"Death can do no more than kill you" - WNP Barbellion

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NTU Graduate Program

I will shortly begin my graduate studies in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at National Taiwan University.

National Taiwan University

In the first semester I am taking three courses:

  • Research methods
  • Victorian novels and material culture
  • Sophocles’ Antigone

Naturally, I am very excited about studying at Taiwan’s best university. But before the classes begin, I am desperately trying to finish reading the required texts for the Victorian novels course: Our Mutual Friend, Vanity Fair, Middlemarch, Jane Eyre.

While ploughing through these enormous novels, I console myself by imagining constructing a term paper on Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky & Co.

Back in 2019

Here are some of the books I read during the past year.

Pym 12 novels

We’ll to the woods no more

Evelyn Waugh

The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold


92 Days

The Loved One

Virginia Woolf

Between the Acts

Rudyard Kipling

Puck of Pook’s Hill

Stalky & Co.

Ronald Blythe


Jack London

John Barleycorn

George Gissing

New Grub Street

Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White

The Moonstone

No Name

Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities

Oscar Wilde

The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde

The Letters of Oscar Wilde

Wilde biog Richard Ellmann

Richard Aldington

The Colonel’s Daughter

2018 Reading 1-10

This is my effort to track my book-reading over the course of the year.

#1 Bedsit Disco Queen by Tracey Thorn (2013)

Enjoyable memoir from one half of the pop act, Everything But the Girl. Probably the most surprising part is how much Thorn claims the values of punk informed the approach to her musical career. I suppose the key is values, rather than any sonic principles, and Thorn lays out how she forged a career as a woman in the music industry without too much by way of sacrifice and compromise. Deals well with the lived realities of success, then failure, and then a second, even bigger, taste of success.

#2 Aaron’s Rod by D H Lawrence (1922)

The first Lawrence novel I have read, and in parts it was extremely impressive. This novel is not hugely acclaimed by critics, partly because it can fairly be accused of being ‘a lot of disconnected scenes of people talking’, but the intensity of the conversations and the depictions of particular situations and places was jaw-dropping. For example, the section of the novel where Lilly nurses Sisson back to health was beautiful, and, given the social mores of the time, artistically courageous to depict. There is also an impressive section where Sisson reflects upon the dynamics of his relationship with his wife, full of acute insight into the life of human feelings. The latter parts of the novel, set in Italy, are far more evocative of that country than anything E M Forster managed in Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905). What this novel possesses, at its best, is an unusual vitality. In its weaker moments, it becomes more interesting simply as a period piece, in its worst moments, it regurgitates some species of Nietzchean thought.

#3 Labels by Evelyn Waugh (1930)

Waugh’s first travel book saw him visit a selection of foreign places that were already well-fixed in the English imagination, Paris, Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Venice, etc., and consider whether the reality matched the image (the labels). Waugh makes the journey in the same mode as tourists, and draws a similar distinction to that of Paul Fussell between three ages of travel (that both efface and overlap one another to an extent) – exploration, travel, tourism. Thus, Waugh takes off on a cruise on a Norwegian steamer, the Stella Polaris, around the Mediterranean, making it as far east as Port Said.

Considering Waugh was only 27 at the time of publication, Labels is astonishingly self-assured and his inimitable style is already well-developed, with a fine eye for comedy (and less of an ear).

#4 Tristessa by Jack Kerouac (1960)

A groggy novella, centred on Tristessa, a morphine-addicted native of Mexico City, and told in two parts, the story resuming after the narrator, who is supplied with aspects of Kerouac’s biography, returns to Mexico City after a year or more tramping around the US with his beat pals. The action, such as it is, is unremarkable, while the style is a heap of first impressions that appear to have undergone little revision. There was only a single moment of self-reflection in the whole novel, one moment where the narrator grasped, for a second, the absurdity of himself, as a lost white man, setting himself up as the teacher/savior of Tristessa, a woman who already knows, deeply, everything that he does (but doesn’t form it into annoying Buddhist-Christian babble). A very bad novel.

