The latest books and literature reviews, comment, features and interviews, with extracts from famous texts and neglected gems.
Books. Ever hear of them? The Sun says “SHOCK LEAK Game of Thrones fans sent into a frenzy as ‘entire plot for season seven leaks online’”. Games of Thrones is based on a series of books by George R.R. Martin. If you want to know what happens in the TV version, why not just, you know, read the books?
Yes, yes, the TV version does differ from the books. Producer David Benioff says the show is “about adapting the series as a whole and following the map George laid out for us and hitting the major milestones, but not necessarily each of the stops along the way”. But you get the gist of the plot.
The Mail says “a Reddit user going by the name awayforthelads posted an enormous list of very detailed spoilers”.
How do we know to trust awayforthelads? Maybe they made it up? After all, the Sun looks at the leaks and says it is”reveals a pregnancy and a saucy romp between two main characters”. Sex in Game of Thrones is like the weather at the end of the evening news. It’s expected. As for a pregnancy, the show is about dynasties. Kids are part of the process.
And then comes the truly conniving part: the Mail wants to turn the taps open on that leak.
If you want to read the leaks, you can, of course. If you enjoy escapism, you might want to pass over the leaks and just wait for the entertainment.
In 1975 Allan Warren published Nobs & Nosh – Eating with the Beautiful People featuring his photographs of stars, VIPS and toffs accompanied with recipes and their thoughts on food.
Douglas Fairbanks Jnr. shares his Fettuccini for Four:
Cook the fettuccini until aldente – not soft – and then drain well.
Add: 1 cup of thick cream, 3 tablespoons of butter, 3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese.
Mix carefully and slowly, so as not to break the fettuccini. Serve immediately.
The book is fabulous. Read it all on Flashbak.
Howard Gayle was the first black footballer to play for Liverpool. The State wanted to reward Toxteth-born Gayle for footballing whilst black and working with the anti-racism charity Kick It Out with an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire). But Gayle, 58, was unimpressed.
He explains why he rejected the gong:
If they want to be inclusive and accepting of black people around the UK and the Commonwealth, then they need to change the title of it – as it’s an exclusive club being an MBE or OBE or one of those gongs.
A lot of people around the world contacted me to say they accepted my decision and that the title of MBE did rankle.
In his book 61 Minutes In Munich, Gaytle talks about the racism that was rife in football and society. In the 1970s and 1980s, English football was infected by racism.
Gayle recalls an episode with Liverpool enforcer Tommy ‘Anfield Iron’ Smith.
Tommy tried to distract me by making nasty comments related to the colour of my skin. For a while, I somehow managed to restrain myself…
I received the ball, controlled it, and lashed a shot towards goal. Tommy Smith was on the other team and it hit him on the leg. It clearly stung and some of the other players started laughing. I had a smile on my face as well. I saw it as karma. Tommy responded with a tirade of abuse. It was ‘black this, black that’.
The place went quiet. Everybody could hear it, including the staff. He was a legend. I was a nothing. Nobody said a word.
I’d had enough of him (Smith): this bitter old man. So I went over and squared up: nose to nose. I looked at him dead in the eye.
“You know what, Tommy; one night you’ll be taking a piss at home and I’ll be there waiting for you with a baseball bat,” I said, calmly. “And then we’ll see what you’ve got to say.”
I wanted to start a fight with him. And then he walked away…
Graeme Souness was the only one that came over in the immediate aftermath. “Well done, Howard,” he said. “Tommy deserved that”. Graeme was a true leader.
Other might have just lamped Smith.
After I left, John Barnes became the first black player to be signed by Liverpool from another club. He quickly earned the nickname of ‘Digger’, after Digger Barnes in the Dallas television series. Personally, I wouldn’t have accepted that because of its closeness to the ‘N’ word.
Hyper-sensitive? Seeing racial undertones in a nickname given to player who would be idolised at Anfield?
Things have changed. Now professional football might well be the lest colour conscious occupation in Britain – one in four of professional footballers is black.
Jamie Vardy is plugging his autobiography. The Leicester City and England striker tells a good story in From Nowhere.
