Schizophrenia, Spaceboys, and the Spiders from Mars
The death of David Bowie in 2016 revived both intense media interest in his work and astonishing creative legacy and also a plethora of unthinking and misleading cliches about who he was and what he signified. Foremost amongst these was the description of him as some kind of alien being, or “mysterious extraterrestrial”: “40 years ago, in millions of living rooms across the British isles,” one hagiographic BBC documentary started, “a strange alien creature was beamed onto our television screens”. Online and newspaper headlines were full of references to Starmen, Spaceboys, The Man who Fell to Earth – but there was very little attempt to explore or decode these references or to consider their psychological significance.
Political Revelation and Working Class Prophecy
William Blake (1757–1827) was a British artist, engraver, poet, and writer on theological themes. His illuminated books were the product of his technological inventiveness, and are characterized by the juxtaposition of texts and images in which a dialectic between two different media is a means of stimulating the imagination of the viewer and reader.
“his technological inventiveness, characterized by the juxtaposition of texts and images”: Blake’s very method was dialectical, engraving the text in reverse and then using acid to burn away the surface image – he links this method to the process of revelation itself; “the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul, is to be expunged; this I shall do by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid”
Influences on Blake are often hard to trace, though he explicitly cites and criticizes Milton and Swedenborg, as well as the contemporary artist Joshua Reynolds. Such influences, which might help explain Blake’s ideas, seem less important than the extraordinary inventiveness which one finds in his words and images and their production, which have analogies to earlier themes, but without offering the evidence that demonstrates direct dependence. Blake’s emphasis is on the importance of “inspiration” rather than “memory,” and as such he set great store on the creativity of the poetic genius and its reception by the engaged reader or viewer.
“This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism” – Einstein
Albert Einstein wrote Why Socialism? for the first issue of the journal Monthly Review. In the article he analyses the structures and processes of capitalism, noting that the profit motive of a capitalist society, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, leads to erratic economic cycles of booms and depressions, while also promoting selfishness instead of cooperation. He suggests that the educational system of such a society would be severely undermined because people will educate themselves only to advance their careers. According to Einstein, this leads to both the “crippling of individuals” and the erosion of human creativity. Einstein also saw that in capitalist societies, political parties and politicians are inevitably corrupted by financial contributions made by owners of large capital amounts, with the result that the system “cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society”. For these reasons, he concludes, socialism is not only socially desirable but also historically inevitable.
The Story of Kids Company and the Centre for Policy Studies
This month marks the third anniversary of the closure of the children’s charity Kids Company. The charity had been forced to close in 2015 following allegations of serious sexual abuse broadcast by BBC’s Newsnight programme, and stories of “gross financial mismanagement”, led by the Spectator magazine, including mismanagement of a £3 million grant given to the charity shortly before it closed. A subsequent investigation by the Metropolitan Police into the allegations of sexual and physical abuse that were aired so sensationally by Newsnight however found “no evidence of criminality” and no fault with the charity’s safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults. In 2017 the courts finally confirmed that the £3million grant that had been given to the charity did not have to be returned, and that the terms of the grant had not been breached by the charity. But by then the doors were closed and the charity in liquidation.
BBC Newsnight’s damaging report was instrumental in the destruction of the children’s charity, as the Parliamentary Enquiry into the Collapse of Kids Company noted: “The charity closed on 5 August 2015, following the launch of a police investigation into allegations of sexual abuse at the charity.”
From Logos to Eros: Humans Moving Beyond the Reality Principle
“Intensified progress seems to be bound up with intensified unfreedom” Herbert Marcuse observed in his classic work Eros and Civilisation, one of the most profound and compelling books ever written on the problem of ‘civilisation’. In it, he tries to explain and unravel this apparent paradox.
‘Eros and Civilization’, a multimedia performance installation by Han Bing [above]. The Sleep of Albion, aka the Enlightenment. Blake believed that the sleep of imagination, not reason, produced the real monsters.
Mystical Islam: Integrating the Left and the Right
The original post exploring the ’40 Rules of Love’ by the great Persian mystic and Sufi, Shams Tabrizi, has been the most viewed of all the posts on The Human Divine. The earlier blog, which is available here, only covers the first ten of the ‘rules’ though, so here’s the next ten of his observations, a continuation and elaboration of his teachings.
Rod Tweedy reviews the book War against War! by Ernst Friedrich
On May Day 1924 Ernst Friedrich published a collection of photographic images of the atrocities of World War I, hoping to use the relatively new medium of photography as documentary evidence to challenge the orthodox presentation of war. As Douglas Kellner has remarked, “Friedrich hoped that when they actually saw the reality of modern warfare, people everywhere would become more critical of war, the military, and militarism.”
The book was called War against War!, and the photographs made an immediate and lasting impression on his contemporaries, both within and outside of Germany. The images attracted even greater attention when he put them in the window of his newly-opened Anti-Kriegs-Museum in Berlin, the first international anti-war museum (opened in 1925).