#5 A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (1964)

If we return to Kerouac for a moment, the big claim, recycled in endless accounts of The Beat Generation, is that Burroughs, Ginsberg and Kerouac were doing something radical, challenging a literary scene that was moribund/had lost its way. While that may be partly true of the early Beat works, Naked Lunch, Howl, On the Road, by the beginning of the 1960s it was no longer the case. In every respect, A Single Man is more accomplished, more modern, more insightful than Kerouac’s contemporaneous work, which has dated extremely badly.

The two things I would note about this novel are its attention to processes, in contrast with events (which are being effaced, largely, by the former). The start of the novel begins with its central character decentred, and becoming a complete human being only by degrees, finally achieving personhood as he unites with his job title, professor, at the Californian university he teaches at. In this, it’s rather similar, though greatly extended, to the opening of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, where we begin with the central character referred to firstly via her marriage (social identity), and then as Clarissa Dalloway when she thinks (personal identity), etc. The event that has rendered all of the processes more visible is the sudden, senseless death in an auto accident of the narrator’s partner, while, at the end of the novel, process and event merge with the narrator dying in their sleep, the death rendered at the physiological level, senseless and inevitable.

The second point about this novel is that in its distancing from its central character, in its observation of processes and, particularly, of the changing urban environment (and the corresponding changes in human behavior), there is a similarity to the work of J G Ballard at times. The difference, though, is that Isherwood’s character is a full flesh-and-blood individual (with its pattern of all the action taking place in a single day, and its scatological moments, there’s a similarity between George and Joyce’s Bloom), whom we share intimacies with, whose thoughts are comprehensible, and traverse the full spectrum of emotions, from innocent joy to fantasies of extreme violence, rather than Ballard’s take, where the characters themselves become as featureless as concrete and as lacking in self-awareness as panes of glass.

A short novel of exceptional clarity and quality.

#6 Baghdad Sketches by Freya Stark (1938)

Travel writing from an independently-minded British woman, Freya Stark. Opens with a lament for how travel is now becoming tourism, even in the Iraqi desert, which now has its own road.

#7 The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz (1961)

I reread this book for its references to masks and the Mexican take on death, both of which have relevance for a short story I am writing. Paz notes that, “The Mexican is always remote, from the world and from other people. And also from himself.” This prefaces his argument that for Mexicans, life is seen primarily as combat, with an emphasis on defense. On death, Paz distinguishes between an ancient attitude to death among Mexicans, and its effacement by a modern conception. This was important, because my initial thought had been to typify the fixation on death I witnessed in Mexico (a crowd of people watching silently as the TV news replayed, seemingly ad infinitum, a plane crash) as something ancient. But once I read the comment by Paz and checked the racial make-up of the Mexican town I am writing about (only 1% indigenous), I switched to presenting the modern take on death, while noting the intensity of the relationship.

#8 Norton Anthology of American Literature 1914-1945 (Vol D)

Notable stories in here are by Thomas Wolfe, The Lost Boy, a story worth comparing with Burroughs’ ‘The Dead Child’ chapter in The Soft Machine, D’Arcy McNickle’s Hard Riding, which bears comparison with a Jack London short story where a white man tricks the chief of a tribe into chopping off his head (can’t recall the story’s name), Black Elk’s vision, from where I took the term wasichus for use in a story about gypsies in the UK, and Willa Cather, The Sculptor’s Funeral, an extremely well-written and bitter story concerning the return of an artist’s body to the frontier town he was raised in.

#9 The Penguin Guide to Literature in English (2001)

Useful primarily for its periodization.

#10 Abroad by Paul Fussell (1980)

Endearingly fusty book of literary criticism that acts as a useful starting point for further investigation of a host of English travel writers, some of whom I was already familiar with, Denton Welch, J R Ackerley, E M Forster, Evelyn Waugh, Freya Stark, Robert Byron, D H Lawrence (Aaron’s Rod, The Italian trilogy, and Mornings in Mexico receive a chapter’s worth of attention), while some names were new to me, Norman Douglas, Lawrence Durrell, Patrick Leigh Fermor. An uneven, but still fascinating book, with plenty by way of amusing anecdotes, observations, and jokes.

