Friday, February 15, 2013


This biography is a work of art worthy of the great masters testimony.French scholars were being so snobby and snotty about how they had covered the history of Matisse it took a lady they had dismissed to bring the Man and his Work to the public notice in a manner befitting his contribution to our thinking.

Some reasons we have not heard of Matisse until just the last two decades is that a major chunk of his earlier work was brought by Russian Investors prior to the Bolshevik Revolution and was lost to full public viewing until the end of the Soviet Union as it was considered to bourgeoisie for early communist apparatchik tastes.Another portion of Matisse work was acquired by  the eccentric founder of the Barnes Foundation , who only allowed pre-invited guests or private viewing by appointment only.Barnes had a pathological distaste for the art critic fraternity , meaning the works owned by Barnes did not cross into the public mainstream for many years.Another more sinister reason was a combined spin news  campaign between Picasso , who had the extreme fault of being envious of a lot of Matisse talent , however absurd that could seem to anyone , and his chief-publicist , especially within the US , Gertrude Stein.

Ironically it was Gertrudes sister Sarah Stein that was a loyal and able patron for Matisse both in Paris and the US , giving him what little exposure and awareness he did manage to attract given all the disadvantages of paucity of publicity and illness when the Art movements were to become the rock business of the ages between the Wars.

Here is author Hilary Spurling speaking on the remarkable professional working relationship between Sarah and Matisse.

To his credit Picasso did become the exemplary warden and trustee , being given the key to Matisses vault by the artist himself, of the Artists works in Paris when Henri fled to the Southern French coast.Though Picasso may have played the friendly-rival game as far as self-publicity goes , his looking after of Matisses collection during the war years was of the highest unimpeachable conduct in potentially trying times.

Among the many anecdotes are the story of how Matisse introduced vibrant colours and shapes into Picassos life , the touching story of the gift of a white dove to Picasso by Matisse which was to become famous in many manifestations as a symbol of unity and peace in Picassos work.And an odd , though highly revealing , incident when in a group , at a time when Matisse was suffering from an illness that prevented him from painting with colours he was making art with scissors.With nonchalant ease he produced such a glorious piece of work in only a minute or saw he left the work stunned into appreciative gasp- Picasso left the room without uttering  a single word.

Recently the MOMA New York staged an exhibition comparing and contrasting the evolving works of Picasso and Matisse on themes they were working on in the form of a visual "conversation".What strikes one is how the Matisse stand up to , and many would say , surpass the works of Picasso , thus helping the lost reputation of Matisse to be restored to us in the best example possible.

The best way to honour Matisse is to let his painting do the talking , here are  of my favourites.

                                    Open Window , Collioure ( see more here)

                                           Portrait of Yvonne Langsberg

Here is a very illuminating and revealing documentary which examines the influences and inspiration of Matisse and his creations.( give it 1 min to get started)

Thursday, February 14, 2013


It is quite amazing there is barely a gap of a decade between "Kipps" and this book which seems to be an universe away in attitude, outlook and lifestyle.

There is an oddly cold, industrial and treating People as commodities to be used, exploited,consumed and ultimately disposed style that was shocking at the time but quite an apt description of the backroom horse-trading of politics and relationships today.

This article looks at some of the chronology of the events portrayed in the Book written just after the golden period of Edwardian England before the Empire would wane and just before the start of WW1

A lesson of the Novel also touches upon the argument if there can be a clear delineation between a political activists personal life and public service.The question is of someone is willing to betray and be unfaithful to those close to his personal life , then will this person not ultimately betray his cause in Public.The issue of Tommy Sheridan in Scotland is a case in point , no matter where one stands on the matter.

Beatrice Webb , one of the characters who is negatively "portrayed" in the book also had to ponder this very question, her answer was the   novel "lays bare the tragedy of H.G.'s life—his aptitude for 'fine thinking' and even 'good feeling' and yet his total incapacity for decent conduct."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


A most admirable way of introducing historical characters to todays reader in an educational , entertaining , easily accessible is in the form an anecdotal quasi-fictional narrative. 

