Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Arming Big Brother

A new report out from Statewatch reveals that the European Union is to spend €1 billion a year on new reseach into surveillance and control technologies.

"Arming Big Brother lifts the lid on the secretive committees and arms industry lobbying that led to the creation of the European Security Research Programme (ESRP). In 2003, a ‘Group of Personalities’ (GoP) comprised of EU officials and Europe’s biggest arms and IT companies, argued that European multinationals need one billion euros per year so they can compete with US multinationals and the US government’s funding of ‘Homeland Security’ research.

The GoP’s demands were endorsed by the European Commission, which ignored its own rules on EU research expenditure to begin funding ‘security’ research immediately. The Commission has also appointed a European Security Research Advisory Board (ESRAB) to develop and implement the future ESRP. ESRAB includes at least 14 defence companies amongst its 50 members, but no one from the European Parliament or the EU Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies."
The full report is available from Statewatch as a pdf download:

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Whisper "Louise"

Douglas Oliver: Whisper ‘Louise’: A double historical memoir and meditation, with photographs by Steve Hayes and Jacques Lebar. Reality Street Editions, 2005. £15

Poet and one-time Cambridge journalist Douglas Oliver has written a remarkable book, interweaving recollections of his own life with accounts of episodes from the life of the legendary anarchist Louise Michel. But it is far, far more than a simple exercise in biography, as Oliver uses the coincidences and disonances of the two lives as a way of exploring memory and meaning, the construction of self, and the nature of revolutionary action.

A school-teacher who ran her own schools, Louise Michel played an active part in the Paris Commune – fighting on the barricades and falling in love with fellow communard Theophile Ferré. After the fall of the Commune Ferré was shot by firing squad, and although Louise challenged the Judges at her own trial to shoot her as well, she was sent the prison colony on the island of New Caledonia. On the voyage over she was introduced to anarchism in conversation with other women prisoners. While a prisoner on the island she learnt the language of the indigenous Kanaks, and actively supported them during their insurrection against the French. She also devoted much of her time to studying the natural history of the island, and its folklore.

Returned to France after 10 years, she organised demonstrations by the poor, and was imprisoned for taking bread from bakers’ shops and giving it to the hungry. On one occasion when she was shot by a royalist sympathiser, she refused to testify against her attacker and instead gave evidence for the defence. In order to avoid further imprisonment she moved to London and briefly ran a school for the children of anarchist refugees in London’s Fitzroy Street. The school closed within two years, after a key member of the staff was exposed as a spy in the pay of the police. When she died in 1905 more than one hundred thousand people followed her body through the streets of Paris to the grave.

Louise Michel’s life was rich enough for several biographies, but in her own writings she frequently mythologized significant events, and was silent about others, including her relationship with Victor Hugo. Like Oliver she was a poet, although her poetic sensibilities are best experienced through her prose. Often over-romanticised, occasionally declamatory and florid, the core of her poetry can resonate with emotion and meaning.

Douglas Oliver died in the year 2000, shortly after completing the manuscript for Whisper ‘Louise’. He was a clerk in the RAF during his national service, and on completion he became a newspaper reporter in Coventry then in Cambridge, before moving to Paris to work as a translator for Agence France-Presse. He returned to England in 1972 and read literature at the University of Essex, eventually teaching there for five years. In 1979 he published The Diagram Poems. Based on news reports of the activities of Uruguay’s Robin Hood-styled urban guerillas, the Tupamaros, the poems sympathetically explored the nature of revolutionary violence and the counter-revolutionary barbarism of the state, a subject taken up again in Whisper ‘Louise’.

His best known work is Penniless Politics (1991) originally published in an edition of 150 photostated copies by Iain Sinclair, that Howard Brenton compared to The Wasteland in terms of the impact that it made: “Penniless Politics sets the literary agenda for the next twenty years”. During the last few years of his life Douglas lived in Paris again with his partner Alice Notley, teaching English language and literature at the British Institute. Inspired by the diversity of life in Paris he began work on Arrondissements “a series of books or long sequences in poetry and prose, designed to reflect the world at large through the prism of Paris.” Whisper ‘Louise’ forms part of this project.

Although Oliver identifies with Michel: “Both Louise and I myself have a silliness in us, a wish to end political complications by imposing our naïve compassion on them. Perhaps that’s another reason why I can match memoirs with her” Whisper ‘Louise’ is also critical of the paradoxical flaw in her character – a personal compassion that compelled her to give away everything she had to those in greater need than she was herself, while retaining an unrelenting belief in revolutionary violence as the only effective means of social transformation. Yet at the end of the book it is this character trait which he picks out for final praise.

This is an intensely personal book that raises important questions about ethics, commitment and social action. The death of his son Tom, who was born with Down’s Syndrome and died before he was two years old, haunts Oliver’s work. Less than three years after Tom’s death he worked and slept in Derbyshire’s “Suicide Cave”, an abandoned lead mine. The cave’s dark isolation took him closer to his dead son, and helped him write In the Cave of Suicession (1974). His thoughts about Tom form a counterpoint to the reflections on revolutionary action in The Diagram Poems, and make a similar appearance in Whisper ‘Louise’. Not so much that the “personal is political” as rather the personal is the litmus test against which political action must always be judged.

The rich and colourful accounts of Michel’s life, reflections on episodes from his own life, the tragedy of Tom’s death, descriptions of Paris, discourses on contemporary politics and the implications of revolutionary action frequently impart a sense of breathless urgency to the text. With some reason as while he was working on the last chapters he became aware of the seriousness of his cancer. Within months of finalising the manuscript Douglas Oliver was dead, leaving Whisper ‘Louise’ as a final testament to a rich poetic sensibility, a carefully honed technical ability, and his own underlying humanity.

