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Archive for the ‘Department of Politics’ Category

Review The Berlin Wall by Frederick Taylor

In Book Review, Department of History, Department of Politics on May 26, 2010 at 12:41 pm

New Year’s Eve 2009/2010 I wanted to be on my own, as I have many New Year’s Eves, but a few days before a good friend invited me over to be with his girlfriend and a female friend of theirs. Still reluctant, and ambivalent about the fact I was convinced they were trying to set me up, I accepted and drove over.

This friend of theirs was a teacher, was convinced of her own intellectual brilliance, and had a tendency to micro-manage conversation until the whole evening became one long, dread, succession of parlour games. Who would we invite to the ideal dinner party (I hate dinner parties), Barack Obama apparently, to which my unenthused response earned me the assured “Don’t you read Time”. No, I don’t. Another such game led somehow to us discussing what would be our Mastermind topic. Hers was Elvis, and she issued a torrent of facts (and those justifications masquarading as facts that are never far from a true fanatic’s lips). B_____’s would be Rallying in the ’90s. His girlfriend’s, I think, would be something to do with the Berlin Wall. At any rate, one thing I took away from the evening, aside from my own unsuitability for company of any kind and my desire to be a perfect recluse, as I had more or less managed that half year, was that, though I had many special interests as fiercely obsessive as our Elvis aficionado’s that night, I was master of none of them; the fact that I had managed one tenuously assimilated fact about the Berlin Wall that night, and that I had for many years had an interest in precisely this period of Central and Eastern European history, and the Cold War seemed particularly stark, and I played a game of Solitaire Humiliations with myself for a long while afterwards.

Soon after moving to North Wales I was walking around Bangor, a University town, and indeed, a university town I could have lived in had things turned out differently – for most of the summer, awaiting A-Level results, I had indeed believed I would end up at my second choice, studying English with Creative Writing, and looking back now I could see for sure it would have suited me better – and taking a look at the Oxfam, I could not hold back from buying Taylor’s book on the very subject I had proven myself to not understand. One thought I depolyed against the compulsive purchase of the book was that I would never in a million years finish it. I don’t do well with such long books. The faltering motivation and shifting priorities of my ADHD see to that. But it was no good.

Two, three months on, I am glad of that. The book was a slog. I stalled on it numerous times and, though I left myself notes and To Do lists, and though I picked up the book again and again and pushed myself on, my self conscious re-focusing sessions were difficult. Something changed perhaps when I got one hundred and fifty or so pages in and the wall was built. Suddenly the recondite machinations of the various political parties and cabals were thrown into sharp relief by the very real human stories of the individuals and groups on either side of the wall.

Unusually for me I zipped through the next few hundred pages, reading them quickly for me at any rate. The realities of events in the GDR and the larger than life characters of those such as Lyndon Johnson, Walter Ulbricht, John F Kennedy, Nikita Krushchev and, more particularly, those lesser known but, incredibly, equally rare individuals, are for me more enthralling than any political thriller.

It may well be that the events were enthralling enough to keep me reading despite the lacklustre text. There were few passages where Taylor’s prose or delivery stood out and it struck me that perhaps at times the scarcely believable events could have been better served. Still, I am glad I persisted, and feel no less determined, at the end of it, that any future games of Solitaire Humiliations will not find me so ignorant of an area of history I should by now be pretty sure of.

Outside of the text I have a few of my usual bugbears. Acronyms and abbreviations can be opaque at the best of times, and histories concerning the Cold War especially so given the fact that many such are taken from the already perplexing initials of foreign institutions. At the very least I believe a history such as this ought to have a list of abbreviations used. Equally useful, though, would be a list of the key figures. It is not only those with ADHD like myself who may find themselves putting such a book as this aside for a time. It needs an investment of concentration and energy many people lack over a prolonged period. It can be difficult to remember a large cast of characters at the best of times.

Overall, though, reading this book has made me less intimidated by serious historical texts, less liable to persuade myself that I would be unable to make it through them, and indeed, more likely to persist. I may well seek out Taylor’s more highly rated Dresden, and try again with such texts as Timothy Garton Ash’s We The People and The Polish Revolution. Whatever my reservations, this itself must be a high recommendation.

Modules for 2010

In Autism Research Unit, Creative Writing Department, Department of Czech and Slavic Studies, Department of Literature, Department of Nutrition, Department of Politics, Department of Psychology on January 26, 2010 at 10:38 am

Department of Creative Writing – short pieces

Show somebody something: 20

Finish A Guest for January – draft: 10

Write up/dictate Scars and Tattoos – work on in timetabled sessions to end March 2010: 20

Finish stragglers

viz The Most Random Shag Yet, Equation, [Eurovision story], The Enthusiast, [Alton Towers story], [Farming story], alternating with new stories: 20 credits per stalled first draft completion, 10 per new story

Practical:

Find and make notes on settings, social contexts etc. etc. eg. a Bookies; Interview a person/group of people about their job/hobby etc.

Department of Literature – poetry notebook

One entry per week: 20. One entry per fortnight: 10. One entry per month: 0 credits.

Department of Literature – exercises

Exercises in Style after the above authors based on 1 – 3 : 15 credits per piece.

