This just in from Is the BBC biased?'s sour, right-wing radio reviewer....
This morning's Start the Week started a new season, and got off to a fine, arty start.
It featured posh, profound, populist, progressive British Museum director Neil MacGregor plugging his new Radio 4 series [accompanied by British Museum exhibition] on German history (as seen through its artifacts); Jamaican poet Kei Miller plugging his new book The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion; oh-so-contemporary artist Jeremy Deller plugging his new exhibition in Margate; and happy-to-be-provocative novelist Hilary Mantel plugging her new collection of short stories The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.
As you may be aware, Hilary Mantel's title story has provoked a good deal of controversy. Lord Bell has called for her to be investigated by the police for imagining the assassination of his friend, Lady Thatcher, and various Conservative MPs have denounced her for her 'bad taste'. The Daily Telegraph refused to publish it. (The Guardian duly stepped in).
Presenter Tom Sutcliffe (of the Guardian) asked her about those charges - just one question, worded in a way that showed he didn't reckon much to them - and she then dismissed them, to general laughter.
Tom's own take was perhaps also reflected in the preceding question. This asked if, in imagining the assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary was actually giving expression to a "collective fantasy"...to which I felt the need to add the hashtag #notinmynameTom.
Incidentally, for fans of The Twitter, Tom also retwittered this today:
Can someone explain to the Mantel-haters the difference between truth and fiction, maybe using plastic cows like Father Ted did with Dougal.
— Jonathan Coe (@jcoescrittore) September 22, 2014
Indeed, and I couldn't agree more.
I'm glad Tom believes that too as I've heard a very strong rumour that Rod Liddle's next book is a collection of short stories called The Gruesome Murder of Tom Sutcliffe, whose title story imagines the Round the Britain Quiz/Saturday Review/Start the Week host being graphically 'sliced and diced', to general amusement and acclaim, by Radio 4 listeners who can't stand him and what they see as his elitist metropolitan liberal views. (I've already pre-ordered my copy on Amazon).
Tom also admired something by the artist Jeremy Deller's on YouTube. I forget what.
Jeremy, you will be glad to hear, has now imagined St. Helier, Jersey being accidentally burned down in 2017 during a protest there by non-Jersey people against the island's tax/tax haven policies. This is not to be taken seriously of course (of course). It's contemporary art, plastic cows.
The Jamaican poet Kei Miller had some very sharp things to say
about contemporary Jamaican society....er....about wicked dead whiteys and what they'd gotten up to in Jamaica. (Actually, when I say "very sharp" I mean 'very predictable, but expressed poetically and with much talk of 'multiplicity''). He had Tom, Hilary & Co. duly bending their white knees and tugging their apologetic forelocks. Elsewhere he was agreeably poetic, sounding profound even when you suspect he wasn't actually saying anything profound at all.
Poor Neil MacGregor, though he got to go first, got far too little time.
His programme and exhibition sounds interesting. The discussion about it on this edition of Start the Week, however, has been outclassed by a truly superb interview with Mr MacGregor by Simon Schama in the Financial Times, which you should (I think) be able to read for free.
Here's a brief flavour of it:
There is a point in the exhibition, he says, from which, in one direction, the visitor will be looking at the beautiful portrait of Goethe by Tischbein – with the great man, a slouch hat on his head, recumbent in the warm light of an Italian landscape, the epitome of humanely learned Germany – while the other direction takes the eye to that Buchenwald inscription. In the Buchenwald essay MacGregor himself raises the awful, essential question of how one kind of Germany turned into the other. But he doesn’t offer an answer: “I don’t understand it myself,” is all he says.
His humility is moving but, all the same, there are ways to try. The Holocaust was made possible precisely because earlier figures who had shaped German culture had dehumanised the Jews and made them objects of murderous hatred. MacGregor wants to present Luther as the father of the German language, and so he was. But what he also fathered, all the more potently for that status, was an obsessive anti-semitism which described the Jews as “full of devil’s feces which they wallow in like swine”. “If they could they would kill us all,” he raved, proposing in On the Jews and their Lies a programme to burn their synagogues and raze their houses, so as to dispose of the “poisonous envenomed worms” that they were.
Luther’s anti-semitism is not in this show. But its illuminations are no less deep for being less relentlessly grim. The Iron Cross, often taken to be the emblem of Prussian militarism, was, he reminds us, invented in a moment of reformist egalitarianism, following the traumatic defeat and humiliation by Napoleon in 1806. Its consequence was to trigger a period of reform. The Cross was iron, not of a precious metal, because it was the first decoration that could be awarded to all ranks. Sanctioned by King Friedrich Wilhelm III, it became the symbol of a new, comradely patriotism.