It has been done to great effect in theatre plays like Alan Bennetts "The Habit of Art" and Novels from Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn to Kundera which explore meetings of real life characters who could have met , or if they did meet we do not know what was said.

Any work of this nature has to be done with a surprising amount of responsibility , delicacy, integral dexterity and true to the nature of the subjects long term vision.

To her great credit Dinah Lee Kung passes all these vital and necessary benchmarks.Capturing the humour of everyday humdrum slapstick , and also imparting some truths about Voltaire a casual reader would be all the better to know.

The response of the readers in this non-academic readers forum gives a touching overview of how successful the author is in making Voltaire come to life in a three dimensional easy to approach manner.

For example we are made aware on page 94 Voltaire was a munitions dealer - " war profiteer" which is not known to the general reader , though should be known if they are to evaluate the Man who is synonymous with the chimes of Enlightenment.

To his credit  on page 344 he has this sage universal advice for Mankind internal and external .."If a man has tyrants , he must dethrone them."

Another issue to know about Voltaire is a charge of Anti-Semitism  , alas not an unusual charge with the great and good of European Enlightment Philosophy.

Again , to his credit , he has this quote attributed to him from a 1763 essay."It does not require great art, or magnificently trained eloquence, to prove that Christians should tolerate each other. I, however, am going further: I say that we should regard all men as our brothers. What? The Turk my brother? The Chinaman my brother? The Jew? The Siam? Yes, without doubt; are we not all children of the same father and creatures of the same God?"

Sunday, February 10, 2013


This Book is the result of over twenty years of research , four years of writing.Lauded by many a mainstream media as "definitive" , for example.

"No biography is likely to tell you more about Morrison' - Adam Sweeting, Sunday Times"

"A compendium of detail, a neck-aching triumph of research" (Scotsman )

"Here is everything you wanted to know about Van Morrison... Rogan leaves no stone unturned" (Guardian )

"'Remarkably well-researched and deeply engrossing...Rogan's painstaking research yields an abundance of detail...Fascinating'" (Irish Times )

"'This characteristically accomplished biography shows the singer from every angle'" (Observer )

I , and many , if you read the customer reviews from Amazon would not be so lauding of a work in which there is more "payback" from the various inputs from Vans early career , and the authors on musical prejudices which are not of any artistic sympathy of the work Morrison produced , especially his most creatively innovative later albums prior to the Jazz age when he had to severely curtail his singing duties whilst on stage.

 No one will argue Van is the nice person , he is not.But the Art world is littered with flawed , outright nasty individual who still produced works that encourage the Human to foster and inculcate the very best of themselves.Robert Frost the poet , Wagner the music-dramatist are examples of Persons whose personal treatment of those around them was considerably worse than the beauty of art they made , often inspiring the height of Human Appreciation and ethical aesthetics.

In the end we get an overly bitter biography that focuses on the man , not the artist and the art.

Even among the many hatchet-job biographies that have crossed lines to condemn the subject , rather than analyse the achievement , Rogan takes things into a territory never before witnesses- an asymmetrical hatchet-job that defies time and place in a manner that would have impressed Einstein himself.Rogan comes up with the barley credible thesis that the fact Rev. Iain Paisley preached about a mile and half or so from where Van Morrison lived should have a significance on his character , outlook  and world view.The thing is in a city centre urban environment a mile and a half could be a universe away in attitudes and connectivity with others of similar or dissimilar views.Also the fact the age difference between them is almost two decadesalos makes a chronologically massive difference in shaping histories and attitudes.If this Rogan Doctrine was applied to me then there is a sound case that i am more in harmony ( if that word could ever be used) to Pastor Jack Glass than Van is to Paisley.

Van Morrison will always score 1 or, on the odd occasion , 2 out of 10 for being a Good Human Being.But the criterion we look to him is The Music ,sadly  it is a much neglected aspect of this Biography.

