Saturday, 5 December 2015

Cuttings November 2015

To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949 by Ian Kershaw – review by Susan Pedersen in The Guardian. "For today, when they look at Europe between the wars, many of my students don’t only ask: 'Why Nazis?' They also ask: 'Why empire?' They are puzzled as much by the paradox of Europe’s democracies struggling to preserve imperial rule as they are by the paradox of cultivated Europe sinking (as Kershaw puts it) 'into the pit of barbarism'. Why were Britain and France determined to keep hold of the Middle East after 1919? How central was racism to what historians sometimes call 'the imperial project'? How can one explain the coexistence of imperial and liberal-democratic values?"

Twitter’s heart hits the wrong beat - article by Emily Bell in The Guardian. "The replacement by Twitter of its star icon with a heart last week sent its most ardent users into a thumbs down frenzy of only mildly contained #emojirage.... People who wished to register a coolly ironic acknowledgment of a fellow tweeter’s bon mot suddenly found that instead of the neutral 'I see what you are doing there' star, their thumb was hovering over a tiny red love heart. I found myself not bookmarking, as I would have done a day earlier, a horrifying image retweeted by journalists depicting men using phones to film a woman being stoned to death for adultery. I did not 'like' let alone 'love' the image but wanted to note it as important. We must have a system which allows for capturing the significant as well as the appealing."

The real history of the ‘safe space’ - article by Vaughan Bell in MindHacks blog. "The concept of the ‘safe space’ ... started [with] the work of psychologist Kurt Lewin. ... In the late 1940s, Lewin was asked to help develop leadership training for corporate bosses and out of this work came ... the invention of sensitivity training which was a form of group discussion where members could give honest feedback to each other to allow people to become aware of their unhelpful assumptions, implicit biases, and behaviours that were holding them back as effective leaders. Lewin drew on ideas from group psychotherapy that had been around for years but formalised them into a specific and brief focused group activity. One of the ideas behind sensitivity training, was that honesty and change would only occur if people could be frank and challenge others in an environment of psychological safety. In other words, without judgement. Practically, this means that there is an explicit rule that everyone agrees to at the start of the group. A ‘safe space’ is created, confidential and free of judgement but precisely to allow people to mention concerns without fear of being condemned for them, on the understanding that they’re hoping to change."

Social Class in the 21st Century by Mike Savage: the emotional effect of class –  review by Lynsey Hanley in The Guardian. "Savage and his colleagues in the London School of Economics’ sociology department have used the results of the class survey to create a seven-class schema, which reveals the vast and growing disparity in wealth and power between the 'elite' and the 'precariat'.... The new elite is followed by the 'established middle class' – well-off, socially gregarious and keen on the arts.... Members of the 'technical middle class' have as much money as the established middle class but don’t know as many people or possess as much cultural capital. The 'new affluent worker' is working class, but relatively well off and keen to live the good life, as are the group of 'emergent service workers' below them. But it’s the last two groups – 'traditional working class' and 'precariat' – that have suffered most both in relative and absolute terms. The 'precariat' are those whose lives are characterised by unstable, low-earning jobs, who cannot afford to make long-term plans, and whose social connection to those at the very top has grown weaker as the elite class ceases to use public services."

How The Hunger Games staged a revolution - article by Danny Leigh in The Guardian. "As YA fiction has swept all before it commercially, the most frequent explanation is that it acts as a mirror to adolescent life: the toxic cocktail of peer and academic pressures analogised into puppet-masters and epic battles. At one level, this is what The Hunger Games does too. But it also combines the fear of the now with the fear of what’s next. Like teenagers across the west, the girls here have been hit hard by austerity; many of [the] pupils [at the London school where the interviews for this article took place] are bright kids who now see university as priced beyond them. 'One perspective about The Hunger Games is the feeling among the young that what awaits them in adulthood is very unforgiving,' [says] Jacobson [the producer of the Hunger Games series of films]. 'I get that. The world we’ve made for them is a harsh arena.' "

