came to inspect them, interest had shifted to the history of everyday life, and workers’ views on the family, crime and the law, food, drink and leisure pursuits, had become significant objects of historical research. It seemed worth transcribing and publishing a selection, therefore, which I did after a couple of years’ work on them. The resulting collection showed how rank-and-file Social Democrats and labour activists often had views that cut right across the Marxist ideology in which previous historians thought the party had indoctrinated them, because previous historians had lacked the sources to go down beyond the level of official pronouncements in the way the Hamburg police reports made it possible to do. Thus from ‘worthless reports’ there emerged a useful corrective to earlier historical interpretations. This wonderful material, which had survived by chance, had to wait for discovery and exploitation until the historiographical climate had changed.
In an earlier posting I mentioned that I had ordered Marc Morris’s book about The Norman Conquest, and I have now started reading this. (Although for some reason the version of it that I have seems to be the American one.)
The events depicted in the Tapestry are of course highly dramatic, but as Morris relates, so too was the subsequent history of the Tapestry:
By any law of averages, the Tapestry ought not to exist. We know that such elaborate wall-hangings, while hardly commonplace in the eleventh century, were popular enough with the elite that could afford them, because we have descriptions in contemporary documents. What we don’t have are other surviving examples: all that comes down to us in other cases are a few sorry-looking scraps. That the Tapestry is still with us almost I ,000 years after it was sewn is astonishing, especially when one considers its later history. It first appears in the written record four centuries after its creation, in 1476, when it is described in an inventory of the treasury at Bayeux Cathedral, from which we learn that the clergy were in the habit of hanging it around the nave every year during the first week of July (an annual airing that would have aided its conservation). Its survival through those four medieval centuries, escaping the major hazards of war, fire and flood, as well as the more mundane menaces of rodents, insects and damp, is wondrous enough; that it successfully avoided destruction during the modern era is nothing short of miraculous. When the cathedral’s treasury was looted during the French Revolution, the Tapestry came within a hair’s breadth of being cut up and used to cover military wagons. Carted to Paris for exhibition by Napoleon, it was eventually returned to Bayeux, where for several years during the early nineteenth century it was indifferently stored in the town hall on a giant spindle, so that curious visitors could unroll it (and occasionally cut bits off). During the Second World War it had yet more adventures: taken again to Paris by the Nazis, it narrowly escaped being sent to Berlin, and somehow managed to emerge unscathed from the flames and the bombs. The Tapestry’s post-medieval history is a book in itself - one which, happily, has already been written.
What next for it, I wonder?
Today, a fine looking day, a day in which many were to be seen wearing both gloves and sunglasses, I went awandering, down Victoria Street to Parliament Square, and then on across the River.
And in Parliament Square, I chanced upon a demo. I hope to do a longer bit at Samizdata, hopefully tomorrow, about this demo. In the meantime, here is a little horizontality, helpfully laid on by the demonstrators:
Click to get the original bigger picture.
If you want further thoughts from me about “that fatuous construct of political malcontents” called real democracy, follow that link.
And see also what I put in this piece about the Charlie Hebdo demo in Trafalgar Square:
… this was not your usual demo, the sort of demo perpetrated by the demonstrating classes ...
Today’s demo was exactly your usual demo. Here is a report of what they were trying to do, that being something to do with “Occupy”. From where I was standing, they failed.
I couldn’t find mainstream media coverage about this demo between this afternoon and now, which could just mean that there was lots and I didn’t find it. Comments on that very welcome.
LATER: Here is an Evening Standard report. It seems that what I saw was a failed Occupy demo, bolted onto the end of a somewhat more successful CND demo against Trident.
ALSO: Daily Mail.
At that demo a week ago today, there were, of course, and abundance of smartphones being used to soak up snaps:
And there were tablets being used as well:
But more intriguingly, and this was a first for me, I saw smartphones …:
… and tablets …:
… being used actually to demonstrate. And as you can see, I wasn’t the only one who was interested.
I’m not sure what this means. I simply note that it was happening.
Here, as promised, is a big clutch of photos of signs that I took at the Trafalgar Square demo yesterday. If you want to, click on a square to get the original photo. The squares have, in quite a few cases been fiddled out with to make them a bit clearer, but the originals you’ll get to with clicking are exactly as taken.