To balance things up the video below has Van Morrison discuss the only thing , to his credit , he wants to share with us , and the only thing we really want to hear him lecture us about , The Music.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


With the declaration of the War on Terror by the Bush Administration , ably followed by the likes of Sharon and Putin getting in on the act , the author considers who are terrorists , who are political parties using arms to get an equal seat at the negotiating table , who is a genuine terrorist for the sake of terror , is there such a thing as a State terrorist , and more importantly , who has the right to decide.

The first stop on the journey quickly dispel any false notion that only Muslims are terrorists.As he relates his experiences with groups in Sri Lanka (from the Ceylonese community ), Ireland and South Africa ( all examples of  former terrorists who now participate in democratically elected governing cabinets).He also shows examples of "terrorists" groups in Algeria;Palestine; Kashmir and Chechnya who are fighting imposed governments that were put in place by outsiders when these groups won resounding democratic elections.

Examples of how the Worlds largest superpower sets the criterion is given in page 92 " The United States spends more today on its military than the rest of the World combined , and when a nation has by far the most powerful army in the World, it tends to see problems through a military lens.An old seer once said that if all you have in your toolbox are hammers , then every problem looks like a nail."

All the Book is not about the Bush administration , In discussing the Balkans Conflict under Clinton , when Terrorists and Men of Peace mutated back and forth according to Western Interests in firstly enacted the "Spanish Civil War" solution of arms embargo giving one side exclusive military superiority , coupled with turning a blind eye so that time allied with realities on the ground could "solve" the issue we had first the Bosnian Muslims under siege in Sarajevo for almost two years , with the UN Peacekeepers disarming the defenders of cities in Bosnia on the pretext of enforcing the arms embargo and then completely failing to defend them from the harms of the militias armed by Milosevic ( at the time the only hope for peace in the region according to Western Governments).In time the Serbs made less gains , and had the embarrassing habit of committing  massacres in full glare of the TV cameras , coupled with the Bosnians slowly making gains we had another change of the political wind and Milosevic became the terrorist.His mistake seems to have been to take his militias from the Bosnian front and deploy them in the Kosovo region.As Rees explains on page 151 " the Kosovo involvement by the US  appears to have been triggered by fears of the "key" Macedonia".This was because Macedonians straddles the territory  of Greece , a member of NATO, and a conflict there could have had region wide repercussions  that drag external powers into the mix.

The video below is from a documentary of the same name made about the themes of the Book for Al-Jazeera.

You can get the whole series covering many conflicts from Ireland to Colombia by clicking on this sentence.

On the case of Afghanistan Rees goes back to the original sin for which many locals and British and NATO troops as well as large parts of the Population and Army of Pakistan are paying with the needless spilling of blood today , as we see on page 212 " Afghan border was drawn up in 1893" (The Durand  Line drawn up by Sir Mortimer Durand) " and effectively cut the Pashtun population in two."

The final conclusion of the Book is for most of the issues cited are terrorism today we cannot have military solutions ,at the end of the day , just like in Ireland, we can only have political solutions through  negotiations between representative recognised parties.Ultimately Rees "concludes that before the 'war on terror' can have its Armistice Day, the West will have to negotiate with those it considers terrorists."

Monday, February 4, 2013


One thing Tariq Ali is not the master of is sympathetic , understanding , sensitive erotic literature imbued  with poetic touching romantic feeling.The sex scenes are like a tour of the local greengrocer , we have mangoes a ripe , melons a plenty and other fruits of various roundness and elongation popping in out and out at the most inopportune times.It seems to be a case of inability to stop digging even when the cringeworthy embarrassments of plumed itemisation of every conceivable fauna has been brought to the stale-metaphor capitalistic commoditised  market stall.

 Tariq Ali is the master of the quip , charismatic orator , documentary maker , eloquent critic of ill-advised imperialist projects and , despite being a committed  communist  , that intellectual luxury of sons and daughters of post-colonial parents who can give their offspring the best education that feudal money can buy , a staunch ardent defender of Islam and the Muslims.

