C. L. R. James, author of The Black Jacobins and Beyond a Boundary (which happens to be the best book on cricket ever written); born in Trinidad, 4 January 1901; died in London, 31 May 1989.
The Virtual Stoa is unusual among websites in not being chiefly a repository for images of animal porn. But things are now going to change, bringing this page into line with the rest of the worldwide internetweb.
This discussion below got onto the subject of Gerald of Wales’s History and Topography of Ireland (composed around 1185), and this provides me with ample excuse to reproduce two of the classic mediaeval illustrations that accompany §56, on “A goat that had intercourse with a woman”, and §57, on “A lion that loved a woman”.
Here’s Gerald on the Irish goat:
“How unworthy and unspeakable! How reason succumbs so outrageously to sensuality! That the lord of the brutes, losing the privileges of his high estate should descend to the level of the brutes, when the rational submits itself to such shameful commerce with a brute animal!”
Gerald then sagely observes that
“Although the matter was detestable on both sides and abominable, yet it was less so by far on the side of the brute who is subject to rational beings in all things, and because he was a brute and prepared to obey by very nature. He was, nevertheless, created not for abuse but for proper use…”
And here’s Gerald on the French lion:
“Sometimes when he escaped from his cage and was in such fierce anger that no one would dare to go near him, they would send for Johanna who would calm his anger and great rage immediately. Soothing him with a woman’s tricks, she led him wherever she wanted and changed all his fury immediately into love.”O Beasts! Both! Worthy of a shameful death! But such crimes have been attempted not only in modern times but also in antiquity, which is praised for its greater innocence and simplicity. The ancients also were stained with such unspeakable deeds. And so it is written in Leviticus: “If a woman approaches any beast to have intercourse with him, ye shall kill the woman, and let the beast die the death”. The beast is ordered to be killed, not for the guilt, from which he is excused as being a beast, but to make the remembrance of the act a deterrent, calling to mind the terrible deed.”
Is this sound reasoning from our Gerald? Six hundred years later, this argument was apparently still being made, calling forth Jeremy Bentham’s dissent in his classic essay (and longstanding Virtual Stoa favourite) “Of Offences Against One’s Self“. There he considered the problem of human-animal sex (“Accidents of this sort will sometimes happen; for distress will force a man upon strange expedients”), but expressed the thought that laws against this kind of things were probably a bad idea. He then wrote this:
“Some persons have been for burning the poor animal with great ceremony under the notion of burning the remembrance of the affair. (See Puffendorf, Bks. 2, Ch. 3, 5. 3. Bacon’s Abridg. Title Sodomy. J.B.) A more simple and as it should seem a more effectual course to take would be not to meddle or make smoke about the matter.”
Bentham then turned his attention to the “most incontestably pernicious” of “all irregularities of the venereal appetite”, which was masturbation, though while he judged that this was Very Bad Indeed, he didn’t really think it should be banned, either, for “no punishment could ever have any effect” as “it can always be committed without any danger or at least without any apparent danger of a discovery”. So there we are. (Which reminds me that I haven’t yet read Thomas Lacqueur’s Solitary Sex, though I’m looking forward to very much indeed. No time, no time.)
[Gerald of Wales snippets from the Penguin ed., translated by John O’Meara, pp.75-6.]
Erich Honecker, German Communist, builder of the Berlin Wall, and first secretary of the East German Party, 1971-1989. Born 25 August 1912 in the Saar; died in Santiago 29 May 1994, ten years ago today.
Not much missed, though.
Many thanks to all those who marked the third birthday of the Virtual Stoa (see below), and thanks in particular to Norm and Matthew Turner, who offered presents in the form of a joke and a Melanism respectively. Marc offers an historian’s perspective on the early years of the Stoa, and thanks are also due to Sarah, Jason, Michael, Simon and Chris for helping to mark the occasion in style…
UPDATE [29.5.2004]: And Backword Dave, too!