There were, of course, lots of signs (including many mobile phones and at least one tablet) saying “I AM CHARLIE”, in fact you can see quite a few such if you do some clicking. But, here are all the signs I photographed that said something else as well, or instead:
Of all of these, my two favourites are “Team Civilization”, and “Down With The Tyranny of The Offended” (in French). But demos are at least as much about quantity as quality, and I trust the sheer number of signs shown here (there were plenty more that I didn’t get to photo) makes the bigger point. There were a lot of people turning out to denounce these horrible attacks.
Even the rather or almost completely illegible signs are an encouragement, I think, because what these signs tell us is that quite a few people were present, and feeling strongly enough about it to want to wave a sign, who had never been anywhere near such a demo ever before.
Feel free to reproduce any of these images at will, with or without attribution. If you’d like bigger versions of any of the pictures, my email can be found here, top left, where it says “Contact”.
Like half of London, it would seem, I’ve been suffering with a cough and a cold and a headache, finding it hard to sleep. For some reason it all gets worse at night, especially the headache. Why?
So a couple of incoming emails from Simon Gibbs, concerning some of the pictures I took at that Cost of Living Debate which he organised last October, really cheered me up.
The first email said that one of the pictures I had taken, of one of the speakers, had enabled Simon to flag up, on YouTube, that speaker’s videoed performance, more attractively than might otherwise have been possible. A photo was attached…:
... which Simon described thus:
One of your digital photos on my TV, via the Virgin Media YouTube app.
Then, very soon after that email, another one, longer:
I managed to make some more appear.
The video quality is okay, but the camera was pointing statically at the whole panel. You zoomed in on individual speakers while in action (or at rest), then I was able to crop and add titles and the resulting thumbnail is better than any individual frame of the video.
Here “better” means “better able to encourage someone to click from a list of videos through to the video itself”, meaning they will stand out from the crowd.
And another picture was attached:
I am delighted that my photoing obsession has assisted Simon in his much more strenuous activities. And I got in for free.
Which reminds me that I should long ago have done my own selection of snaps from that evening, and stuck them up here. I may yet do this, and maybe quite soon.
Click to get them bigger. If you want to recycle these photos, please feel free, with or without gratitude to me. Email me (see top left where it says “Contact") if you’d like any of them bigger.
I have had a Samizdata postings slump recently. I haven’t done many such postings lately, and very lately none at all. This is something that I have kept meaning to correct, for something like the last fortnight, but each day I think, well, another day won’t hurt, not that much. Each passing day adds the same small amount of silence to the silence total, but a diminishing percentage of silence to the silence total. Thus, each day of silence feels that tiny bit less culpable than the one before.
But today I snapped out of it, with a posting about photography. Not fun photography, of the sort I mostly do. Photography in and around Israel, photography that tells important lies about Israel.
Here is the picture at the top of the article I linked to:
And see also: this Samizdata posting of mine from way back, which includes a recollection about an anti-Enoch-Powell demo organised by a Daily Telegraph photographer.
Last Wednesday and Thursday, I attended two talks, both at lunchtime, at and arranged by the Adam Smith Institute. No event links because information about the first talk has already vanished from the ASI website, and information about the second hasn’t yet but presumably soon will.
On Wednesday, Russ Roberts talked about how to do libertarianism. I agreed with pretty much everything he said, having long ago written very similar things, in particular in this. Guy Herbert talked, on Thursday, about the Human Rights Act 1998. He is, with qualifications and hesitations, for it. He told me afterwards that the text of his talk will be available on line very soon, so I’ll try to add a link later to this posting, at the bottom. If I fail, perhaps a commenter could remind me. (LATER: Actually, I’ll add the link to the text (as Samizdata) here.)
At the talk given by Russ Roberts I forgot to take any pictures. But at the talk given by Guy Herbert yesterday, I remembered. This was the right way round to remember and forget. There are many fine pictures of Russ Roberts on line, far fewer of Guy Herbert.
Here is one of the better ones I took of Guy:
And here, on the left, is another one that I liked:
On the right there is the explanation of the picture on the left. I took it through the gap at the top of the empty chair in front of me. No, I do not know who David Penfold is. I’m guessing he is the David Penfold mentioned as something to do with this.