A quote from   the comments is worth quoting in full , from an M.A. Zaidi

Taris (sic) Ali's quintet series is a telling response to anyone accusing muslims as having no culture and civilization. The series is a sincere attempt by Tariq to convey the magnitude of the contribution made by muslims in the past 1400 years; which has so easily been forgotten. It was the insightful writings of muslim scholars that inspired Europe to greater heights and helped it transgress towards the Renaissance.

Sultan in Palermo revisits the Middle Ages, this time in Sicily, an island conquered by the Aghlabids in the 10th century then reconqured by the Normans in 1092. It takes as its main characters two major historical figures, Sultan Rujeri of Siqillya - or, as he is otherwise known, King Roger II of Sicily, and his protégé, Muhammad al-Idrisi, a cartographer. The book is set at a time where the sultan is at the end of his life and is maneuvering through politics insecuring the throne for his future generations. In a cavalier compromise the sultan had accepted the demands of the barons to persecute General Phillip (sympathetic to the muslims) on trumped up treason. The equilibrium on the muslim-christian nexus gets shifted. A peaceful society so far; is embroiled in tension and is gripped with the anxiety of persecution. In this atmosphere al-Idrisi seems torn between his affiliation with the king and his people.

I felt that "The Sultan of Palermo" failed to meet the penetrating and encompassing story of the earlier three novels. The disturbing fact is that in the perverse environment; where destiny is at the cross roads. Al-Idrisi was expected to be sagacious; exhibiting maturity; intellect and in-tune with his people. Instead he is a disdainful aphrodisiac enamored with the art of love than politics. On the eve of the execution of General Phillip; his gravest concern is whether to spend the night with his wife or his sister in law. There are more bedroom heroics than courtroom guile.

As stated , Tariq Ali is a passionate defenders of Muslims from Anti-Islamic attacks in the West from both the Left and Right.The lecture below is an example of the tireless work he has done in many forums in the UK and abroad.

On the issue of Islam , Tariq Ali does display a little ignorance of the difference in reform and reformation.Reform is when inalienable values adapt to changing technologies and modes of communication , trade and systems of governance.Reformation , on the other hand , is something that cannot happen in Islam , and why proponents of this concept are showing a lack of researched understanding on this profound essential , can only happen in religions that have Clergy and Church hierarchies.It is a little disconcerting that Comedian Stewart Lee has a greater understanding on this essential than does the slightly mis-informed Ali , for example in the video below he states Muslims pray four times a day when it is five.But , more so, he states the two periods Islam could have Reformed , namely Iberia and Ottoman seem at odd with the view Islam does not have a clergy and therefore the Leaders of the Empires were beholden to the "Church".The Ottoman empire was characterised by its devolved approach to governance and it even had devolved legal courts for various religions within its borders.Ottoman collapse was its failed experiment at macro-capitalist management ( which forced it into policies that changed the dynamic from devolved to centralisation , and were fought by all religions and communities alike), not any notion of Islam holding progress back.

And for good measure here is Stewart Lee with his clearer , less ideological blinkered , well  crystallised view on Islam.Apart from the humour the pertinent points to look out for begin at 2m19sec and 7m37sec.

Bizarrely , Tariq Ali looks to a form of Arab Nationalism , just when Arabs view this experiment as an humiliating disasterous failure from Nasser , to Assad and the PLO as a solution for the region.

This informative interview by the Socialist Review gives a good insight into Alis appreciation of Islamic contribution , but also his blackspot for current solutions and a pining for "Nationalism" that confuses the Left as to whether they should support Assad , in that he cant be as bad as the forces that will replace him.It also colours his views on other Muslim social Justice movements in the region which would win large landslides in genuine democratic elections were held.

  One theme that Tariq wants to tackle is the failure of secular nationalism in the Arab world to offer solutions to problems of poverty, underdevelopment and Western military and economic power. On the basis of the first four, we eagerly await this final chapter.

If you are interested in a genuine high level academic debate on Reform that can be carried out in Islam the video below has two heavyweight Islamic Scholars , Tariq Ramadan and Hamza Yusuf who inform of the perameters the debate can take and the possibilities.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


Kennedy is a gifted comedian, deep philosophical commentator ,astute observer of Human inner wants and skilled writer that brings out sympathy for stricken characters who were hard-wired to lose by an unsympathetic system brought into corporate prominence before they were even born.They are victims already sentenced to hard-labour physically and mentally , whos very next breath and cynicism is a brave and lasting resistance.