Inside Track #28 with David Condon & Jason Kennedy – LISTEN NOW!

First broadcast on August 17th, Inside Track #28 is now available for listening in the Mixcloud player below. This show featured a reference to Polish sci-fi movie, Sexmission.


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Charlottesville and Trump reaction

Disappointingly for those of us who would rather forget all about him, Trump took center stage again this week after Saturday’s events in Charlottesville, VA, which left one protester dead and many more injured. Ostensibly at issue during the protests was the fate of a statue of Confederate General, Robert E. Lee, one of many hundreds of Confederate statues and monuments that have become key political battlegrounds between activists; with the choice sometimes boiling down to that of ‘museum of dumpster?‘.

At a press conference that was scheduled to focus on infrastructure projects, Trump took questions on Charlottesville, turning in a combative performance against ‘fake news’, while his insistence on blaming both the alt-right and those who opposed them has drawn huge criticism; this Guardian piece probably went furthest with its hyperbole, insisting that Trump is a ‘neo-Nazi sympathiser’.

We looked at what the Confederacy represents to both whites and blacks in the Southern states, and at how one myth; that the North fought the South to end slavery is still propagated, despite clear evidence that Lincoln’s priority was not ending slavery, but saving the Union. Interestingly, the Democratic Party was the party of slavery, a fact that appears to be largely forgotten in today’s political discussion.

Looking at the links between the Confederacy and Nazism, we noted that the Nazis studied the US prohibition on mixed-marriage, and that only the most radical Nazis wished to attempt a direct copy. This question of US-influence on Nazi legislation has been the subject of research by James Whitman and Dinesh D’Souza.

On the relatively new terms, alt-right and alt-left, we discussed their origins, and how they are rather problematic. Some on the left argue that alt-left is a fiction, motivated by the attempt to push the ‘horseshoe’ theory of politics, where the opposite of a fascist is… a fascist. The alt-right, by turn, was given a huge boost by an August Hillary Clinton campaign speech (though she didn’t mention it by name), as this New Yorker piece explains.

BBC, No more boys, No more girls…

Rather than re-educate its own executives over the issue of the corporation’s gender pay gap, the BBC continues, under all manner of pretexts, to show an unhealthy interest in the development of children. While Jimmy Savile’s roaming hands may now be safely beyond use, the BBC’s latest wheeze is a piece of social engineering that entertains the idea of raising children ‘gender-free’.

Inside Track #27 with David Condon & Jason Kennedy – LISTEN NOW!

First broadcast on August 10th, Inside Track #27 is now available for listening in the Mixcloud player below. This show featured a reference to the David Cronenberg movie, The Dead Zone, starring Christopher Walken.

What do you see, Johnny?

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We started the show by looking at the escalating tensions between North Korea and the US. This interview from The Intercept with John Feffer threw light on the origins of the North Korean regime and the dubious nature of the claim that China can bring its ally to heel. As for the claims regarding the technical capabilities of the North Korean nuclear program, we referenced the World Socialist Web Site’s words of caution on believing US government claims. We ended by pouring scorn on UK MPs and their willingness to paint a bull’s-eye on the country by announcing their intention to stand with their US ally.

Google censorship, Google workplace tyranny

We reported an important development that has received little or no mainstream coverage, that Google’s changes to its search have had a massive impact on alternative, left-wing news sites. The World Socialist Web Site has been particularly hard hit, and has four reports (Google’s new search protocol is restricting access to 13 leading socialist, progressive and anti-war web sites, Google rigs searches to block access to World Socialist Web Site, Evidence of Google blacklisting of left and progressive sites continues to mount, Google’s chief search engineer legitimizes new censorship algorithm) on the damage done to their internet presence, which they characterize as censorship.

YouTube is also looking to restrict and de-monetize videos it regards as objectionable (but which don’t quite violate their content policy). Right-wing guy, Mark Dice, had a recent rant about this, and we played a clip of him in full flow.

