Thursday, 29 September 2011

The memory of water, the power of words

These small white pills are homoeopathic remedies for back-ache. Anyone who follows this blog will know that I'm not a fan of alternative medicines, but this doesn't mean that the various metaphors of homoeopathy aren't as potent as the remedies themselves are ineffective and, in the wrong hands and contexts, criminal. Still, I'm not here to talk about homoeopathy in Africa, or talking to plants, or over-priced oatcakes or any other of Prince Charles's contributions to modern thought. I'm here to direct you towards my review of an intriguing new novel, whose central character is a practising homoeopath, and whose procedures, among other things, explore the metaphorical riches of the ideas behind it. Memory, energy, guilt, repression, love. Powerful stuff, and grippingly told. The novel is called Out of Sight, its author is Isabelle Grey and my review is here.

Monday, 26 September 2011


A couple of days ago a site called listaouting published the first of a series of promised lists. The list contains the names of ten Italian politicians who have voted consistently in favour of anti-gay legislation, despite being, according to the people who've put the list together, gay themselves. The idea behind the list is that the ten politicians deserve to be outed not as gays, which is nobody's business but theirs, but as hypocrites. It's not a difficult concept to grasp. When a bunch of right-wing politicians here in Italy organised an event called Family Day, with the aim of defending the traditional family (sic) against the destructive and disordered forces of civil unions, a number of journalists published the marital escapades of the event's promoters - most of whom had been divorced at least once, and many of whom were currently living with their partners, unmarried or in sin, as we used to say, in blithe indifference to the rules of the Catholic church to which they all, at least nominally, belonged. They weren't being exposed as divorcees or adulterers but, once again, as hypocrites. Nobody seemed to feel that this offended their human rights. People who say one thing and do another, in that case at least, were seen quite rightly as fair game. No magistrate investigated the publication of their names or suggested that some heinous crime had been committed. Nobody talked about defamation, or presumed that the journalists in question suffered some form of mental illness. Nobody talked about media lynching or the need to protect individual privacy. These men, with their talk of the sanctity of the family and their strings of ex-wives and illegitimate children, were politicians. Being exposed as phonies was one of the risks that went with the job. The church, to which all paid lip-service, didn't seem to mind, after all. So why should they?

So it's interesting to see how differently people have reacted to the publication of this list. It should be said at once that the list offers names, but no proof, but that's hardly surprising. What would constitute proof of gayness, other than a statement from the person in question or a compromising photograph? (Or a wire-tapped conversation? In the land of tapping, I live in hope.) The former ain't going to happen; the latter is likelier, and would certainly be more fun. So we can ignore the whole business or take the list on trust. Certainly, the reaction of the blogosphere seems to confirm the claims. Maurizio Gasparri, Berlusconi henchman and not the sharpest knife in the box, appears to be known as Culetto d'Oro (Golden Botty!). Roberto Formigoni, governor of Lombardy and leader of the cattolicissimo Comunione e Liberazione, an organisation that has sewn up more tenders for its members than I've had hot dinners, is rumoured to have had a quickie with George Clooney. Lucky Roberto. Gianni Letta, the power behind Berlusconi's throne, if that isn't too dignified a term for it, has had so many face-lifts he makes his boss look rugged. Roberto Calderoli, the charmer in the photograph and Minister for Simplification - something he does whenever he opens his lovely mouth - is the kind of man who keeps wild animals in his garden and wears T-shirts with Viva la Gnocca (Long Live Cunt!) written on them. If further proof is needed, it can, apparently, be provided. Paolo Bonaiuti, Berlusconi's well-oiled spokesman, is also on the list, as is Ferdinando Adornato, who started out as a left-wing intellectual and is now neither left-wing nor intellectual. Then there's Luca Volontè, also cattolicissimo and fetchingly jug-eared, who has stated that 'the founders of modern psychology describe homosexuality as a clinical pathology'. On the grounds that the lady doth protest too much, along with a whiff of the 'no smoke without fire' defence, I rest my case.

And, in one sense, the fact that they're gay or not is irrelevant. Because what's shocked me about the whole business is not the reaction of the people on the list. They've been lying (or refusing to answer questions deemed embarrassing )  for decades - why on earth should we believe them now? It's the reaction of others that worries me. Mara Carfagna, ex calendar girl and now government minister (and an old favourite of this blog), has talked about a 'defamatory attack'. Defamatory? In whose eyes? It's good to know that Ms Carfagna, whose mandate is to ensure equality of opportunity, considers an 'accusation' of homosexuality to be defaming. She isn't the only one. If I could have a quickie with George Clooney (just saying, Roberto) for all the people - on the left and right of the spectrum - who've talked about unwarranted invasion of privacy and the need to separate the political and the personal, and all this hogwash that's being used to swill away the central point - that the political actions of these men interferes directly and constantly with the private lives of others - well, George and I would be pretty much fucked out by now. Good night, George.

