DAY 26

February 3rd, 2013 § 0 comments

The users of the British Library’s reading rooms aren’t everyone’s idea of an oppressed group; one would naturally think of them as escapist petty-bourgeois intellectuals,



‘Squirrels in a plane tree’, by Abu’l Hasan (from the BL’s Mughal exhibition)

avoiding the class struggle for words, books, the products of the mind. Some comrades demur, pointing out that Marx did the essential research for Capital in the BL’s predecessor, the British Museum reading room; but that was a long time ago. In any case, I have been moved to write in their favour today, since, not content with imposing an appalling firm of caterers on them (the notorious Peyton and Byrne, ‘pricey and inedible’ says our reviewer), the library faces a near-riot for outsourcing its wi-fi system to a band of cowboys who clearly can’t deliver. Aged scholars and timid students were alike besieging the enquiry desk this morning, almost weeping at the BL’s dismal failure to connect them to the internet. (Those who circumvented the problem via their iphones looked on smugly – but at what cost?)  You can get a decent connection at Costa, of course, or at the Wellcome library down the road. Or, for the more adventurous, why not try the Biblioteca Centrală Universitară in Bucarest, this month’s fashionable destination?


Library, with statue of King Carol on a horse.

My guide says nothing about the wi-fi, and 500,000 books were destroyed in the revolution of 1989 – but what do you lose? The climate is probably better.

While I was on the subject of Poles in England, how did I come to forget Konrad Korzeniowski, a.k.a. Joseph (‘They come over here and muscle in on our modernist fiction tradition’) Conrad? His best judgment on London, probably echoed by many other Poles, particularly in North Islington, is that ‘This also has been one of the dark places of the earth’ (Heart of Darkness, p. 7 in my copy). Which brings us seamlessly, if you like, to what the Brits, French, etc. are up to in Africa, or ‘firing into a continent’.

Mali Al Qaidas Country

 Malians praying by the tomb of a Sufi saint

Most recently in Mali, where the library has reportedly had a rough time in Timbuktu. (On a family note, my father visited it in the fifties, and my sister in the nineties – not that I’m jealous.) A useful rundown of the situation in my highly recommended sister publication Jadaliyya is here. It seems that the Ahmed Baba Library, with its priceless Arabic mathematical manuscripts – of course – as well as works ‘in Songhay, Tamashek and Bamanankan’ (Wiki) has survived better than was, at first, reported. I don’t know how its situation compares with that of Bucarest.

Back to that dark place, London, where someone seems to have made a mistake back in 2008, when we – that is our government – bought the RBS. It’s true that no one talked it up as a potential goldmine, but we weren’t told that it had been run by fraudsters who would land us (the owners) with £500 millionish of fines for rate-fixing, to be paid to us (the government). The horror! the horror! If I found myself fining myself that kind of money, I hope I’d come to an out-of-court settlement,with no hard feelings.

After which, it seems difficult to believe that British financiers are superior to the Greeks (lazy tax-avoiders) and the Italians (corrupt mafiosi) etc etc. It seems more likely that the financial system here is as chaotic and corrupt as all the others, but ‘we’ can get away with it. After all, we have a royal family to maintain.

To change the subject completely –  the week’s good news is the report of  the UN’s fact finding mission on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory; which found (naturally) that they were illegal and constituted breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This opens the way for the ICC to prosecute those involved for war crimes. I quote:

‘The Rome Statute establishes the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over the deportation or transfer, directly or indirectly, by the occupying Power of parts of its own population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory. Ratification of the Statute by Palestine may lead to accountability for gross violations of human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law and justice for victims.’ (p. 21)

This blog isn’t too hopeful that such actions will follow soon, though.

Poetry corner: as a follow-up to the Lincoln reference in the last post, here is an uncharacteristic but totally right-on piece by Julia Ward Howe, whom you probably know (like me) only for the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Mother’s Day Proclamation

Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Music corner
Maybe, after the comments above on the situation in Mali, it would be logical to play some of the world-renowned Malian music. Indeed, there are some such as Khaira Arby and Tartit who are from Timbuktu or nearby. But why be bound by the chains of logic? I’ll postpone the Malians who have themselves postponed part of their ‘Festival au Désert‘ due to the current uncertainty.
Instead – like many other DJs I suspect, I’m besieged by requests to play John Cage’s foot-tapping 4’33”, and here it is. Get with it!


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