The Goths are at the door……….

No, not the guys who dress in black. Guys who dress in black can actually be quite approachable.

I’m thinking about Titus Andronicus at the moment. I’m sure it has something to say about Empire and its nature but I’m still trying to work all this out.

Titus Andronicus, for those who don’t know, is a neglected play by that little known writer William Shakespeare. I’m only joking about Shakespeare being little known. Titus Andronicus is a neglected play. Principally, I think, because, it is probably Shakespeare’s most violent play. It includes someone having her tongue cut out, being raped, having her hand cut off. You get the idea. You can do that in the cinema and say nothing but if it’s Shakespearean drama and it has something to say you’d better look forward to it seldom being performed.

But what does it have to say? Now there’s the question. The Romans and the Goths are at war. The General Titus Andronicus returns victorious but with 21 of his 25 sons sacrificed in the battles. He decides to humiliate the Goth prisoners who return to Rome in his train. The Goths in their midst become more cultured during their stay in Rome. The Romans display the barbarism they had until now associated with the Goths. By the end of the play, Titus Andronicus’ son has ascended to the throne and he is enabled to achieve this goal by the Goths that his father had sought to humiliate.

Empire is a very current idea. The Americans and assorted allies invade Iraq to remove a corrupt leader but also to export democracy. The kind of rights that are traditionally associated with democracy are meanwhile denied those who are prisoners-of-war at Guantanamo Bay. 

Heather James in her important essay, “Cultural disintegration in Titus Andronicus” has this to say:

“the founding acts of Empire turn out to contain the seeds of its destruction”

Something like this is afoot in the world at the moment. The Chinese seem to be exporting their Empire to Africa by stealth and by financial interest. Examine what’s happening in Congo and Ethiopia. Sell us your resources and we will build you roads and train lines. Ships of Chinese weapons are stopped at South Africa en route to Robert Mugabe. Meanwhile, China stifles Tibet back home. Beware of Empire-makers bearing gifts. Africa needs to wake up before it gives away the little it has left……..

GK Chesterton said , in “The Flying Inn”, that the great destiny of Empire was in 4 acts. “Victory Over Barbarians. Employment of Barbarians. Alliance with Barbarians. Conquest by Barbarians.”

There is a theme here somewhere. Something about the fact that on order to create your Empire you must defeat your enemy, and in order to defeat your enemy, you must stoop to the level of those you came to enrich, to exploit and make wiser. In order to build your Empire you must become worse than those you came to improve. This is certainly true of the Romans in Titus Andronicus and perhaps of all attempts at Empire.

There are, of course, those who rise above and survive. Speaking of the people of God, Bob Dylan reminded us “every empire that enslaved him is gone – Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon” (Neighbourhood Bully, 1983).

Even the Eagles remind us on their new record that the “road to Empire is a bloody stupid waste” (Long Road out of Eden, 2007). Despite all these great voices ranged around to remind us, the wise ones still try to build empires to export their ways. It cost Titus Andronicus his sanity and the Romans the world they had re-created. It might cost us more, if we don’t learn the lessons of this play and our history.

Words, words, words

Hamlet, I think, Act 2 Scene 2.

Amongst my many other failings, I read too much. Way too much.

To indulge myself and for anyone who might actually read this, I thought I’d make a list of some of my favourite authors (in no particular order):

GK Chesterton…. Love his philosophical and thoughtful stuff. I recently read “The Man who was Thursday” which is kind of a supernatural adventure story or something indefinable. His 1911 book the Napoleon of Notting Hill makes much mention of Ravenscourt Park. I look out on Ravenscourt Park every morning.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn….. Someone who rose in prominence primarly because of his opposition to Soviet Russia and who has faded just as dramatically since that is no longer a issue. I began reading him back in the day with A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. His later work is largely ignored since he is no longer politically significant. The later version of August 1914, The Red Wheel Knot 1 (published in the 1980s, not the earlier incomplete version from the 1970s) may just be his masterpiece.

William Shakespeare….  Not well known but a good playwright with potential. He just needs the right breaks. Joking aside I love to go and see his plays performed in Stratford-Upon-Avon which is one of my favourite places on the whole planet right now and chock full of good memories. King Lear, MacBeth, Merchant of Venice, The Winters Tale are my favourites probably in that order

Arthur Miller…… I love All My Sons, View From a Bridge, Death of a Salesman but also his later stuff which curiously is not often performed. At one point a few years ago, he decided to open many of his new dramas in London’s West End which suited me down to the ground. Great debuts ensued for plays like the Ride Down Mount Morgan and Broken Glass (which I think he revised before his death). I also enjoyed his short story, Plain Girl

Malcolm Muggeridge…… The most important journalist of the 20th century. I own all of his books bar one. If anyone has a spare copy of “Next Years News” (written with Hugh Kingsmill in 1937, I think) please send it to me. I will pay you generously. Great books, very important and woefully neglected. Three Flats, Picture Palace, Winter in Moscow, Conversion, In a Valley of this Restless Mind, Affairs of the Heart, London a la Mode, I could go on and on and probably will at some juncture.

Charles Williams… A cohort of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien but less well known. And a better writer for my money. Particularly like his novels which include Descent into Hell and Place of the Lion.

Philip K. Dick…..  A believable futuristic science fiction from a man who lost his mind. Claustrophobic stories from a future world which are so intoxicating.

Shusaku Endo….  Japanese author. I’ve read most everything of his that has been translated into English. Amongst his best are The Girl I Left Behind, Wonderful Fool and Silence
Charles Dickens….  when he’s good, he is very good. Could go far with the right backing. Joking aside, I enjoy Great Expectations, The Christmas Carol and a number of his others (but not all)
 
Current reading – Peter Cook “Tragically, I was an only twin”, Geza Vermes “The Nativity”, Philip K. Dick “Flow my tears, the Policeman said”.