I had a three-litre vodka bottle at home I would put loads of Skittles sweets in. After that, you can drink the vodka neat and it tastes just like Skittles. When I was bored at home in the evening I’d pour myself a glass, sit back and enjoy. The vodka was decent but it wasn’t doing much for my dead leg, which didn’t stop bleeding for ages.
Dave Rennie, the physio, said he couldn’t believe it wasn’t improving. He’d seen a torn calf muscle heal quicker. He pulled me aside one day when nobody else was about.
“What are you doing?” Dave asked.
“Nothing I wouldn’t normally do,” I replied. Then I explained that what I’d normally do was drink Skittle vodka.
“Well, that will be why, then,” Dave said.
In other news, during a sting which has caused England manager Sam Allardyce to be investigated by the FA, he appears to have drank a pint of wine. The Guardian notes:
One question our useful feature doesn’t answer is what exactly is the England boss drinking in the picture on the front page of the Telegraph. The beverage is in a pint glass but it’s definitely not beer and doesn’t look like lager. Football365 are suggesting it’s wine…
A pint of wine? Skittles vodka. It’s like the football revolution with it microbiotic diets and image rights never happened. Football might have been repackaged for the lentil-munching classes, telling us to sit down, shut up and pay up, but here is evidence that something of the old game lingers. And you know what – we love it, don’t we.
Robert Clayton’s Estate is now on display in a major solo exhibition at Four Corners, 121 Roman Road, London E2.
The exhibition also sees the launch of his new short film about the work featuring Jonathan Meades. Large scale prints and a film are on show for free until May 29th.
Find out more here.
You can see a selection of Robert’s wonderful photographs on flashbak.
And then you can buy the book. Do so. It’s really terrific. Buy it here.
Kenneth Williams (22 February 1926 – 15 April 1988). His diary entry for the day before he died is a powerful read:
Adam J Calhoun stripped two books of words:
Inspired by a series of posters, I wondered what did my favorite books look like without words. Can you tell them apart or are they all a-mush? In fact, they can be quite distinct. Take my all-time favorite book, Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. It is dense prose stuffed with parentheticals. When placed next to a novel with more simplified prose — Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy — it is a stark difference (see above).
The beauty of good punctuation.
You can own a map of Middle-Earth annotated by Tolkien. Some lucky so-and-so found the map slipped inside a copy of Lord of the Rings. It’s yours for £60,000.
It shows what Blackwell’s called “the exacting nature” of Tolkien’s creative vision: he corrects place names, provides extra ones, and gives Baynes a host of suggestions about the map’s various flora and fauna. Hobbiton, he notes, “ is assumed to be approx at latitude of Oxford”; Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University.
The novelist also uses Belgrade, Cyprus, and Jerusalem as other reference points, and according to Blackwell’s suggests that “the city of Ravenna is the inspiration behind Minas Tirith – a key location in the third book of the Lord of The Rings trilogy”.
“The map shows how completely obsessed he was with the details. Anyone else interfered at their peril,” said Sian Wainwright at Blackwell’s. “He was tricky to work with, but very rewarding in the end.”
He also drew these maps:
Lou Reed wasn’t everyone’s best pal. A new biography by Howard Sounes labels Reed a racist, a sexist and a wife-beater. Reed was a man “with so little personal charm he would be regularly discharged from private gatherings.
“I loved his music, but you have to go where the story goes. The obituaries were a bit too kind, he was really a very unpleasant man. A monster really; I think truly the word monster is applicable.”
Sir Alex Ferguson today “reveals the real reason for his retirement as Manchester United manager” to the Daily Telegraph. It’s an “exclusive“. But really it’s just part of Fergie’s marketing for his new book, Leading. And is the news a revelation? Not really, no.
Sir Alex Ferguson would have stayed on as the most successful manager in English football history, but for the death of his wife Cathy’s twin sister, Bridget Robertson, which persuaded him to retire to be by her side.