Flash Fiction: 5 a piece

Department of Creative Writing – Ongoing research

Liquid Loves, Call Them Soldiers:

Zygmunt Bauman – Liquid Love: 25

John Gray – Black Mass: 20

John Gray – Straw Dogs: 30 (with notes)

Department of Creative Writing – Ways of Escape

Develop and nurture a routine that may become second nature. Describe it. Practice it. Live it. : 65

The Man Who Went into the West: the life of R S Thomas – Byron Rogers: 20

Rimbaud – Graham Robb: 40

George Orwell – D J Taylor: 35

Anton Chekhov – Henri Troyat: 25

Read the rest of this entry »

Pendulums

In Department of Politics, Department of Psychology, Uncategorized on January 8, 2010 at 8:45 pm

[One of those posts that starts as one thing and becomes another, and then jumbled a little more by the fact it was dictated via Dragon Natural Voice and corrected only after a few days, by which time I had doubtlessly forgotten in many instances what I had originally said. Nevertheless, it is a post which certainly gets to the heart of some of the problems I face, and, indeed, for that matter, states perhaps more clearly than I have yet stated elsewhere, what this website is about, so here it is.]

chaotic pendulum

I got up at something like a 12:15 today after the most formless day yesterday when I had been on the computer most of the day, with the computer plugged into the Internet (never a good idea). I had been ill yesterday in the morning, lacking in energy still and had managed little but to read some of the story, Sham, that had stalled, by the looks of it on Boxing Day. I last worked on it on Christmas Day knowing what happens when I have a break of anything more than a day on a story. But then my brother was up visiting and I never manage to write when he’s here, and then I was ill (the jury is out on whether I caught something or got a bad bout of die off symptoms after letting my diet slide on Christmas Day with bread and cakes and milk and alcohol).

The procrastinatory resistance I get every time one project stalls is nightmarish. I feel ill, depressed, as I did for a long while after Christmas, I’ll do anything to avoid going back to it and try to fill my mind with it once again when so many other things have taken its place in the intervening moments. My days fill with the myriad non-overlapping projects, manias, maxims from days gone by, any of which is for this time preferable even if taken to extreme.

Last night I wrote to a woman at Charles University asking about the possibilities of studying there. I looked into volunteering at organic farms in the Czech Republic. I looked at gluten and dairy free cafes to see if I can apply for jobs there. Caught up in a few new manias.

It’s horrible now and not knowing how ‘authentic’ all this is when I know my tendency is to centrifugal enthusiasms when the most proximate project stalls on me.

And then you look back and see this constant repetition of shifting maxims which are intended to rule your life. Czech hurtles up. Revision of Liquid Loves with it. Call Them Soldiers is up there hovering around the third spot five, six months on from when it last made an appearance. With these so many other things. Belcher gastronomique, candida, French, guitar, all vying for position. Running is doing well. The whole online dating nonsense being the only thing that is more or less given up its place so that all of the others are hunched up hurtling around the track.

Other things are introduced through more straightforwardly external factors. I get an e-mail from Paul at the Dark Mountain Project and want to send something, perhaps some poetry, an essay. Read the rest of this entry »

Info mining

In Commentary, Department of Politics on September 26, 2009 at 11:15 am

A month or so ago I became a cyber recluse, that is, I deactivated my Facebook account. I had done it once before and had been thinking about it for some time. Aspies are supposed to love socialising on-line, and in some ways I do. I would not have spent half the time talking to my latest ex (a mistake from the beginning) if I had not been able to do it on-line. This illustrates one of the dangers that I came to see all too starkly: the illusion of being sociable. I may not be the most sociable person that’s ever lived. I may prefer to get out and do something – to get down the driving range with a friend and work on my golf swing (which is abysmal), to cook for somebody, to get out on my bike and get some exercise – but all of these things, though neurotypicals may go about them differently, and enjoy chatting for its own sake, are sociable activities, even if I do them only once a month, or less frequently. On-line I was being sociable, and yet not. But also, Facebook, I found to lead to the same paranoia as I get in large groups in the real social world.

I am impulsive. I will post some idiot status update, and then worry about what people think of it. Indeed, sometimes, they will make that perfectly clear. I come over wrong through Facebook, as I do, often, in real life situations in which I’m not comfortable. I felt myself getting sniped. An old friend, who, if it were not for Facebook, I wouldn’t still be in contact with, because we have so little in common, reacted to one of my posts – some dumb comment to a friend who had asked something about the zeitgeist in my home town to the effect that it wouldn’t know a zeitgeist if it hit it in the face and that I felt like walking around the neighbourhood in a raincoat flashing my weltanschauung at all and sundry –  by saying, drily, sarcastically, there was an excess of Weltschmerz in my town. I worried over it for days. Why do I have to come over as such a cock? The guy hates me! He always did. And he has reason. What an asshole! I went to his wedding and didn’t bring a present, slept in a tent that time around for the most expensive wedding, in a Cambridge college, that I have ever seen, and I didn’t bring a present. I went over and over it, reproaching myself, and making some stab at defending myself, that with things how they were with my ex, I literally had no money and no time to organise such things. But it happened all the time. People sniping, maybe. And certainly, with words written down with no sense of irony or sarcasm, with nothing to go on, they worked their way into my head like shrapnel. And me, all the time, making the kind of gauche idiot pronouncements that I hate about myself, and about me in combination with any form of instant communication: e-mail, SMS, blogs, it’s all put me in horrible, horrible, situations before. Read the rest of this entry »