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Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Eagleton On Blake

This is the 250th birthday of William Blake. Terry Eagleton, so good at spotting literary bigots, is also good at noticing literary visionaries. His Guardian article is worth reading, though I am not sure why he's selected Craig Raine as the contemporary exemplar of the sort of apolitical poet who wouldn't trouble the current state. As a matter of fact, poets in 2003, and beyond, wrote a number of poems which "troubled" the state of affairs, literary and political. Don Paterson chose the platform of his Introduction to his anthology of new British poetry to criticise the "poets against the war" poetry as mostly badly-written, and useless; and Stephen Fry apparently criticised it, too, as did David Wheatley, among other supporters of belles lettres.

And, then, of course, the Nobel went to sometime-poet Harold Pinter, a troublesome enough figure. Did any of this shake Blair, Bush, Brown, or other political figures? Did the nation states of the West tremble? Maybe not, but decorum was rattled, and some thought was provoked. Blake remains a troubling figure - and one who continues to sponsor the kind of poetry that gets written by Ginsbergs of the new century - often performance poets, or rappers - work that speaks out, expressing radical, sometimes hyper-sexual and/or political feelings.

What I think critics of such writing most deplore is the lack of formal control evidenced by this kind of writing, and a sort of agnostic (Humean) mistrust of the religious inspiration of the work. I'll leave that for another post, but religion, even fervently held to, has instigated the creation of remarkable poetic work, from Herbert to Hopkins, and beyond. In this secular age, what might most trouble people, in fact, is work of deeply-held religious, or political, conviction. This sort of thing resists commodification quite as much as more "avant-garde" strategies.

At bottom of much radical thought are some very basic observations. May I make a few here? No state should profit from the construction of weapons, or sell them to other states. Otherwise, the system of international trade will, by its own internal logic, generate a demand, and supply for such weapons, and lead to greater levels of violence and war. Further, any state leader who claims to want peace, but promotes such a trade in arms, is a hypocrite. Peace is not an ideal to be gestured at with helpless hands. It is very simply a series of practical steps, beginning with the dismantling of the military-industrial complex at the heart of Western capitalism. I am not here advocating that nations not manufacture or equip their own armies, though, in time, the idea of armies, and nations, might need to wither away. Yet, while nations and armies continue, so too will wars.
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