Says the great manager:
“I definitely would have carried on. I saw she [Lady Cathy Ferguson] was watching television one night, and she looked up at the ceiling. I knew she was isolated. “Her and Bridget were twins, you know?… When I told her this time I was going to retire she had no objection whatsoever. I knew she wanted me to do it.”
And that’s it.
In his last autobiography, Sir Alex told readers why he left Manchester United:
The seeds of my decision to step down had been planted in the winter of 2012. Around Christmas- time the thought became sharp and clear in my head: ‘I’m going to retire.’ ‘Why are you going to do that?’ Cathy said. ‘Last season, losing the title in the last game, I can’t take another one like that,’ I told her. ‘I just hope we can win the League this time and reach the Champions League or FA Cup final. It would be a great ending.’ Cathy, who had lost her sister Bridget in October, and was struggling to come to terms with that bereavement, soon agreed it was the right course. Her take was that if I wanted to do other things with my life I would still be young enough.
Contractually I was obliged to notify the club by 31 March if I was going to stand down that summer. By coincidence David Gill had called me one Sunday in February and asked if he could come to see me at home. A Sunday afternoon? ‘I bet he’s resigning as chief executive,’ I said. ‘Either that or you’re getting sacked,’ Cathy said. David’s news was that he would be standing down as chief executive at the end of the season. ‘Bloody hell, David,’ I said. And I told him that I had reached the same decision. In the days that followed, David rang to tell me to expect a call from the Glazers. When it came I assured Joel Glazer that my decision had nothing to do with David relinquishing day-to-day control. My mind had been made up over Christmas, I told him. I explained the reasons. Cathy’s sister dying in October had changed our lives. Cathy felt isolated. Joel understood. We agreed to meet in New York, where he tried to talk me out of retiring. I told him I appreciated the effort he was making and thanked him for his support. He expressed his gratitude for all my work. With no prospect of a change in my thinking, the discussion turned to who might replace me.
One great difficulty, in the days around the announcement, was telling the staff at Carrington, our training ground. I particularly remember mentioning the changes in my life and Cathy’s sister dying, and hearing a sympathetic, ‘Aaah.’
Not quite the revelation it’s billed as, then.
Steven Gerrard has told us about his gashed penis, how he bleeds Liverpool red and “hates” Manchester United. Now Gerrard uses his new book to reveal his thoughts on former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez.
“I can pick up the phone and speak to all of my previous Liverpool managers, except for Rafa. It’s a shame because we shared the biggest night of our careers – the 2005 Champions League victory in Istanbul – yet there is no bond between us.”
Benitez, now manager of Real Madrid, has responded:
“I have read the quotes and I believe he is wrong because what we have to do is enjoy. And out of the respect that I have for Stevie and for the value and appreciation I have for him, and for Liverpool and the supporters I think it’s best to just let it pass.”
That’s a dignified response from a man who has thrived in the hotbed of top-flight football management – and whose family still live in the Liverpool area.
But Rafa had one more thing to say:
“He has brought out a book and now I’m the Real Madrid manager, that sells.”
Wonder what Rafa will have to say when his own book hits the shelves?
In today’s extract from Stephen Gerrard autobiography, the Daily Mail shares this anecdote with readers:
“The magic of the FA Cup was bloodied on the day my penis was cut and then stitched shut on an unromantic afternoon in Bournemouth last year. It was eye-watering. I tried to close down a winger to block his cross but felt a stinging in my privates. I thought, ‘S*** — that doesn’t feel right!’ It was stinging like f***. The gash looked pretty bad, right across the middle. There was plenty of blood. I needed four stitches and the lads were absolutely p*ssing themselves. You can imagine the jokes about inches and stitches and my future performances at home.”
File under: ball control.
The Daily Mail is puffing its interview with former Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard.
I might have stayed if Liverpool offered me the right job, reveals the Kop legend
Might have. Before we get to his latest words, it’s worth recalling what Gerrard said in May 2015:
“I am looking forward to being able to breathe and play football under a little less pressure and going back to days when maybe before I was in the first team at Liverpool when you really enjoyed your football and there’s not that responsibility and pressure.”
The Mail’s exclusive are is a trail for Gerrard’s” explosive book”, which the paper is serialising.