A reader writes…
Talking of Arlette [ = Arlette Laguiller, aka “Arlette the starlet”, as we had been — Ed.] , you may (judging from your postings to the Virtual Stoa) be interested to hear that Arlette has now indicated that she is in favour of gay marriage (though is apparently not so keen on adoption by gay couples).Debate has recently resurfaced on this issue in France, after Dominique Strauss-Kahn (one of your, ahem, favourite French politician Laurent Fabius’ main rivals for the PS nomination for presidential candidate in 2007), last week attempted to make a bold policy move to jostle for position among his rival ‘elephants’ by pronouncing in favour of gay marriage. Noï¿½l Mamï¿½re, who you may recall was the Green candidate for president in 2002, has also declared that he is going to carry out such a ceremony in the town of Begles (near Bordeaux), of which he is mayor, on – I think – June 6.
There is, therefore, a cartoon on the front of the current issue of Le Canard Enchainï¿½ (which I bought yesterday in the departure lounge of one of the terminals of Charles de Gaulle airport which has not yet collapsed) which has Arlette saying (instead of her standard opening line ‘Travailleuses, Travailleurs’), ‘Travailleurs, Travailleurs, Travailleuses, Travailleuses, mariez-vous’.
The reference to Fabius is a reference to the fact that many years ago, and for odd reasons, I once found myself sat next to him at some function or other. And “elephant” is still one of my favourite political jargon words.
It’s a good week for blogprose: yesterday we had Norm on the Lawnmowers of the Future [see below], and today we have what may very well be the finest tribute ever penned (or typed) to the Shepherd’s Pie over at the increasingly indispensible Fafblog.
A reader writes:
I thought you and your readers might be interested in a free event we’re hosting on June 10th at 7pm at Borders Oxford – I’m emailing you from Oneworld, a publisher based in Summertown. June 10th is of course the day after the G8 summit in Georgia closes – where the anticapitalists will be out in force just like they were in Seattle – and an author of a book we’ve just published called Anticapitalism: A Beginner’s Guide will be speaking about the anti-capitalist movement, how it works and what it can achieve. The author is called Simon Tormey, he’s from Nottingham University, and his book has been praised by such figures as George Monbiot and Paul Kingsnorth.
I’m trying to work out whether I’m still boycotting Borders or not. I stopped shopping there last year when the strike in Michigan got underway, and now I haven’t heard anything about what happened to that strike, or to the unionization effort that Borders were trying to sabotage, and I’d kind of like to know whether it’s safe to go back in and buy occasional copies of Jewish Socialist, Searchlight and the other periodicals I used to get there, not knowing anyone else in Oxford who had them on sale. Simon Tormey‘s a very smart man: I own (but haven’t read) his book on Agnes Heller, but saw him give a very good talk a couple of years ago on another of his forays into Oxford, and I enjoyed his criticism [pdf] of the Government’s White Paper on the future of higher education.
It’s 27 May 2004, which makes it, among other things and improbably enough, the third anniversary of my first postings at the Virtual Stoa. This blog’s a pretty trivial blog in the grand scheme of things (we can be more precise: actually it’s an Adorable Little Rodent), and I rather like it that way. But Three Years Not Out makes this one of the oldest blogs on the block: only a small fraction of the blogs out there can claim a pre-11.9.2001 existence, for example (though admittedly, I can barely do that, with only 15 posts posted before that date, and most of them trivial).
So it’s a trivial anniversary for a trivial blog. But I did want to take the opportunity on this day (no, I’m not going to use that nasty word) to say two things about this blog, about blogging and bloggers.
First, that what I’ve always liked about blogging is the way it fills up both the interstices of my day and the intersections of my life.
On the interstices: I don’t write many long posts, so most of the posts I post don’t take long to prepare and are just scribbled down on the spur of the moment, and that suits a life and a job where I’m often at the computer keyboard for short to medium periods of time at different times of the day, in between the important work of teaching and meetings and eating and drinking. And the subjects of my blogposts dwell on the interstices of my regular life, too: I don’t say much here about my teaching life, let alone my research, or about what might laughably be called my personal life, but instead about the bits that fall in between the major pieces of my life: things from books, things found in newspapers, things on other blogs and in other parts of the web, dead socialists, that kind of thing. It’s all pretty interstitial, and I like it that way.