The Face of Britain: The Nation Through Its Portraits by Simon Schama: comforting myths of British national character – review by John Gallagher in The Guardian. "Imagine one of the country’s great art collections was opened up to you – you could move things around, dust off the half-forgotten stuff in the basement, shine light on the works you love. What would you do? What story would you tell? This is the idea behind Simon Schama’s The Face of Britain, a book and TV series based on the National Portrait Gallery. First founded to house the portraits of 'those persons who are most honourably commemorated in British history as warriors or as statesmen, or in arts, in literature or in science', the gallery becomes, in Schama’s hands, the basis for a new face-to-face history of the UK."

Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine: a breakthrough collection of graphic short stories – review by Chris Ware in The Guardian. "There’s a certain alchemical balance required when planning a comics story, unpredictable yet based on a few measurable quantities – such as how characters are drawn, move and act around one another – which can either open up avenues of possibility in the author’s mind or set up roadblocks and shut down all dramatic throughways. Clearly, Tomine has found the former passage, especially in "Amber Sweet", a story about a girl frequently mistaken for an internet porn star. Here we see an all-too-rare use of the unreliable narrator in a visual medium that, until only very recently, has unimaginatively taken things at face value. The spaces between Tomine’s panels connect with the mature cartoonist’s electromagnetic spark; he knows exactly which facial expressions and gestures to string together as his characters try to convince others of their authenticity or aims. It’s the reader, however, who must make the largest connections, such as between the narrator of "Amber Sweet" and the sudden appearance of a daughter in another story. Tomine’s omissions are not devious or artsy, but the work of a confident writer mirroring how we conveniently edit out events and people from our memories to suit the narratives we wish had happened. The cumulative leanness and efficiency of these stories have a sharpening effect on one’s own mind."

Violence, victors and victims: how to look at the art of the British empire - article by William Dalrymple in The Guardian. "This month, The Remnants of an Army [by Elizabeth Butler, 1879] returned to Tate for the first time in half a century. ... Also being touched up and nursed back to health after more than half a century of neglect, [are] similar images of the age of empire... The occasion for this reassessment of Tate Britain’s vast but until now almost invisible holdings of imperial art is the mounting of an important, brave and well-judged show about this supremely touchy subject...: Artist and Empire – Facing Britain’s Imperial Past. Astonishingly, it is the first major show on British soil to attempt to give a sample of the art of the British empire since that empire imploded in the decade after 1945. It is not hard to see why it has taken so long for an exhibition like this to be mounted. The traditional British response to embarrassment has typically been to pretend something isn’t happening, and it is difficult to think of a subject that is surrounded by a more formidable minefield of potential awkwardness than the art of imperialism.

Celebrating HG Wells’s role in the creation of the UN Declaration of Human Rights - article by Ali Smith in The Guardian. "Here’s Wells, writing 75 years ago: 'The enormous change in human conditions to which nearly all our present stresses are due, the abolition of distance and the stupendous increase in power, have flung together the population of the world so that a new way of living has become imperative … The elaboration of methods and material has necessitated a vast development and refinement of espionage, and in addition the increasing difficulty of understanding what the warfare is really about has produced new submersive and demoralising activities of rumour-spreading, propaganda and the like, that complicate and lose contact at last with any rational objective … The uprooting of millions of people who are driven into exile among strangers, who are forced to seek new homes, produces a peculiar exacerbation of the mental strain. Never have there been such crowds of migrating dep-ressing people. They talk languages we do not understand … they stimulate xenophobia without intention … Their necessary discordance with the new populations they invade releases and intensifies the natural distrust and hostility of man for man – which it is the aim of all moral and social training to eliminate … For the restoration and modernisation of human civilisation, this exaggerated outlawing of the fellow citizen who we see fit to suspect as a traitor or revolutionary and also of the stranger within our gates, has to be restrained and brought back within the scheme of human rights.' Given how familiar all this sounds, it is interesting that our own Human Rights Act is right now coming under attack."

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