“Yeah, I do miss it. I miss everything about it. When I switch on the TV and see the stadiums, with 50, 60, 70,000 people — the aggression, the intensity, the tension. I am jealous. I miss the build-up, competing with better players, I miss being Steven Gerrard, Liverpool captain and walking out in front of my people with that pressure and trying to get a result for them.”
But the bit we want to know is how Gerrard could have remained at Anfield?
“Ability-wise, I could still play but physically I couldn’t play every game at my age… I might be contradicting myself here but what would have kept me at Liverpool into this season was the chance of shadowing Brendan Rodgers and his staff as well as playing. Those ideas were only mentioned to me after I had announced I was leaving.
“I don’t know if I am going to be good enough to be a manager, or a No 1, No 2, No 3 or No 4. Liverpool replaced coaches Colin Pascoe and Mike Marsh in the summer, so they were looking for a new No 2, or No 3 or No 4. I would have been tailor-made to fill one of these roles, as well as making myself available as a squad player. I could have been a good squad player, a good sub, as well as getting management experience that money can’t buy.”
So much for being able to breathe.
“I’d have stayed on as a squad player if I’d had the chance to learn more about management or coaching. I left with all the doors still open, but yes, I could still have been at Liverpool now.”
I come from the underground. I am never comfortable in the middle of the stream, flowing in the same direction as everyone else. I think people assume that’s where I want to be, famous for being famous, because as part of what I do there is a high level of showing off. But my instinct is always to resist the pull of the obvious. It’s not easy.
Trends come along and people say, ‘Follow that trend’. There’s a lot of that around at the moment: ‘Be like Sasha Fierce. Be like Miley Cyrus. Be like Rihanna. Be like Lady Gaga. Be like Rita Ora and Sia. Be like Madonna.’ I cannot be like them – except to the extent that they are already being like me.
I have been so copied by those people who have made fortunes that people assume I am that rich. But I did things for the excitement, the dare, the fact that it was new, not for the money, and too many times I was the first, not the beneficiary.
Rihanna… she does the body-painting thing I did with Keith Haring, but where he painted directly on my body, she wears a painted bodysuit. That’s the difference. Mine is on skin; she puts a barrier between the paint and her skin. I don’t even know if she knows that what she’s doing comes from me, but I bet you the people styling her know. They know the history.
I remember when one of the singers on the list of those who came after me first said that she wanted to work with me. Everyone around me is going: ‘You have to do it, it will be so good for you, it will introduce you to a whole new audience, you will make a lot of money’. No! It will be good for her; she will draw from everything I have built and add it to her brand, and I will get nothing back except for a little temporary attention. No one could believe that I said no, but I am okay on my own. I am okay not worrying about a new audience. If the fuck don’t feel right, don’t fuck it.
With this one, who I will call Doris, I thought she was trying on other people’s outfits: she’s a baby in a closet full of other people’s clothes, a little girl playing dress-up, putting on shoes that don’t fit. I could see what she wanted to be when I watched her doing something when she started out that was starker and purer. Deep down, she doesn’t want to do all the dressing-up nonsense; she loses herself inside all the play-acting.
The problem with the Dorises and the Nicki Minajes and Mileys is that they reach their goal very quickly. There is no long-term vision, and they forget that once you get into that whirlpool then you have to fight the system that solidifies around you in order to keep being the outsider you claim you represent. There will always be a replacement coming along very soon – a newer version, a crazier version, a louder version. So if you haven’t got a long-term plan, then you are merely a passing phase, the latest trend, yesterday’s event.
They dress up as though they are challenging the status quo, but by now, wearing those clothes, pulling those faces, revealing those tattoos and breasts, singing to those fractured, spastic, melting beats – that is the status quo. You are not off the beaten track, pushing through the thorny undergrowth, finding treasure no one has come across before. You are in the middle of the road. You are really in Vegas wearing the sparkly full-length gown singing to people who are paying to see you but are not really paying attention. If that is what you want, fine, but it’s a road to nowhere.