The Google story that has gripped the corporate media this week is the fallout from James Damore’s so-called ‘anti-diversity’ memo (read it in full here). Damore’s career-ending viewpoint was that Google has become a slave to an ideology that promotes diversity over performance and that sidelines/silences conservative opinions. The furious backlash against Damore, from both Google execs and media voices has rather proved his point, with this Guardian denunciation being something of a highlight (commenters tear apart the author’s misrepresentation of the memo).

Barnardo’s and the National Trust, the worst sort of political correctness

Barnardo’s has launched a campaign to raise awareness of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) that, preposterously, features a white girl to represent the issue. Unsurprisingly, they have been forced to back down.

Meanwhile, The National Trust has decided that its volunteers must celebrate values that it considers mandatory, in this case, gay pride. Those who prefer to answer only to their personal conscience were informed they would be relieved of public-facing duties. When faced with mass resignations, NT spokesperson, Annabel Smith, produced this amazing piece of doublethink:

“Relating specifically to the Prejudice and Pride programme, we do recognise that some volunteers may have conflicting personal opinions.

“However, whilst volunteering for the National Trust we do request and expect individuals to uphold the values of the organisation.”


Inside Track #26 with David Condon & Jason Kennedy – LISTEN NOW!

Recorded on July 23rd, Inside Track #26 is now available for listening in the Mixcloud player below. This show featured a comparison between Boris Johnson and Homer Simpson.

100% Duff…

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BBC Pay / Periscope

We started off by taking a look at the revelations of what the BBC is paying its ‘talent’. The mainstream media reaction appeared to bypass entirely the question of whether anyone is worth such high pay, and instead focused on three perceived inequalities: gender inequality, which prompted this angry letter from females on the list, racial inequality, which prompted this moaning Guardian column, and, lastly, from Sky News, a piece on the class inequality the list demonstrates.

We then looked at a paedophile-pleasing ‘report‘ the BBC did on an app owned by Twitter, Periscope, which included some godawful dramatization. “I’m only 9!” (shrieks a clearly middle-aged woman drawing the Equity minimum).

John McCain, worst man ever?

John McCain has been diagnosed with brain cancer. We took the opportunity to reflect upon the life and career of ‘The Maverick’, beginning with his exemplary behavior at a town hall, where he retrieved the microphone from a deranged woman denouncing Obama as ‘an Arab’ and put her straight.

We then moved on to McCain’s personal life, and the fact he deserted his wife after she suffered an accident that left her crippled, preferring instead to marry a blonde heiress many years his junior.

On the political front, McCain has been an ardent proponent of war all over the planet. Mother Jones has an excellent piece, All the Countries John McCain Has Wanted to Attack, which gives an idea of the scale of carnage McCain desires. And when McCain does speak of attacking other countries, it’s not always in the high-flown rhetoric one might expect from a US senator. Here he is recalling the Beach Boys song, Bomb Bomb Iran

McCain’s antics regarding war have hardly diminished with age. Here he is having to employ an ‘alternate facts‘ defense when faced with the basic fact that the US is providing air support to Al-Qaeda in Syria. After dismissing the journalist on the basis that McCain has been to Syria and the hack hasn’t, the concluding part of our round-up was the issuing (by McCain’s own press team, no less!) of a photo of the Maverick hanging out with terrorist kidnappers.

Trump ends CIA support for Syrian rebels

Rather astonishingly, this CIA support included simply placing jihadists on the payroll. Seems Carol in Accounts will have some angry employees to deal with this week. The CIA program began in 2013 under Saint Obama, and we welcome its being ended, whether by Donald Trump or the Chuckle Brothers.

Tory Leadership latest

While David Davis remains in pole position to take the wheel of the clown car that is this Tory government, and Jacob ‘Lord Snooty’ Rees-Mogg has emerged as a dark horse, we chose instead to play excerpts from the Spectator magazine’s Poshcast, where, in an alternative universe, a gaggle of Tarquins and Henriettas indulged themselves in the collective fantasy of Boris Johnson remaining a capable and charismatic candidate to lead the country.

Loon Watch

We handed out three awards for delusional thinking in our inaugural Loon Watch segment.

The first went to Louise Mensch for her bizarre tweet that Trump and Bannon face execution for espionage.

