Afterthoughts

Afterthoughts

 One of the things about this column that my no-doubt devoted readers have to put up with is that by profession I’m an academic. One of the things that academics are supposed to do is continually correct mistakes, refine or revise their interpretations, turn previous certainties inside-out — in other words, pick over the rubble of what they themselves or others have previously committed to print or to a lecture-audience, and re-work it, in the hope of recovering at least a sliver of verifiable truth.

If my students say to me “Ntate Chris, you’re contradicting what you said last week”, my response will be “Let’s go with the contradiction. Until you get next weeks’ take on that.”

Three examples. The first a matter of re-statement, with a better illustration than I came up with myself. This is for all of you who are yearning to learn about interdiscursivity. The second, picking up an omission in a book review, and expanding on that. The third getting down to fundamental matters of belief and commitment.

Several weeks ago this column was taken up with a light-hearted piece on student T-shirt slogans. I cited one — “Parental guidance. Explicit content”— and classified this as a witty example of interdiscursivity (explained as “using the kind of discourse normally found in one situation — a textbook, a legal judgment, an advertisement — in another situation.)

For that T-shirt column, the staff at thepost dug up examples of T-shirts I hadn’t seen to provide the visuals. One was in black with white letters. At the top, in large print, the announcement “FART NOW LOADING”; below, a thin horizontal red bar with, in black letters. “85%……”; at the bottom, in smaller white print on black, “……please wait.”

A clever example of interdiscursivity, this (and this is the point I’m trying to make), taking the language and layout of internet-speak and applying it in a radically different context.

Again, to reflect back on an earlier column. Two weeks ago, when I reviewed Fritz Ngale Ilongo’s poetry collection Christ on the Roof of Africa, I neglected to point out how conservative a work this is in respect of the Catholic church as an institution — the collection is, if you like to use the word, very establishment. There is a widely-discussed dichotomy between, on the one hand, faith in its essence and, on the other, the management and conduct of religious institutions, with some believers convinced that the one doesn’t have much to do with the other. I shall come back to this issue in a few weeks’ time, when I review Ian Corbett’s recently published autobiography, A Disreputable Priest.

And now for something much weightier (let no-one complain that they don’t get variety from this column).

For many years I have been describing myself as a Marxist, as, in practical terms, a communist. Friends and colleagues ask, “How can you have the temerity? Just look at the disaster that was the Soviet Union, the Great Terror, the human rights abuses, the waste, the lunacy of collectivisation.”

Point taken, and I have recently been reminded of a comment made by the great Soviet composer, Dmitri Shostakovitch, “It’s easy to be a communist, when you don’t have to live under communism.”

But there are several planks to my defence. First, anyone who believes that Marx got a lot of things right has to take a plenitude of other things into account and to modify Marxist recognitions accordingly. We should call ourselves neo-Marxists, taking on board feminism, the recognitions of post-colonialism, a range of human rights issues, environmental consciousness, and so on.

Second, whatever the failures of the Soviet Union — and they were massive and legion — if you’re an old lady eking out a living today in some dump in Moldova, you probably look back with nostalgia to the days when you could afford to buy gas for cooking and heating; you could afford to buy food (if there was any in the shop; no wonder Soviet housewives pickled so many gherkins); your son had a job — albeit probably in the army; your daughter-in-law had generous maternity leave and the kids had high quality free education.

Or to put it another way, if you were a working-class black guy with a sick wife and two small kids, would you rather be living in Miami or in Havana?

 

To be continued

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