I look at Doris and I think: Does she look happy? She looks lost, like she is desperately trying to find the person she was when she started. She looks like really she knows she is in Vegas, now that Vegas is the whole entertainment world filtered through the internet, through impatient social media. I don’t mind her dressing up, but when she started to dance like Madonna, almost immediately, copying someone else, it was like she had forgotten what it was about her that could be unique. Ultimately, it is all about prettiness and comfort, however much they pretend they are being provocative.
Kate Moss often says to me that I am the only performer around at the moment who deserves to be called a diva.That gets us arguing, seemingly a little too serious if anyone hears us. I hate that word diva. It’s been so abused! Every singer given a makeover or a few weeks on a talent show seems to be called a diva these days! Christ almighty. Where’s the exclusivity? It’s so commercial now. For me, a diva is like the great opera singer, the great film star – out of reach, in their own world, with a real gift for invention, attention-demanding performance artists with a flamboyant, compelling sense of their own importance, so special and inimitable it verges on the alien. And of course the word is usually used to describe an apparently erratic female whose temperamental qualities, survival instincts, and dedication to perfection are seen as weaknesses, as self-indulgent, not a strength. So, Kate, I am not a diva. I am a Jones!
This is what I would say to my pupil: you have become only your fame, and left behind most of who you were. How are you going to deal with that? Will you lose that person forever? Have you become someone else, without really knowing it? Do you always have to stay in character for people to like you? Do you know that you are in character?
Doris, I would say fame is all well and good if you want to take it to another level. If you have some greater purpose. Me, I am just a singer, on one sort of stage or another, who likes to have an audience, but not all the time. Listen to my advice; I have some experience. In a way, it is me being a teacher, which is what I wanted to be. I still feel I could go into teaching. What is teaching but passing on your knowledge to those who are at the beginning? Some people are born with that gift. With me, the teaching side morphed into the performing side. It’s in there. And these are my pupils – Gaga, Madonna, Annie Lennox, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Miley, Kanye West, FKA Twigs and… Doris.
Grace Jones: if you ever get the chance, do see her live. She’s a force of nature.
‘I’ll Never Write My Memoirs’ by Grace Jones.
In 2006, Kurt Vonnegut featured on Second Life’s Infinite Mind Series. The interview was sparked by the writer’s God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian.
The premise of the collection is that Vonnegut employs Dr. Jack Kevorkian to give him near-death experiences, allowing Vonnegut access to heaven and those in it for a limited time. While in the afterlife Vonnegut interviews a range of people including Adolf Hitler, William Shakespeare, Isaac Asimov, and the ever-present Kilgore Trout (a fictional character created by Vonnegut in his earlier works).
As he wrote:
It’s actually possible to get a better life for individuals [through technologies like Second Life] and I have frequently inanimated new technologies, but I love cell phones. I see people so happy and proud, walking around. Gesturing, you know. I’m like Karl Marx, I’m up for anything that makes people happy
It’s actually possible to get a better life for individuals [through technologies like Second Life] and I have frequently inanimated new technologies, but I love cell phones. I see people so happy and proud, walking around. Gesturing, you know. I’m like Karl Marx, I’m up for anything that makes people happy.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut
Matthew Morettini let’s us compare and contrast three screen manifestations of Hannibal Lecter with this neat video
I always preferred the 1985 Manhunter, with Brian Cox as the terrifying Lecter. Anthony Hopkins reworked the character in Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs before Mads Mikkelsen appeared as the psychopath in the TV series Hannibal.
Take a look at the video. Which one do you prefer?
Sir Alex Ferguson has new a book out. Titled Leading and featuring a cover photo of Sir Alex looking more business than sporting, the tome is “an inspirational guide to great leadership”.
It sounds like a self-help book. But what’s inside?
“People will give a manager plenty of opportunities to crack the whip so it’s best to pick and choose your moments. You don’t have to dish out a punishment very often before everyone gets the message.
“I place discipline above all else and it might have cost us several titles. But if I had to repeat things I’d do it precisely the same because discipline has to come before anything else. Discipline was drummed into me from an early age. On school days my dad would alwas shake my leg promptly at 6am. Maybe that’s why, a couple of decades later as manager, I got into the habit of appearing for work before the milkman arrived.”