The second went to Hope not Hate for their hysterical campaign to have Katie Hopkins fired for daring to interview anti-immigrant group, Defend Europe.

The third went to Vince Cable, newly-installed leader of the Liberal Democrats, for his inability to distinguish between 2 and 5 million, despite repeated opportunities, when quizzed on his new public sector pay plans.

Inside Track #25 with David Condon & Jason Kennedy – LISTEN NOW!

Show #25

Inside Track #24 with David Condon & Jason Kennedy – LISTEN NOW!

Recorded on July 9th, Inside Track #24 is now available for listening in the Mixcloud player below. This show featured references to the classic tale of adventure, Robinson Crusoe.

Robinson Crusoe and his retinue

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In the first hour we looked at CNN’s ongoing war of words with Donald Trump; the latest spat broke out over a GIF Trump tweeted of himself body-slamming the network. CNN played up their victim status, even frittering away resources producing this ‘comic’ response [scroll down]. Meanwhile, CNN’s unrelenting campaign to brainwash the American people into believing that bogeyman Russia stole the presidential election from Hillary Clinton continued with their most ambitious effort yet, a 40-minute exercise in historical revisionism: The Russian Connection:Inside the War on Democracy

For those wondering how squeaky-clean the Democrats are re interacting with Russia in a climate where even sharing a sandwich with a Russian can call one’s patriotism into question, here’s John Podesta denying the undeniable on Fox News. “It’s not true!” Here is the leaked email showing in black-and-white that Podesta had 75,000 shares in Joule Unlimited. Dave also referenced the shady uranium deal that Hillary Clinton was involved with, both as Secretary of State and the Clinton Foundation. This Washington Post article seeks to debunk the idea of any Clinton wrongdoing, but still notes:

“Individuals related to Uranium One and UrAsia, including Giustra and Telfer, donated to the Clinton Foundation, totaling about $145 million. The Times reported that Telfer also donated to the Clinton Foundation using his family charity based in Canada. These were donations made to the Clinton Foundation, not directly to the Clintons.”


Inside Track #23 with David Condon & Jason Kennedy – LISTEN NOW!

First broadcast June 29th, Inside Track #23 is now available for listening in the Mixcloud player below. This show featured Michael Fallon being compared to Bumble of Oliver Twist.

Harry Secombe in action

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The show began with revelations of more Tory election cheating, courtesy of an undercover investigation by Channel 4 News. Secret footage clearly proves campaigning laws were broken, though the prospect of any action being taken looks, as ever, remote.

The Tory-DUP deal was concluded this week. The deal saw 1.5 billion UKP suddenly materialize, despite the never-ending Tory claims that magic money trees simply do not exist. There will, however, be no extra government funds for councils facing economic ruin over fixing cladding of the sort thought responsible for the Grenfell Tower fire.

Not content with entering a coalition with a political party with astonishingly close links to terrorist groups, the government is apparently also considering keeping MPs dispersed for as long as possible by adding an extra month to their summer holidays.

Fake News / Anti-Russia

Three CNN journalists resigned this week, after being caught red-handed producing a fake news story that sought to link a Trump associate to an ongoing investigation of a Russian bank. Trump understandably reacted with glee, tweeting, quite rightfully, ‘FAKE NEWS!‘ Glenn Greenwald covered the story, and used a wealth of evidence of previous anti-Russia stories that have fallen apart, to contextualize this latest scandal.

On a similar theme, we also noted a Guardian story regarding the recent cyber-attack on the UK Parliament, which was headlined: Cyber-attack on UK parliament: Russia is suspected culpritThe accompanying article, however, contained not a single piece of evidence of any Russian involvement whatsoever, the highlight being a security source’s comment: “The nature of cyber-attacks means it is notoriously difficult to attribute an incident to a specific actor.” Undeterred, the article then recycled past claims of Russia being linked to interference in various other events, all of them equally evidence-free.

Khan Sheikoun

On this week’s show we discussed the events of 4th April in Khan Sheikoun, Syria, and the aerial attack that left 89 people dead. Of interest here is a new article by Seymour Hersh, veteran investigative reporter, that draws upon US intelligence sources to cast significant doubt on the official narrative.