The audience for the Russ Roberts talk was packed into the small room it was given in. The Guy Herbert talk, in the same room, was less well attended, hence that empty chair in front of me. But that’s because its subject matter was less of an ASI core concern. It was about things outside the free market comfort zone. Which is good. That sends out a signal. We don’t only operate inside our comfort zone. There is a bigger, wider world out there. We think about that also.
Next Friday, October 31st, Christian Michel is giving a talk at my home entitled, somewhat provocatively: “Soviet and Nazi Art as Illustrations of Ayn Rand’s Aesthetics”. He is certainly not the first to have pointed out the overlap, so to speak.
Here’s what Christian says about his talk (which I “LATER” (Tuesday) realised I need to insert into this posting, near the beginning):
Art does not feature high on the libertarian agenda. One exception is Ayn Rand, who declared that of all human products art is perhaps the most important. She went on to develop her own theory of aesthetics, and even attempted (as did Jean-Paul Sartre at the same time) to deliver her entire philosophy through the sole medium of literature (both failed).
In my talk this Friday I will sum up Rand’s aesthetics, her contribution to the field, and will show that it was nowhere better illustrated in the twentieth century than in the arts of National-Socialist Germany and Soviet Russia. The point is not to denigrate Rand’s philosophy by that association, but to say that genuine artists find a way to convey their deepest values and sense of life, to express the highest human aspirations and struggles, whatever their circumstances, and that’s exactly what Rand celebrated.
And here is something of what I think about these kinds of things.
Just after World War 2, many an artist said things along the lines of: after Auschwitz, we cannot any longer do purely representational art. (Similar things were said by classical composers: after Auschwitz, we can’t any longer do pretty tunes.) But the artists had been abandoning pictorial representation (and tunefulness) long before Auschwitz happened, so “Auschwitz” has the air of being a rationalisation rather than the real reason for these artistic trends.
The crimes of Soviet Communism never had quite the same effect on most of the artists, even as an excuse for abstraction, although there were honourable exceptions (Mondrian for instance). Too many artists admired the Soviet Union, especially during and just after World War 2, during its struggle and after victory over Nazi Germany.
Realistic art had also been seriously deranged by photography. Photography destroyed the economic foundations of your average painter of realistic portraits and realistic paintings of such things as landscapes, and turned art painting into a sort of cultural bombsite, in which (to quote the words of an early twentieth century popular song) “anything goes”, anything, that is, except realistic pictures of people and of things. Realism, for the average artist, just made him look like a bad photographer. Even the claim that “art” now had to be an attack on the delusional bourgeois habit of trying to make visual and conceptual sense of the world has the feel, for me, of a rationalisation.
But there is much more to “realism” than mere realism. What looks at first glance merely realistic is often aspirational, and to abandon the field of representational art to the mid twentieth century totalitarians was surely a propaganda error, to put it no more strongly. For the likes of Ayn Rand, this was a surrender by the civilised world that should never have happened.
To point out that Rand favoured images that resembled Nazi and Soviet art is not to accuse her of being a Nazi or a Communist. It is to realise that she did not want the still immensely potent artistic weapon that is representational painting and sculpture to be monopolised by the totalitarians.
All of which is something of how I see (and hear) the kinds of things that Christian Michel will be talking about on Friday. As to what Christian himself will say, well, we shall see, and hear.
Meanwhile, here is an abundance of visual clues as to the sort of aesthetic territory that Christian will be traversing in his talk. It will be an illustrated talk. Here, without identification or further comment, from me or from him, are the illustrations he has sent me, in the order (I assume) in which he will be referring to them.
A few of these images are small enough to fit within the 500 pixel horizontal limit that prevails at this blog, a couple being very small indeed. But most can be enlarged (a little or quite a lot) with a click:
I have already quoted a couple of interesting bits from Bill Bryson’s excellent book, At Home. I have now finished reading this, but just before I did, I encountered some interesting stuff about paint (pp. 453-5):
When paints became popular, people wanted them to be as vivid as they could possibly be made. The restrained colours that we associate with the Georgian period in Britain, or Colonial period in America, are a consequence of fading, not decorative restraint. In 1979, when Mount Vernon began a programme of repainting the interiors in faithful colours, ‘people came and just yelled at us’, Dennis Pogue, the curator, told me with a grin when I visited. ‘They told us we were making Mount Vernon garish. They were right - we were. But that’s just because that’s the way it was. It was hard for a lot of people to accept that what we were doing was faithful restoration.