As thoughtful Critic and Fellow Novelist Ali Smith so sharply puts it in evocative eloquence in the review above.

Paradise is a faultless performance of rhetorical nihilism, a dialogue with a world so blurred that it doesn't matter where you are, Dublin, London, Budapest, because nothing matters but the drama of being out of it; in other words, a world in which we don't even notice we're at war. "You can't think how something so large could have occurred so unawares, a whole war without your knowledge." Kennedy is the opposite of the oblivious artist. This double-vision of heaven and hell is her sharpest vision yet.

As a lot of the female baby-boomer generation hitting the forties or mid-forties come to this landmark childless , in shaky or non-existent relationships , on the first rung of unsatisfying careers and only atheism as a crutch to lean on in the autumn years it is refreshing to see a genuine woman comedian gifting us with her ironic , taking neurosis as a given , take on what is a serious question of what the gains of feminism have given to the first generation to be given a window ( which is now closing as cuts in education , employment and welfare that benefits woman most take place in a manner than suggests that retrospect in not a place we will pass again) to fulfill the potential of liberation.It is for woman to answer if the journey was all that was promised this generation who were told if they give up on Family and concentrate on career , then they will enjoy the harvest of both Family and a comfortable independent financially free life in later years.Well , we know have the later years and , for some, who took the bargain in trusting good faith are in a position to give an initial report card on whether the project was a success.Of course , they will have to wait a little longer to work to a point they can get their first pension - it was 60 when they started , now in approaching 68 , and it would be no surprise if it ultimately hits 75 before they actually draw one.It is ironic that the Mothers of this generation , who probably never worked ( unless they choose to having reared children for the early years) as they devoted full-time commitment to rearing their children have more contented and , on balance, enriched lives at the age of 68 , than will have their liberated progressive daughters in their forties when they reach that age.

This Novel identifies the victims of a war so subtly waged by corporate opinion , image and spin-makers  that we do not even realise there is a conflict ,yet alone a battle going on in which our hearts and minds are on the line.

Kennedy has her own informative website on many topics of concern and her latest projects.
One of the features in the website is her review of reviews in which she turns the tabled of some of the mainstream reviews of her Books as Good,Bad and Odd.

To get a balance picture it is worth reading the "odd" review from the gifted , evocative and highly qualified Claire Messud , who on this occasion does miss the irony of the Novel and the Novelist and the fact the story is being told in Character.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


page 116 .....This is what good guys do.They keep trying.They dont give up.

Many regard this novel as bleak, desolate and pessimistic.On the contrary this novel is one of great release and Hope.

Even more so than when it was winning awards in 2007 , the desperate cataclysmic state of the then  Triple A rated rates economies , we have a situation in which the dream of the state looking after the population from cradle to grave has come to an all shattering shuddering grounding collapse.

Even in the early solutions being sought by the tax payer in bailing out the excesses of the ruling architects of the most beastly social darwinian capitalists the poorest and most vulnerable , as well as the middle classes that cannot afford the tax and accountancy specialists advisers who can make billionaires pay pitiful taxes barley amounting to 1% , involve youngsters remaining with their parents because the cost of getting on the first rung of owning a house is out of reach , students having to pay for further education so that they will be in debt to a rate of over an years wages before they even come close to drawing a first salary , and pensioners forced to work way beyond the age they would liked to have retired because the yield of the pension will not come anywhere near to paying bills , never mind luxuries of leisure.Add to that the next generation of workers unable to get a start in their careers as the natural wastage of veterans retiring has dried up. 

The Hope the Novels gives from this bleak cycle of economic desolation is that when the state gives up its responsibilities we have to go back to the old , reliable, trustworthy, permanent institutions of Family and Community Bonds to see us through the collapse of the "Civilisation" of the Modern State.Families and Communities looked after each other before the creation of Modern States and Institutions and will continue to look after themselves when Post-Modern States and Institutions gave reneged on their responsibilities.