CNN, for example, in its reporting of the attack, produced an astonishing propaganda video and declared the events of April 4th to be, “a sarin attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, which evidence shows was launched by Syrian government forces”, while a later story claimed OCPW had ‘incontrovertible’ evidence that sarin, or a similar substance, was used.

Hersh claims that not only did US intelligence services know there were no chemical weapons used by the Syrians, this information was presented to, and dismissed, by Donald Trump. Forewarned of the incoming Tomahawk missiles, the spectacular images of US military might that generated a surge in Trump’s approval ratings were, according to one source, merely ‘a firework display’.

If one is wondering why such an important story is being ignored in the Western media, Jonathan Cook has two posts on that theme; the first looks at how Seymour Hersh has been rapidly pushed to the margins, while the second notes how Hersh’s revelations are being ignored, even as two spoilers that seek to trump his claims are given significant attention.

The first of these spoilers was the Sean Spicer statement that, “The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children. The activities are similar to the preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack.” Spicer’s statement was greeted with disbelief by officials at the Pentagon and the State Department, who had no foreknowledge of its release.

The second spoiler was a ‘new’ story ‘confirming’ that the OCPW investigation (which was widely reported months back) found evidence of the use of sarin.

Meanwhile, Scott Ritter has brought his expertise to bear on the Khan Sheikoun attack, and in an excellent piece demonstrates, among other things, that the ‘chain of custody’ re samples collected from the scene was broken numerous times, thus rendering the OCPW findings that CNN declared ‘incontrovertible’, moot. His reasoning leads him to the conclusion that the most like explanations is that the White Helmets fabricated the samples to advance their anti-Assad agenda.

Perhaps the most worrying comment on this whole saga is this one, by Jonathan Cook, who notes that these latest US threats re Syrian chemical attacks, “… increase, rather than reduce, the chances of a new chemical weapons attack. Other, anti-Assad actors now have a strong incentive to use chemical weapons in false-flag operation to implicate Assad, knowing that the US has committed itself to intervention. On any reading, the US statements were reckless – or malicious – in the extreme and likely to bring about the exact opposite of what they were supposed to achieve.”

Inside Track #22 with David Condon & Jason Kennedy – LISTEN NOW!

First broadcast June 22nd, Inside Track #22 is now available for listening in the Mixcloud player below. This show featured a reference to General Zod of Superman II.

General Zod and his accomplices

Listen to the show (to download right-click and save as…)

The show began with a discussion of the Grenfell Tower fire. We noted one story that showed young people who could have tried to escape the blaze preferring to remain in place and die with their elderly family members. We also made reference to a firefighters’ first-hand account of his experiences and thought processes during the fire. Blogger Craig Murray pin-pointed outsourcing and complex contracting arrangements as a significant source of the culture that ends with a fire such as Grenfell Tower. And on the subject of David Lammy MP calling for the Metropolitan Police Service to stop Grenfell Tower contractors from destroying evidence related to the fire, we noted that the Met are world experts in the destruction of evidence; Operation Othona revealed that an entire ‘lorry-load’ of evidence that may have helped the inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s death was ‘inexplicably shredded in 2003’.

We covered the Finsbury Park Mosque attack and explored the so-called double standard that white attackers are rarely labelled as terrorists. We noted that as white attackers don’t martyr themselves, the reporting of their actions is far more guarded, and extends to not instantly labelling them as terrorists. We did note, though, that in the case of the Westminster Bridge attacker, it was perhaps wrong to designate him as a terrorist, as the Metropolitan Police Service admitted that he acted alone and his motivations may never be known. On the subject of mental illness motivating terror attacks, we noted that such a view is not simply a rhetorical move to exonerate white males, but is often actually the case, as in the recent example of a mentally ill man jailed for making Facebook threats to an MP he felt was going to vote to cut the support services he depends upon.

We ended with some white privilege/SJW-type stuff, with one example being this bizarre effort, How Can You Not Like The Beatles?

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