Thursday, April 13, 2017

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (by Henry Fielding): Not quite a review


I've finally finished this. Although it took me a long time, it was surprisingly easy to read. Bear in mind that it was published in 1749, and I expected to have more difficulty with the English. A few words were oddly (and variously) spelt, but otherwise the language was almost entirely modern. Only a few odd words and phrases failed to yield their meaning within the context. 

Of course, the book is written in a style which most modern readers would not particularly like. The author frequently addresses the reader directly, imposing himself upon the narrative, offering opinions and engaging in lengthy digressions from the central narrative. The novel is divided into several books, each of which is subdivided into chapters. The first chapter of each book is presented as a kind of prologue which, rather than progressing the plot, usually involves some kind of philosophical/ethical discourse.

The plot is complex, peppered with larger than life characters and improbable scenarios, with elements that we would recognise as farce. It is, however, of a somewhat more literary character than much of the farce that appears on the stage, particularly in the English theatrical tradition. It is, at times, hilariously funny, occasionally moving, and always insightful. Despite the fashions and styles of the times, the characters and situations are not so very far removed from what we might witness today.

Although many modern readers would struggle with the style in which this novel is written, it is perhaps worth pointing out that what we today consider to be the 'proper' form of the novel is itself but a passing fad. 

I would not presume to give a book which is still being read 268 years after its initial publication a star rating.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The New Normal

Last year was a fascinating year in many respects, especially politically around the world. I haven’t commented about much of it. Plenty of others have done that. To be honest, I’m not sure what any of it means, or what the long term consequences might be.

I am aware, though, that human beings have an incredible (and not always helpful) capacity to adapt. It does not take long for us to ‘get used’ to things, to accept things as the new ‘normal’. This can take truly extreme forms. People can ‘get used’ to living in prisons or detention camps; or living under constant bombardment. This adaptability is useful in one sense: it is necessary for survival, at least in the short term. In the longer term, though, it means that we cease to fight. That’s understandable. Fighting is exhausting.

This, of course, is what oppressive regimes (whether they be oppressive governments, oppressive government agencies, or oppressive private corporations) depend on: that we will tire of the fight; that we will not, in fact, be able to maintain our rage.

And few of us can, for any length of time. Life goes on. It all becomes ‘normal’, all too quickly.

I’m feeling some of this tiredness myself. Apart from anything else, the ‘enemy’ is difficult to pin down. There are conservative and reactionary forces pummelling us from every direction. Unfortunately, they distract us from what are probably the most important issues facing us today.

The most important issue facing us is climate change, but it remains difficult to convince people of that. It is very difficult to maintain this fight because, to be honest, I think the battle is already largely lost. Even if we were to stop introducing CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere today, mean global temperatures would now likely continue to increase for decades; and that does not even take into account any critical cascade events that may be precipitated. There is next to no chance of keeping the increase below 2 °C. The consequences of this are unimaginable. And perhaps that is the problem. It does not seem real to us. It will be real enough to our children and grandchildren.

Unfortunately, we will probably get used to this too.

Anything we do now is probably far too little, far too late. This will no doubt be the next argument of the forces that oppose action again climate change: it’s too late to do much, so why bother doing anything?

But I won’t buy that. Everything we can do, we must do.

Let’s do our best to maintain the fight, to maintain our rage. Let’s not get used to the new ‘normal’.