This article by Anis Shivani captures well the lessons to be drawn from this Book of the bleakness of the system , and the Hope of the eternal institutions that we can take the road required to escape its destructive all-embracing clutches. Though like most left leaning critiques , it is high on analysis but low on solutions.

When the capitalist system collaborates in its own end, it takes down all of humanity with it. It's an all-or-nothing proposition that doesn't brook compromise. Isn't this the true meaning of apocalypse today? Where and how do we escape, become anonymous? Capitalism aims to be all-encompassing, and all capitalist political ideology (including fascism and American corporatist democracy) aims to leave nothing of the individual to himself. The Road is a gut-wrenching attempt to seize the most intimate portions of the human soul and throw it to the dogs, to see what happens, what sticks, what works and what doesn't work, just as long as the existing enveloping apparatus is gotten rid of.

Friday, February 1, 2013


This is a morality tale of what happens when Love is consumed by Desire and Passions which take it outside the bounds and ends up killing it and all those around.

The English translation that first came out introduced the misleading title of "Hunchback" into the English speaking world when the more appropriate title of the original focuses on the play between Our-Lady and the Building of  Notre-Dame which was in a state of abject neglected disrepair at the time of the Novel.The resulting publication of the Novel helped cement a campaign for the proper restorative  maintenance of the building which we can all enjoy today.

The work itself was written by a young Victor not even thirty years old in a tight deadline of only five months.Like Dostoyevsky years later with the manuscript of "The Idiot" , high pressure working to a deadline and barely staving of debts meant Victor had to work from memory as the only drafts had been given to his increasingly impatient publishing commissioner.This has resulted in some giving unfair criticism about some of the alleged unevenness of the published Book , this is unreasonable giving the constraints Victor was under and what should be observed in this unique revolutionary grand narrative Novel is the flow, drama, comedy and ever-maturing genius that came out of so diminishing  of deeply trying circumstances in what was always going to be a forced venture without any opportunity to review , redraft or work over already submitting installments.

To this end is the development of Claude Frollo , all his loves are of great merit , passionately felt , virtuously honoured with great delicacy and sacrifice , yet when even one aspect of his love yields from caring , compassionate bonds to a possessive desire driven quest , all his love is destroyed , all his loves suffer enormously whilst he morally ossifies and degenerates into a mutated fiend before the readers eyes.One wonders if the study of the corrosive effects of love when it leads to consumptive  destruction via desire when it crosses the bonds of caring into obsession, moral decline and madness that bends the senses of Humanity that should be the bedrock of genuine love itself , given time , would have been developed at less frantic pace.

Many has misconstrued his detailed and nuances descriptions of the architecture as shabby attempts at fillers to flesh out the material.A better understanding would be the placing of the language of the great works of architecture being seen as a continuum from the early age of the Greeks through Romans to the Arts , Culture and crafts of France at a time in history when there was a great debate between aspects to retain and refresh from History or those to demolish in the name of progressive modernity from the days in the aftermath of the making of the Republic.Though his attitude to Religion can be summed up as "Clergy married to Nobility" he regarded landmarks such as Notre-Dame as part of the heritage of the People of France , well worth preserving for posterity.

A metaphor for his attitude is the equating the written Arts to the architecture of stone as a marriage that will cement the best elements of the past with the present.In the novel we have a manichean  conflict in which the fear is the printing press ( ultimately beholden to state hands) will destroy the beauty and poetic freedom of architecture , and ultimately the bonds holding People together.Whilst the written word can be suppressed at ant time , solid architecture would withstand brief historical flirtations.Victor is looking for values not to be subscribes in constitutions or pieces of easily disposable paper , but wants them etched in solid stone symbols and values architecture that will stand up for all timeThis article gives an indication of some of the themes.  

He saw the restoration of Notre-Dame , from the neglect of his time , as an extension of the evolution of classical values meshing into the best technical modern thinking of the past and present entering into the Hearts and Minds of Man.