Over to you, Louise Van Gaal…
How to write like Stephen King – as in, how to physically write like Stephen King; the talent you’ll have to work on that yourselves:
As with most postulates dealing with subjective perceptions, the idea that prolific writing equals bad writing must be treated with caution. Mostly, it seems to be true. Certainly no one is going to induct the mystery novelist John Creasey, author of 564 novels under 21 different pseudonyms, into the Literary Hall of Heroes; both he and his creations (the Toff, Inspector Roger West, Sexton Blake, etc.) have largely been forgotten…
Yet some prolific writers have made a deep impression on the public consciousness. Consider Agatha Christie, arguably the most popular writer of the 20th century, whose entire oeuvre remains in print. She wrote 91 novels, 82 under her own name and nine under a nom de plume — Mary Westmacott — or her married name, Agatha Christie Mallowan…
As a young man, my head was like a crowded movie theater where someone has just yelled “Fire!” and everyone scrambles for the exits at once. I had a thousand ideas but only 10 fingers and one typewriter. There were days — I’m not kidding about this, or exaggerating — when I thought all the clamoring voices in my mind would drive me insane. Back then, in my 20s and early 30s, I thought often of the John Keats poem that begins, “When I have fears that I may cease to be / Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain …”
My thesis here is a modest one: that prolificacy is sometimes inevitable, and has its place. The accepted definition — “producing much fruit, or foliage, or many offspring” — has an optimistic ring, at least to my ear…
Trigger Warning: free speech is being attacked and downgraded in Anglo-American culture, says Mick Hume
Anorak asked journalist Mick Hume about his new book, which looks at the highly topical issue of free speech…
Your new book is entitled ‘Trigger Warning’. For those not familiar with the phrase, could you explain its origin and its relevance?
A ‘trigger warning’ is a statement stuck at the beginning of a piece of writing, video or whatever to alert you to the fact that it contains material you may find upsetting or offensive. For example, ‘TW: Islamophobic language’, or ‘TW: references to sexual violence’.
Trigger Warnings took off in US colleges (where student activists want classic works to carry them, suggesting for example that The Great Gatsby should have one along the lines of ‘TW: suicide, domestic abuse and graphic violence’). They have since spread across the Atlantic and the internet. If you are not familiar with ‘TWs’, they are coming soon to a website near you.
For me the mission creep of trigger warnings symbolises the stultifying atmosphere surrounding freedom of expression and debate today. They are like those ‘Here be dragons’ signs on uncharted areas of old maps, warning students and others not to take a risk, not to step off the edge of their comfort zone, not to expose themselves to ‘uncomfortable’ ideas, images or opinions.
What is the book about?
The sub-title of the book rather gives the game away: ‘Is the fear of being offensive killing free speech?’ To which its unsurprising answer is yes, unless we do something about it.
Trigger Warning is about all the various ways in which free speech is being attacked and downgraded in Anglo-American culture today. It describes ‘the silent war on free speech’. It’s a silent war because nobody in politics or public life admits that they are against freedom of expression; all of them will make ritualistic displays of support for it ‘in principle’, as they did after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. In practice, however, they are all seeking ways to restrict freedom of expression, whilst insisting that ‘this is not a free speech issue’, it is merely an attempt to protect the ‘vulnerable’ against offensive and hateful words.
To that end, the book examines the complementary trends towards official censorship, unofficial censorship and self-censorship in the West today, covering everything from online ‘trolls’ to football and comedy as well as more conventional political issues.
Of these three, the most insidious is the informal, unofficial censorship promoted by Twitter mobs and assorted boycott-and-ban-happy zealots. They are a relatively small minority, but they exercise disproportionate influence by preying on the loss of faith in free speech at the top of our societies.