Martyn Everett.

Reviewed in CCCP 16 (Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry) April 2006

Monday, April 17, 2006

Muriel Spark

The several short obituaries published following the death of Muriel Spark only gloss the surface of the work of the woman who was a very complex writer. Her lightness of touch concealing more powerful themes.
There is a good but short obituary by Robin Stummer in the Independent on Sunday:

and a personal memoir from Allan Massie in The Times:

My own favourite quotation is from A Girl of Slender Means:

"Anarchism properly has no history - i.e. in the sense of continuity and development. It is a spontaneous movement of people in particular times and circumstances. A history of anarchism would not be in the nature of a political history, it would be analogous to a history of the heart-beat. One may make new discoveries about it, one may compare its reactions under varying conditions, but there is nothing new of itself."
(with thanks to Clifford Harper of Agraphia )

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Rare Lester Young recordings re-discovered

Some rare early jazz recordings featuring Lester Young have been discovered at the Library of Congress:

The Angry East End

The March issue of Prospect Magazine contained a useful overview of the New East End: Kinship, Race and Conflict, the recent publication from the Young Foundation that "explores 50 years of social change in Tower Hamlets". Written by the book's authors Kate Gavron and Rushanara Ali, it serves to highlight the importance of this major study of the dysfunctional impact of the Welfare State.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Alphabet

From the Funky Librarians blog comes this neat and illuminating account of David Sacks' book The Alphabet.

The Lost Gospel of Judas

The National Geographic shows how the World Wide Web can be used to great effect with an online exhibition about the project to authenticate and conserve the 66 page codex that includes the only known surviving copy of the Gospel of Judas. It is possible to download both the English text and the Coptic text as PDF files, and to enlarge images of original fragments,

There is also a link to the May 2006 issue of National Geographic where you can read an online feature story about the discovery of the manuscript:

Manuscript Adventures

The background to the controversial appearance of the ancient coptic manuscript of "The Gospel of Judas" is a warning of the perils that old documents face. After centuries of "benign neglect" in a cave, the manuscript was stolen, returned, steamed, frozen and then restored.
Read Bradley Klapper's account here:


The rapid and widespread adoption of new web-based technologies has enabled new forms of artistic and political expression to surface, but this trend is paralleled by authoritarian and commercial attempts to increase control over technologies, content and society. On the Commons blog features a lengthy review of J. D. Lasica's timely book Darknet: Hollywood's War Against the Digital Generation which examines the context of the "rancorous policy battles over the design and uses of the Internet and other digital technologies".

Friday, April 14, 2006

Really great ...
It is really great to be able to mention the re-opening of a radical bookshop...in Falmouth, Cornwall. Archway Books, in Market Strand is situated down an alley opposite the pier, between the Prince of Wales pub and Murder King. They have a varied stock of second-hand books and specialise in "anarchism, green politics, and priitive skills". There is also a range of magazines and pamphlets. Future plans include a space for small meetings. Drop in a say hello - and buy a book or two - cos there aren't enough independent bookshops.
contact: archway@riseup.net

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Floggng folios

Propect Magazine has a pointed article on the sale of rare books from Library collections by Jim McCue. Thanks to Dogmatika for this post.

Reviews feature added to WorldCat

Also via Resourceshelf comes news that WorldCat, the searchengine that allows people to search library catalogues across the world, has added a "Reviews" feature that allows anyone to add a review of a book. Try WorldCat for yourself here:

When you have chosen the record for the book you are interested in there is a tab to click on to add a review, as with this example:

The Power of the Printed Word

A Library of Congress webcast by popular journalist and book world chronicler Nicholas Basbanes who discusses his new book, "Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World". Basbanes' first book, "A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books," was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction for 1995 and was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; now in its sixteenth printing, it has recorded sales of more than 100,000 copies. Takes a little time to get going but worth sticking with. (running time: 56 minutes) (thanks to Resourceshelf for this post)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

One Million English Words?

In the US there's a debate taking place about how many words there are in English, and about how quickly the English language is growing, following a claim that are about to have reach the one million English words landmark. I find it exhilarating to think of the variety of potential meaning locked up in those words, just waiting to be used and to know that human ingenuity is still finding more ways to express different emotions and concepts. It made me recall the scene in B. Traven's novel The Treasure of the Sierre Madre, when the would-be gold prospectors developed their own language while they were working together, and also Bruce Chatwin's discourse on the language of the indigenous inhabitants of Patagonia, and how their daily experiences such as hunting shaped the structure of their language, and the shades of meaning given to words.
Here a useful summary of the debate in the US:

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Circular Breathing

George McKay, author of Senseless Acts of Beauty, and DIY Culture, has a new book out - called Circular Breathing; the Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain, it is published by Duke University Press at £14.99. The book "uncovers the sometimes surprising ways that jazz has accompanied social change during a period of rapid transformation in Great Britain." There's a short review on Jazzscript:

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

When Books Talk to Each Other...

Fascinating post from Chris Armstrong on his info NeoGnostic blog that looks at intelligent digital libraries "where books read one another...and have already begun to separate intelligence and action from the human brain" - its an idea that is both exciting and creepy. Certainly worth reading as pointing the way for new directions for the web and for libraries. Made me realise that the central human characteristic of rebellion, and the right to "resist, object and refuse" will become even more socially important.