The disconsolations of philosophy

The Silence of Animals (On Progress and Other Modern Myths)*
by John Gray.

The British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society and the Ethical Society and other august institutions and individuals are engaged in an intellectual battle against religion. They seek to undermine religious authority, question the metaphysics of spirituality and re-establish the human at the centre of the world and the author of its value system. They pit modern reason against the superstitious and the archaic. But hold on, now John Gray arrives from the future in his latest book The Silence of Animals, before their battle is won, and tries to overthrow them from an exalted position they have not quite yet attained.

Gray’s position can be stated thus: humanists’ belief in progress via a rational world view is a superstition based on the wrong truth about the human animal.

• Outside of science progress is simply a myth. Science and technology are cumulative and capable of making progress, but ethics and politics deal with recurring dilemmas. For example torture and slavery are universal evils that cannot be consigned to the past like redundant theories in science. Barbarism is a recurring disease of our civilisation, a mistake that will for ever be remade. Whilst human knowledge increases, human irrationality stays the same and human history belongs to the cycles of the natural world. Continue reading

First World War

Ecce Homo

The artist George Grosz was nearly twice murdered by the German authorities in his own Berlin studio. During the Communist uprising in January 1919 Freikorps troops burst in looking to arrest him (John Heartfield, his friend the artist- publisher, had already been taken to be tortured), but using forged identity papers Grosz escaped and went into hiding. Fourteen years later on 31st January 1933, the day after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, Nazi storm-troopers smashed down his studio door with axes seeking him. But he had already left for the United States, a few days earlier on 12th January 1933, with his wife. Creating art can be a dangerous activity. The most effective form of censorship, said George Bernard Shaw, is assassination. Continue reading

Film, First World War, Photography

La vie obscure de Henri-Pierre Roché

The photograph that I love the most is a black and white image of two male boxers dancing arm in arm, in graceful harmony, one having discarded his gloves. It was taken by the French photographer Raymond Cauchetier in a gymnasium in Paris in 1962 on the set of Francois Truffaut’s film Jules et Jim. It shows two actors from the film, Oskar Werner (left, Jules) and Henry Serre (right, Jim). Cauchetier was the photographer of the French New Wave and had been with the press corps in Indochina before returning to Paris and befriending film critics and filmmakers. He was on the sets of these films as a photojournalist as his interest was in the film process, rather than taking stills for publicity.

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Books, First World War

The Mysterious Arthur Cravan

“The Mysterious Arthur Cravan the world’s shortest-haired poet, boxer, hotel-rat, muleteer, snake-charmer, chauffeur, ailurophile, gold-prospector, grandson of the Queen’s Chancellor, nephew of Oscar Wilde…”

was the bellowed recital of accomplishments from the mouth of the English poet-pugilist, Arthur Cravan, as he entered the ring before his boxing bouts in Paris between 1910 and 1914. This mythologizing pedigree may have over-compensated for his underwhelming boxing prowess, but it obeyed one psychological truth: only the exaggerations were true. A macho-aesthete he was a poet amongst boxers, a boxer amongst poets, a fraud and an imposter. André Breton said of him that his life was the best barometer for measuring the impact of the avant-garde between 1912 and 1917. He wrote, edited and distributed editions of a literary magazine which, as prototype Dada, was internationally influential, before dying in 1918 at the age of 31 whilst sailing a boat off the coast of Mexico.
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Here are some quotes from the novel, Atomised, by Michel Houellebecq:

• Once she’s past a certain age, a woman…has no chance of being loved (p.167*).

• Sexual desire is preoccupied with youth, and the tendency to regard ever-younger girls as fair game was simply a return to the norm; a return to the true nature of desire (p.125)

• If people were honest, they don’t give a toss about their kids, they don’t really love them. In fact, I’d say men aren’t capable of love, the emotion is completely alien to them. The only emotions they know are desire – in the form of pure animal lust – and male rivalry (p.200). Continue reading