Lucy and Todd

Posts Tagged ‘hitler’

Judging Shaw — Fintan O’Toole

In Reviews by Lucy and Todd on April 9, 2018 at 9:27 am

Judging Shaw: The Radicalism of GBS

 

GBS was one of history’s great high-wire acts, and it was performed solo and without a safety net,” writes Fintan O’Toole in this entertaining, insightful and wonderfully produced book. For three-quarters of a century, George Bernard Shaw was the most exciting and disturbing voice in English letters. He was the bane of politicians, coxcombs and bad musicians, and loved every minute of it. He was also the most-read socialist thinker of the 20th century, even though no political philosopher has ever quoted him.

Shaw was the first literary “brand” in the era of modern communications. “GBS”, a persona Shaw couldn’t always control and which began eventually to irritate him, was often portrayed as an imp, a devil, a self-anointer – one cartoon shows him with a laurel wreath to which is affixed a tag: “plucked by myself”. He was, and was seen as, a shameless self-promoter, a manipulator, a puppeteer. See the famous Al Hirschfeld drawing in the artwork associated with My Fair Lady: Shaw’s up on a cloud jiggling strings attached to Henry Higgins, who in turn has his own puppet, Liza Doolittle.

Putting aside his vast oeuvre, the plays, pamphlets, articles, books, postcards and letters, and Shaw’s contrarian, acid analyses of just about everything, his greatest achievement may ultimately have been a simple kick in the pants for us all. Go ahead, he said to the world. Read some books and work it out for yourself.

Strange, then, that what defeated Shaw, and almost ruined his career – twice – was politics. Not the play politics of taunting the English for their stuffiness and backwardness. Not the kind of politics that can be made fun of in newspapers and wry drama, but the real, looming disasters of two world wars. He got it wrong both times.

At the outbreak of the First World War he got up on his hind legs and bellowed that for England to fight Germany was nonsense, since the two nations were practically one and the same. He compared the Junkers to the English oligarchy (rightly) and debated whether it might be best for British soldiers to stay at home and start a revolution instead. Reaction was swift. The Establishment turned on him as a crank and a traitor. His books were withdrawn from libraries and bookshops, his membership in professional associations cancelled. For the popular press, always annoyed by him, the gloves were off.

Things were never the same for him, but Shaw, being Shaw, went on to write some of his best polemics in the 1920s: The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism contains a shrewd explanation of How the War Was Paid For that can still make your blood boil.

Then he did it again! At a luncheon in the late 1920s, Beatrice Webb noted that Shaw was “gabbling” about Mussolini, insisting that everyone agree that Il Duce was the best thing since dried macaroni. At this point Webb wrote Shaw off as a political thinker.

Shaw totally failed to notice that the Final Solution was not a sideline to Nazism but the essence of it. He thought he could talk Hitler out of it, one vegetarian to another. Always impatient for change, Shaw supported the dictators until the last possible moment: Hitler’s invasion of the USSR. He apologised to his compatriots. Pretty late. Pretty lame.

O’Toole casts Shaw as a hybrid of Oscar Wilde (his near contemporary and a fellow Dubliner) and Leo Tolstoy: half fanciful gadfly and half bearded dietary sage. After the First World War there wasn’t any of the gadfly left, or at least any market for what the gadfly had to say. And by 1945, Shaw was nearly 90 and his stinger was weak.

Shaw was anything but a sumptuary, excepting with words, but Judging Shaw is sumptuous. It’s full of skilfully chosen pictures, cartoons, reproductions of autograph letters and manuscripts that draw you into Shaw’s time and place.

A commemorative postage stamp issued by the Soviet Union in 1956 gives Shaw that glowing, Lenin-Stalin upward gaze. A photo shows GBS wearing only a loincloth and espadrilles, sitting on an uncomfortable-looking rock in the pose of Rodin’s The Thinker.

The continuing value of Shaw is his insistence that we stop ignoring what we are constantly being told – the “brain-dead megaphone” of politics and media, as George Saunders has it. Or stop swallowing it whole – whichever sin you commit. Get sceptical. And get critical.

TMcE

This review appeared in the Herald on April 7, 2018

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Patience — Daniel Clowes

In Reviews by Lucy and Todd on April 18, 2016 at 2:57 pm

If you could travel back in time, would you kill Hitler’s mother, seek out your old house and play ball with your former self, or locate your (eventual) wife during her unhappy adolescence and punch her violent boyfriends? These are the dilemmas facing Jack, the hero of Daniel Clowes’ latest graphic novel. The murderous attitude toward Hitler’s mother (rather than toward Hitler himself) fits right in with an underlying misogyny throughout. Indebted to Hollywood for most of its ideas and its deficiencies, Patience only squeaks by in the Bechdel test.

It begins wittily enough with the tip of a penis, a semi-circle of cervix, and a big white splodge in between. Across this romantic conception scene the year 2012 is emblazoned. Patience is a ‘preggo’, as she despairingly puts it. She and her husband Jack want the baby but don’t have much money. He hasn’t even told her yet that his current job consists of handing out porno flyers. He’s about to fess up when Patience gets murdered. As in The Fugitive, Jack’s unjustly accused of the crime – but he gets off.

He proceeds to grieve for Patience and their unborn child for seventeen chaste years, until 2029 when he happens upon a scientist with a time machine. Though Jack admits ‘All that sci-fi bullshit is way too much to wrap my stupid-ass brain around’, now begins a bitter tale of love lost and reclaimed via time warps.

“POOF…BOOM…POW!” As with Woody Allen, the descent into magic makes your heart sink. Clowes doesn’t need to retreat from reality – he needs to get closer to it. Still, Jack’s psychedelic freak-outs add visual variety, since Clowes’ usual flat, denuded pictorial take on things can make Patrick Caulfield’s formalized functionalism seem rich and generous.

The real subjects here are banal hopes and dreams, with a bit of mock heroism thrown in, all set within the customary graphic-novel gloomsville. Unquestioned stereotypes (fatsos, good-hearted tarts, even the wise black sidekick) and narrative clichés (the requisite murder, driving around, and male vengeance) reek of TV drama. There’s no actual law that says bleakness has to be portrayed in a bleak way. Edward Hopper rose above it.

Clowes gets more playful with the weirder psychological, physiological and ethical aspects of time travel. One two-page spread throws every known substance in the universe into flux, and Jack’s heart, intestines, muscles and veins briefly show through his clothing. Clowes is clever too at conveying nighttime action. But the countless Vertigo-like depictions of Patience’s bland blonde head get aggravating.

Jack has his time-warp trials. He makes no friends when he attempts to pay for a 1985 breakfast with modern money (a veiled complaint, perhaps, that the government ever changed the look of the good old dollar bill). A woman in a bar admires Jack’s 2029 jacket: “Whoa, did you make that yourself?” In a casino he toys with the (Back to the Future) temptation to place bets on the results of ancient NFL games. How American, and how male, to remember those football scores in the midst of metaphysical, galactic disarray.

But Patience is most of all an invasion-of-privacy fantasy: a man goes back in time to snoop on his future wife, read her diary, and check her out at a young age – supposedly, to prevent her later murder. The gory close-up of the dead Patience’s open eye is a bad sign, and this is where the really icky intrusiveness begins. It’s getting so a girl can’t be clunked on the head in peace anymore.

LE

This review appeared in the Spectator, April 2, 2016