The worst offenders are, guess who? That's right, Italy's gay organisations. I won't list them here - they aren't worth it - but to hear them talk about the outing of homophobic legislators as though children were being thrown to the lions is the most sickening thing of all. Whose rights are they supposed to be protecting? The rights of men who deprive me of my rights? Of course people have a right not to come out, if they think it might harm them, sad though this is - I'd be the last person, for example, to defend a list of gay footballers (much as I'd like to see it). But that right simply doesn't exist when those same people, for the lowest and most squalid of of motives, use their power to cancel the basic human rights of others. The squirming sanctimonious behaviour of Italy's gay spokespersons as they fall over themselves to defend the hypocrisy of their masters is further proof that Italy remains a profoundly authoritarian country, terrified of raising its voice against the powerful, constantly in search of a crumb from the table, grubbing for scraps of advancement, ultimately behaving itself because it's only through submission to the dominant culture that privileges can be won. It's a lickspittle reaction and the people who represent the public face of gay Italy should be ashamed of themselves.

There are, thank God, exceptions. For those of you read Italian, here's a piece by Aldo Busi.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Not an advertisement for Walker's crisps

This is Tim Parks, one of my favourite writers, looking rather like a wiser, crisp-free version of Gary Lineker. You can find out more about him on his own website here. If you'd like to know what I think about him and why he's been an influence on me and on my work, you can click here. And if you'd like to know more about the South Tyrol - believe me, there is a reason for this - you can click here.

That should keep you busy for a little while.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

A regular subscriber

Every fortnight, from June 2010 to June 2011, a copy of the London Review of Books fell onto the stone floor of my house in Italy. It lay there until the person who fed the cats took it upstairs with the rest of the post and left it on an ever-growing pile on the kitchen table. I was in England. I could have changed my address but I had no idea how long I'd be away from home and it seemed an unnecessary fuss. Besides, I liked the notion that my copies were arriving, as they were intended to do, in my own house, as though their presence, in some odd way, represented me, and my normal life, which had been disrupted. I've been subscribing to the LRB since 1997 and, for the first seven years, my parents would give me, as part of my Christmas present, one of the rather solemn dark blue binders the LRB produces to put them in. I can't remember why this practice stopped and, in one way, I'm sad they did. The librarian in me, the part of me that wishes the binders had a space to write the year on the spine, would have liked to see the years add up in such a formal, discreet and ordered way. Since then, back numbers have been allowed to accumulate on the bottom shelf of a bookcase and have now reached the height of a milking stool. Before my stay in England, I would unwrap my copy as soon as it arrived and look through it quickly, to see what might benefit from being read at once and what might wait, and to admire Peter Campbell's cover illustration, one of the principal and most reliable joys of the review. What's extraordinary about Campbell's work is how, despite its almost infinite variety, it's so obviously his; whether the colours are bold, as they are in the one I've chosen here, or tenuous, whether the image is abstract or figurative, his hand is unmistakeable. One of the reasons I think I will find it very hard to throw away old copies, assuming I ever do, will be the loss of these covers, something no online archive can ever replace.

Now, as I work through the backlog in chronological order, a year late more or less to the day, I'm enjoying a sort of double vision of the past twelve, indeed, fifteen months. The actual reviews are pretty much untouched by this. After all, it often seems to take the LRB a year, if not longer, to get round to looking at a book (which means I live in the, albeit fading, hope that, one day, one day soon, Any Human Face will be given a page or two - Jeremy Harding, are you there?) My favourite contributors - Diski, Castle, Kermode, Campbell (again) - don't suffer in the least from being read twelve months late. It's the current affairs pieces that are both here and now, and there and then. There and then because the writers are talking about the future and the predictions that articles of this type routinely and necessarily make can now be checked off against events, and found, reassuringly often, to be spot on. But also here and now, because what they have are insights I didn't have, or don't remember having, that continue to inform and deepen my understanding of the present and beyond. It's worrying, but also perversely comforting, to see how often the direst forecasts have already turned out to be true. (I'm thinking Lib Dems and painting oneself into corners here.) To provide a little balance, of course, there are also several assertions about the future made with an assurance that would silence anyone and yet are so totally off-the-wall as things have turned out that their authors must be writhing with embarrassment and wishing what's written could be erased forever. (I won't go into detail here...) And, of course, there are massive gaps (although I may just not have reached the relevant issue). The imminent collapse of the Euro. The Arab spring. But whether what is written turns out to have been accurate or not, there's a lovely sense of eavesdropping on a conversation you've only just missed - if that were possible - or can't quite join, that illusion of depth that tricks of perspective inevitably provide. What I want to do now is slowly, slowly close the gap between then there and here, between then and now, as the year away is slowly absorbed, and made sense of in ways that not even the LRB can finally help with.