‘Even now paint charts for Colonial-style paints virtually always show the colours from the period as muted. In fact, colours were actually nearly always quite deep and sometimes even startling. The richer a colour you could get, the more you tended to be admired. For one thing, rich colours generally denoted expense, since you needed a lot of pigment to make them. Also, you need to remember that often these colours were seen by candlelight, so they needed to be more forceful to have any kind of impact in muted light.’
The effect is now repeated at Monticello, where several of the rooms are of the most vivid yellows and greens. Suddenly George Washington and Thomas Jefferson come across as having the decorative instincts of hippies. In fact, however, compared with what followed they were exceedingly restrained.
When the first ready-mixed paints came on to the market in the second half of the nineteenth century, people slapped them on with something like wild abandon. It became fashionable not just to have powerfully bright colours in the home, but to have as many as seven or eight colours in a single room.
If we looked closely, however, we would be surprised to note that two very basic colours didn’t exist at all in Mr Marsham’s day: a good white and a good black. The brightest white available was a rather dull off-white, and although whites improved through the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until the 1940s, with the addition of titanium dioxide to paints, that really strong, lasting whites became available. The absence of a good white paint would have been doubly noticeable in early New England, for the Puritans not only had no white paint but didn’t believe in painting anyway. (They thought it was showy.) So all those gleaming white churches we associate with New England towns are in fact a comparatively recent phenomenon.
Also missing from the painter’s palette was a strong black. Permanent black paint, distilled from tar and pitch, wasn’t popularly available until the late nineteenth century. So all the glossy black front doors, railings, gates, lampposts, gutters, downpipes and other fittings that are such an elemental feature of London’s streets today are actually quite recent. If we were to be thrust back intime to Dickens’s London, one of the most startling differences to greet us would be the absence of black painted surfaces. In the time of Dickens, almost all ironwork was green, light blue or dull grey.
Famously, the rise of the Modern Movement in Architecture was triggered by, among many other things, a revulsion against the excesses of Victorian-era decoration, especially architectural decoration. Decoration became mechanised, and thus both much more common and much less meaningful. What did all this mechanised decoration prove, what did it mean, when you could thrash it out with no more difficulty than you could erect a plain wall?
What the above Bryson quote strongly suggests, at any rate to me, is that something rather similar happened with colour.
Why is the overwhelming atmosphere of Modernist architecture and architectural propaganda so very monochrome, still. Part of the answer is that it was only recently learned how to do monochrome. Monochrome looked modern, from about 1900-ish onwards, because it was modern. Monochrome was the latest thing. Colour, meanwhile, had become much cheaper and had been used with garish nouveau riche excess, and there was a reaction to that also, just as there was to excessive decoration.
Earlier this evening I attended a talk given by Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown in Southwark. Read Michael’s background briefing about the things he talked about further this evening, either here, or here.
I have friends who seem to revel in having their photos taken, but Michael is not one of them. He entirely lacks vanity, and tends, when being photoed, to have the look of a man worrying about how bad he fears he will look in the photo. So it was that, having earlier been asked for a photo of Michael by Simon Gibbs, the organiser of the meeting, I was only able quickly to find one that was remotely good enough. (You can see it at the other end of the second of the above links.) This evening I made a particular effort to correct this, and here is one of the better shots that I took of Michael this evening:
The most dramatic moment in the evening came when the Putin-echoing stooge Russian lady in the audience (there always seem to be one such stooge at any public event mentioning Russia and its current policies) tangled with Michael on the subject of Poland. Why were the Poles so paranoid about Russia and so keen to join NATO?
Michael replied with a short history lesson that was brief, and crushing. Nazi-Soviet Pact. (The stooge later denied that this had even happened, so Michael later told me.) Katyn Massacre. Warsaw Uprising. (Stalin parked the Red Army outside Warsaw and let the Nazis crush it.) An imposed Communist government, that the Poles would never have chosen for themselves, for the next half century. Final sentence, something like: “If fearing Russia after all that means you are paranoid, then yes, I guess the Poles are paranoid.” Applause. With any luck, this little interchange will be viewable on video, along with the talk itself of course.