I describe these people as ‘reverse-Voltaires’, who have taken the famous principle linked to Voltaire – ‘I may hate what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ – and twisted it into its opposite – ‘I know I will detest what you say, and I will defend to the end of free speech my right to stop you saying it’. They do not want to debate arguments they disagree with, but merely to close them down as offensive. Trigger Warning takes on their most powerful excuses in a section entitled ‘Five good reasons for restricting free speech – and why they’re all wrong’.
What is the main message of the book?
The main message of the book – and I fear it is a ‘message’ book, or ‘polemic’ as we pretentious authors say – is twofold, I suppose. That we have forgotten how important the fight for free speech has been in the creation of something approximating a civilised society, and that we are in danger of giving it up without a struggle. It is not so much that we are losing the free speech wars: we are not even fighting them!
Few of the great advances in politics, science and culture over the past 500 years would have been possible without the expansion of free speech and the willingness of heroic heretics to question everything and break taboos. None of the liberation movements of the recent past could have succeeded without putting the right to free speech at the forefront of their campaigns (which makes it all the more bitterly ironic to see restrictions on free speech being demanded today in the name of protecting the oppressed).
Free speech was never a right to be won once and then put on a shelf to be admired. It always has to be defended again, against new challenges and enemies. The big danger today is that so few are standing up for unfettered free speech against the reverse-Voltaires and their like. Where are the young Tom Paines, JS Mills, John Wilkes’ or George Orwells of our age? Instead we have characters like the US liberal professor who just wrote a (pseudonymous) article about how he is too ‘terrified’ of his ‘liberal’ students to raise a potentially offensive idea or even ask them to read Mark Twain. Time to take a stand before it’s too late.
You have been outspoken about the right to offend. But some people seem to believe they have a duty to offend, and we have seen public examples of this recently. How does your opinion differ from theirs?
I have been writing about the right to be offensive for some 25 years, since the crisis over Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. It is the cutting edge of free speech. After all, what use is it is we are only ‘free’ to say what everybody else might like? If we defend free speech for those views branded extreme and offensive, the mainstream will look after itself. This is not about offensive language, but opinions – as JS Mill pointed out long ago, the more powerful your opponent’s arguments are, the more offensive you tend to find them!
The importance of that issue was brought into sharp focus by the reaction to the Charlie Hebdo massacre of course. As the book describes, behind the apparent displays of Je Suis Charlie solidarity, the powerful message was that those cartoonists had gone ‘too far’ in offending Islam. Those gunmen might have been inspired by Islamist preachers, but they can only have been encouraged by the loss of faith in free speech at the heart of Western culture.
None of this means, as you mention, that anybody has a duty to offend. The right to be offensive is not an obligation. One problem today is that the response to the conformist culture of You-Can’t-Say-That tends to be a few comedians and others trying to cause offence for the sake of it. That’s infantile and useless. As William Hazlitt wrote, ‘An honest man speaks the truth, though it may cause offence, a vain man, in order that it may”. A good distinction, so long as we remember that the vain man gets the freedom to speak his version of the truth, too.
Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech? is published by Collins.
Mick was answering questions put to him by Ed Barrett
Connecticut teacher fired for reading Allen Ginsberg poem students can borrow from the school library
Censorshsip is on the rise in the US. The ‘you can’t say that’ culture is undermining free speech and free thinking. National Coalition Against Censorship has news: “During an AP class discussion about gratuitous language, a student asked a teacher to read an Allen Ginsberg poem. He did. He’s not a teacher anymore.”
David Olio was sacked for reading a poem? Really?
In February two students complained about an Allen Ginsberg poem that, at the request of a fellow student, was shared in Olio’s AP English class at South Windsor High School in Connecticut. A media uproar followed, and Olio was essentially forced to resign.
Artist Jesse England’s “E-Book Backup” project sees him photocopy his Kindle version of George Orwell’s 1984. He photocopied every page, one by one. He then uploaded the scanned copy to his Kindle.
Hold on your Top Gear hair it’s going to be bumpy ride as we look at Top Gear erotic fan fiction. Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May are away…
This is from a work entitled Clutch:
“At first he thought the taut muscles and slender hips belonged to a girl. But, aroused, he strode closer and recognised the unmistakable frame of his friend Jeremy.”