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How Late it Was, How Late: Coming Home to Late Capitalism

In 20th c. Literature, Classicism, Life as Lived on April 10, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Andrew Inch, United Kingdom

Caledonia you’re calling me, now I’m going home

(Dougie MacLean, Caledonia)

Have I come back?
I am Scots, a tartan tin box
Of shortbread in a delicatessen of cheddars
(Douglas Dunn, Renfrewshire Traveller)

These reflections owe relatively little to classicism. I do hope, however, that they may help me to extract some, perhaps rather barbed, reflections on some of the paths it might have taken in recent years. In doing so I also hope to offer some more considered, though also uncomfortable, thoughts on the themes of intellectualism and leftism touched on in two recent posts by Matthew Thomas.

My reflections start from a single, prosaic fact: earlier this year I returned to Scotland, the country where I was born and raised, after ten years of self-imposed exile.

Homecoming

Serendipitously, I have chosen for the year of my homecoming, the year of Homecoming™. This amounts to a rather cynical advertising campaign on the part of the Scottish government to get tills (or maybe it would be more appropriate to say “registers”) ringing with dollars from the Scottish diaspora. The official pretext for it, however, is that it is 250 years since the birth of Robert Burns. For “our” national poet to be honoured in such a way should, of course, make Scots everywhere proud. “Here’s tae us, wha’s like us? Damn few an’ thur aw’ deid” as they’re (we’re?) supposed to like to say. And who can argue with celebrating the life of the man who a little less than 250 years ago could write the likes of this:

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that.
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

Burns was born into a farming family on the West Coast of Scotland, he lived hard, died young and was politically radical. No doubt there is, then, much to celebrate in his life as in his work. If nothing else the historical accident of an education system that ensured the literacy of the likes of Burns is something to be proud of.

Or then again, maybe it’s just something else to exploit.
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On Knotting the Necktie and Other ‘Practices of the Self’

In Sociology on January 29, 2009 at 9:25 am

Editor’s Note: Sympathies is pleased to present the first of what we hope to be many posts from our old friend, Mr. Andrew Inch. Here, Mr. Inch responds to an earlier post of mine on J.G. Ballard and “My Dinner With Andre.” As is his wont, Mr. Inch has zeroed in on the true topic of the post which may have been submerged by a certain amount of thematic rambling.  Despite the fact that he has chosen the very European lifecourse of professional student, Andrew too once worked in an office, as his post makes clear.

Andrew Inch, United Kingdom

necktyingSo after promising not to get drawn into writing anything other than my doctoral thesis I find myself responding to something here on Classical Sympathies at some length, maybe even provoked to do so. Or perhaps just with a memory of provocation. Or a desire to provoke. In any case, Matthew Thomas’ recent post on “Social Image and Social Reality: On Ballard’s “Conversations” and “My Dinner With Andre”” seemed to invite a response.

Matthew’s post was concerned with the way we come to perform particular identities, to take on, or affect certain social positions. He seems interested by the nature of this performance, placing it in relation to the worlds of theatre and literature through the work of J.G. Ballard and the film My Dinner with Andre. He is concerned to probe the possibility of some kind of authenticity, and to wonder at the self he himself presents to the world through the stabilizing practices of routine. Ultimately, he seems to want to assert the potential for creative agency through exercise of the will-to-power, the possibilities immanent in the performance of new identities through the carrying out of the appropriate rituals.

For me this drew to mind a one time colleague, for arguments sake let’s call him MT, who would as a matter of course dress for work in a neatly pressed business shirt and necktie. Or at least that is how I remember him -some years have passed since we worked together after all. This was, however, particularly noteworthy since, in the workplace in question, there was at that time no formal dress code, and many of the rest of us chose to dress in a less formal fashion. Continue Reading