Earlier, the lady stooge had waxed eloquent to me, in the socialising period before the talk, about the superiority of Russian education over English education. She had a point. Russian children are indeed made to work far harder at their lessons than English children are these days. But what if the lessons they learn are a pack of lies?
See also this, recently at Samizdata.
On a happier note, I harvested several names and emails of various young, clever libertarians to add to my Brian’s Last Fridays list. A couple of them being, so it seemed to me, of exceptional promise. (I hope that doesn’t sound patronising.) I was particularly impressed by this guy.
I haven’t yet finished showing you photos from that Adam Smith Institute Boat Trip, that I got in on and took lots of photos of, at the beginning of this month, and which I have been showing here, now and again, ever since then. I’m hardly even close.
For instance, it’s taken me three quarters of a month to get around to it, but, of course, there were other photographers present besides me:
I chose these pictures simply because they fitted the bill subject matter wise, and because they look nice. I did not choose them to illustrate any particular point about digital photography.
The result being that they do illustrate a particular point about digital photography. Consider the stats.
There are two regular old school digital cameras to be seen snapping (1.1 and 1.3), three if you count mine. There is also just the one big tablet being used (3.3).
All the other photographers are using mobile phones.
Usually, when I photograph photographers, there are more regular old school dedicated digital cameras to be seen. But this is because I am photographing lots of “photographers”, i.e. people like me, who see themselves as more photography-minded than regular people.
What this boat trip illustrates is how much regular people now use their mobiles to take photos, in among all that networking and connecting and chatting and socialising. It isn’t so much that mobiles have replaced those tiny, cheap digital cameras, although yes it is that, a bit. But it is more that mobiles can now take photos, so now they do. A lot of photos are now being taken that would not have been taken at all, before mobile phones learned how to take photos, by people for whom mobile phones are essential, and photography with mobile phones began only as an extra.
And you can bet that many of the photos that the above people were taking were already flying off into the big www beyond, to work their propaganda magic, promoting the ASI, its Boat Trip, and the people who went on it, before the trip was even over.
Young people these days are quicker off the mark than I am. That’s their job. And being slower off the mark is mine.
The reason to do crowd scenes is to show what a big crowd it was. Yes, it matters who was individually present. But the sheer number of individuals present also counts, a lot. It counts that they are too numerous to count conveniently. Think what some of them might accomplish, in the years to come. The law of averages says it’s bound to add up to something.
Crowd scenes also show the venue, which, if impressive, ought to register in the photos taken. And could there be a more impressive venue than London on a fine evening, from the river? Earth has not anything to show more fair.
What’s that you say? One of these pictures is just a head shot? Not a crowd scene, you say? Look again.
Yes, here are yet more snaps I snapped on that boat trip. This time they are not of people posing in groups, but of individuals, if not on their own, then photoed on their own by me. Other people are strictly background:
The point of these pictures, for me, is not who the people are, simply that I like the pictures. But, for the record, the one’s whose names I know are: 1.1 Damien, 1.2 Noreen, 2.3 ASI Co-Supremo Madsen, 3.1 Mr Devil’s Kitchen, 3.3 ASI Junior Supremo Sam. If anyone knows others, please comment accordingly.
Once again there is a propaganda message here. As well as adding up to a happy and companionable movement, these people include some very interesting separate, individual people, distinct characters. What I like to think these pictures get across is how clever these people are, as well as good humoured and good fun.
The light in these pictures was not perfectly handled, nor was it in the previous batch of photos from this trip, of people posing in groups. But photoshop (or whatever you personally use) is a wonderful thing, and great pictures can be extracted from very average ones these days with no great strain, the way only fictional spies used to be able to do.
Besides which, I really like 3.2, of the young woman next to the no smoking sign. I think all that light and shadow makes her look really good. Okay, it wouldn’t do as a portrait, and it certainly wouldn’t do as a passport photo, but as a picture in its own right, I like how it came out. She looks intelligent, I think. Not that she didn’t to begin with, but you get my point.
In general, I think it creates a far better photographic atmosphere to have lots of light splashing around everywhere, even if that sometimes makes for somewhat unsightly shadows and badly lit faces. The point is not: these are great photos, artistically speaking (even though some of them are pretty good even from that point of view). The point is: it was a great boat trip, and everyone had great time.
I also think that bridges, which I like for their own sake, make good backgrounds for head shots.