On the intersections: it’s always been a source of satisfaction to me that the readers of this blog come from many of the different parts of my life, and they include friends from my incarnations both in this country and in the US, relatives, students (current and former), academic colleagues in and outside Oxford, other bloggers, complete strangers, and so on. And I sometimes feel that writing on this blog, for those people, as well as for myself, is one way of drawing together the threads of recent years that might otherwise fall into too many different, wholly separate compartments (to mix metaphors, horribly).
Second, that it’s time to say a series of thanks to all the other people out there — including the ones alluded to above — who’ve taken an interest in this blog and who collectively continue to make this activity worthwhile.
I’ve been sustained along the way by the unintended moral support provided by many other bloggers. First of all, there are those I know in the real world — Moiderin’ Marc and Ishbadiddlin’ Ennis and Silverdollarcirclin’ Simon — who have been joined in recent months by a further cohort of people I know — sometimes quite well — including Josephine, Raj, Mike B., Sarah, Mike S, Jason, all dipping their toes in the blogwaters and starting to write excellent blogthings on their excellent blogsites. And then there are those whom I only know through their blogs, which I keenly follow (except when the posts are about motor racing), and these include Nick and Matthew and Harry and Backword Dave and some of the others who fill out my blogroll.
Two who deserve a special mention, however — a shout-out, even, if that’s the right word — are my two fellow blogging UK academic political theory lefty types, from whom I’ve learned a very great deal over the last chunk of time, and not just about how to write a good blog. Chris Bertram wrote Junius once upon a time, which was the first seriously good British blog, and I’ve been delighted to meet him in person, now on two different continents. And while I haven’t yet met Norm Geras — though he’s threatening a visit — the Normblog has been a source of very great pleasure and interest over the last nine months — and while Norm hasn’t yet persuaded me about Iraq, he might take some consolation from the fact that he has persuaded me that Emmylou Harris is almost as good as he says she is, and that I’m now the happy owner of almost a dozen of her records. CDs. Whatever.
[And an occasion like this should always include a toast to absent friends: Paul “The Thinker” Richards gave me a — yet another, I should say — reason for living, and I’m sorry he’s quit the World of Blogs. (This, I think, is where he’s gone, and if so, this may make sense of his final, enigmatic blogpost.)]
So those are the two things I wanted to say.
Finally to some quick Virtual Stoa Stats: this is the 918th post, which makes for an average of a little under one post per day over the long haul, only 10% of which related to dead socialists. There have also been 674 comments posted with the automated system since I introduced it a little over a year ago. And I don’t think I’ve ever deleted a comment yet, apart from to remove duplicate posts and the like, which is how I’d like things to stay. Since Sitemeter was installed a while ago, there have been 49.137 visitors and 71, 222 page views. And Technorati reports that there are now 65 inbound sources and 78 inbound links to this blog. OK. That’s enough statistics.
Final, final thought: it’s a curious fact that I haven’t changed the visual layout of this blog to any considerable extent since the very first post, and nor have I ever felt tempted to. Given that I’m generally crap at visual stuff, I wonder how it turned out that way?
BBC Radio Four isn’t very good, all things considered, and I only listen to it in the absence of any halfway decent alternative, or the presence of a Test Match (and yes — Test Match Special leaves a lot to be desired, too). But one reason why it’s been particularly annoying over the last day or so is that all three of the news programmes I’ve listened to chunks of have had segments on obesity. This is not good radio. None of the producers and presenters have found a way of making it interesting radio. It’s boring. It’s probably important, true, but you guys talking about it makes me want to switch the radio off altogether (and usually it’s only the words, “And now, Thought For The Day” or the theme tune to John Peel’s Home Truths that can make me do that). Drop it. Leave obesity to the sex columnists, who know how to handle it (if not the GLHs themselves).
UPDATE [27.5.2004]: It’s bloody everywhere. Obesity. I mean, not everywhere, but just on the radio, where it annoys me. Still. It was a leading item on last night’s midnight news, and, as Uninformed Jason points out, the bloody Today programme was still banging away on the subject this morning. Grrr.