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Showing posts from September, 2015

Pursuing the Millennium

Imagine a group that responds to significant social dislocation by creating an ideal society that is defined by both an expectation of a religiously sanctioned utopia and by defining itself by what it is not and acting violently against anything or anybody who represents that 'other'. A violent acting that is both driven by conviction and by the need to reinforce identity. You might think I was describing ISIS and its attempt to reconstruct the Caliphate, attracting to it people in search of a place and meaning that rescues them from either the mundane ordinariness of their lives or insecurity as a minority, apparently or actually threatened.

I am not. I am describing a current that flows through the history of north-western Europe in the Middle Ages that is compellingly described in Norman Cohn's groundbreaking study, 'The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages'.  Here he describes how throughout the perio…

C.S. Lewis revisted

'Shadowlands', the play, then film, on C.S. Lewis' later life and relationship with Joy Davidman over-emphasises the shift from bachelor to husband, from the rationalising uptight Oxford don to the sympathetic, if challenged, loving partner. For Lewis was, in truth, highly unconventional, having lived for many years with an older woman, Mrs Moore, mother of a fallen comrade in the First World War, and her daughter, until the former's death. Earlier biographers tended to assume that this relationship (with an older woman) was Platonic, but Alastair McGrath in his excellent biography of Lewis rather doubts this (at least in its early stages).

Interestingly too, his closest and oldest friend, Arthur Greaves, was homosexual if a cloistered one (in line with current mores); and, though Lewis was clear that his sexuality flowed in a different direction, it never seemed to give him any pause for prejudice and he happily shared, by letter, his own sadomasochistic fantasies wi…

Mr Bennett's conversions

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''Witness; The Story of a Search" is J.G. Bennett's autobiography blending the life of an intelligence agent, businessman and leader of research institutes (mainly related to coal) with a spiritual seeker and teacher. Topical is the culpable stupidity of the post-First World War leadership whose 'settlement' in the Near East reverberates to this day, fashioned out of almost complete disregard for the realities of the cultures with whom their dealt. Nothing much changed there then...

Like any good spiritual autobiography - St Augustine and Thomas Merton come to mind (and Bennett too was a convert to Catholicism) - it is unsparing in its self-criticism. One thing is striking  that Bennett (until late in life) did not trust himself and this inability to trust impaired his ability to form healthy judgements in whom to place his trust. He was a faulty disciple, too eager to (miss)place his trust in others (and a wise Sufi intimated this to him but in the twisted w…

Fashion world, Creative Eye

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If one was to draw a Venn diagram of myself and the intersecting worlds I inhabit - myself and the world of fashion would overlap only to a small degree (though that is a change from a time when there would have been none). This would have been through disinterest rather than disdain though I do wish we could better distinguish a love of clothes, colour, expression from the apparent treadmill of 'fashion', the twice-yearly shows of new collections (but that probably reflects a more general disagreement with an 'economy' that colonizes every aspect of life and imagines constant change or 'growth' as a sign of maturity rather than of a deep lack).

But one intersection with it came through a friendship with Annette Worsley-Taylor, who very sadly and after a rapid illness, died last week. http://www.vogue.co.uk/suzy-menkes/2015/08/suzy-menkes-remembers-annette-worsley-taylor-british-fashion-council. She was a key driving force in shaping the fashion industry as an…