Theory of Religion – Georges Bataille

“Religion”, according to Bataille, “is the search for a lost intimacy.”  In a brilliant and tightly reasoned argument he proceeds to develop a “general economy” of man’s relation to this intimacy:  from the seamless immanence of animality, to the shattered world of objects, and the partial, ritual recovery of the intimate order through the violence of sacrifice.  Bataille then reflects on the archaic festival in which he sees not only the glorious affirmation of life through the destructive consumption but also the seeds of another, more ominous order – war.

It’s been a while since I dipped my toe into the world of Philosophy and it was extremely fortuitous that I decided to start here.  It’s hard to know what to expect from Bataille, a writer on such diverse subjects as mysticism, the surreal, poetry, and erotica.

Bataille was an atheist so naturally a book entitled Theory of Religion was always going to pique my interest.  The title in in itself is misleading, this is not about organised religion as we would think of it today but something more ancient, an innate need to separate the physical from the spiritual.

The more naturalistic elements of understanding the divine are explored, The severance from our animal ancestors through evolution, but with a wish to retain a connection despite community being favoured over the competitive singular. Continue reading “Theory of Religion – Georges Bataille”

The Trial of Henry Kissinger – Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens goes straight for the Jugular in The Trial of Henry Kissinger. Under his fearsome gaze, the former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor is accused of being a war criminal whose reckless actions and heinous disregard for international law have led to torture, kidnapping and murder.

This book is a polemical masterpiece by a man who, for over forty years, was the Anglosphere’s pre-eminent man of letters.  In The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Hitchens’ verve, style and firebrand wit are on show at the height of their potency. 

The Trial of Henry Kissinger is certainly an eye-opening read and a devastating attack on both his character and many of his actions – which had a significant impact on thousands of lives around the world – showing him (with supporting documents) to be a morally bankrupt man.  As the quote on the back cover of the book from the Literary Review says:

‘This book is so stupidly defamatory that if Kissinger values his reputation, he really must sue’

The silence on this matter, from the Nobel Peace Prize winner himself really does speak volumes.

Chronicling the different events Kissinger was a part of – a litany of manufactured, supported and prolonged wars,  and sabotaged peace talks, all a tale of so many lives ruined and lost needlessly, – it is frightening to see how he moved through successive U.S. governments with his power intact.   Hitchens is clearly no lover of the man but as ever, his arguments are reasoned, razor-sharp and not afraid to court controversy.  There is a term ‘Hitchslap’ that does the rounds that is often used for his most incisive commentary and this is certainly a good example of the term.

One of the most telling pieces of information is that Kissinger’s papers (the ones he classified as personal, when it is suspected many are incriminating) are under lock and key at the Library of Congress and can only be opened after Kissinger dies thanks to the agreement beforehand.  Of course being in the public interest a subpoena would most likely open it up (and a huge can of worms) but there in lies the issue. Continue reading “The Trial of Henry Kissinger – Christopher Hitchens”

Return to the Sea – Etnairis Rivera

seasideDay and post three of poetry week takes us all the way across the waters to Puerto Rico, unless you happen to be reading this from there, that is.

There’s no blurb for this one but whilst attempting to hunt one out on, I noticed that the one used paperback copy was going for $35 dollars.  Not bad considering I got mine for $4 whilst using Letizia’s fun method of poetry buying – which can be found here  – and seeing where the journey takes you.

Return to the Sea sets both Spanish and its English translation side by side on the page, which I find fascinating and although this is nothing unique in the world of poetry books my eyes were drawn over to the Spanish side frequently through curiosity many more time than my Rilke books ever have, perhaps because the language is easier on the eye and more familiar.

It is clear from the start that Rivera is fiercely strong in her patriotism and her writings are shot through with calls for independence and self determinism of the country she so clearly evokes with passion through the text.  The love shines through in many way from reminiscences to the impassioned defence of her people.

There is fury at the legacy left by the US military, after testing chemical and nuclear weapons on the island of Vieques (nicknamed La Isla Nena, usually translated as Little Girl Island, which somehow makes it worse) left thousands with serious health issues including Cancer.  Not only does Rivera demand justice but also exhibits a diligent need to cleanse the people and their land. Continue reading “Return to the Sea – Etnairis Rivera”

Grave Encounters

I had forgotten about this little jaunt until I read this post of Sherri’s for those of you who are yet to discover this gem of a blog, then I urge you to go there and get immersed in her wonderful style of memoir…

A while back, I went pottering through a graveyard, it was an unhurried type journey as such things always should be.  I found myself reflecting on many a thing in the peaceful confines of its borders, aimlessly plodding around the circuitous path which I liked to think was some subtle nod to rebirth but perhaps I overanalyse things too much.Notts! 118It was around half past five in the PM when I discovered this peaceful place which has been around since the 1830’s and this being England and Autumn, there was a fine drizzle in the air.  I think part of me was drawn to this place by the ending of my day out and also that melancholy feel that affects the single traveller with time on his hands.

It is strange to feel moved by the resting places of so many unknown people, the idea of lives lived, dramas finished, heartache and happiness played out to a natural conclusion is something that the living need to assimilate and enjoy what we have in the now.  I always take delight in the juxtaposition of places and the graveyard is near Nottingham Trent University, where vitality and exuberance flows past the gates every day, something cheers me about that. Continue reading “Grave Encounters”

The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence – Martin Meredith

SaAAfrica is forever on our TV screens, but the bad-news stories (famine, genocide, corruption) massively outweigh the good (South Africa). Ever since the process of de-colonialisation began in the mid-1950s, and arguably before, the continent has appeared to be stuck in a process of irreversible decline. Constant war, improper use of natural resources and misappropriation of revenues and aid monies contribute to an impression of a continent beyond hope. How did we get here? What, if anything, is to be done? Fully revised and updated and weaving together the key stories and characters of the last sixty years into a stunningly compelling and coherent narrative, Martin Meredith has produced the definitive history of how European ideas of how to organise 10,000 different ethnic groups has led to what Tony Blair described as the ‘scar on the conscience of the world’. 

As far as complex narratives go, African history is up there with the most complicated of them all.  This 688 page book seeks to unravel the tumultuous past and explain the politics of Africa as a whole as combined and separate states.

This ambitious and critical exploration is unblinkingly honest and brutal.  Yet it is also easily readable and not in the least confusing, despite many acronyms and the jumps around a number of countries.

The vast scale is of the book with a summation of the establishment of colonial rule and up to the beginnings of Independence, before going on to form an extremely concise and readable series of case studies.  The chronological nature of the book separated – roughly into decades – allows for the understanding of contemporary problems and movements to be understood within the context of the region.

We have been giving away mountains and lakes and rivers to each other, only hindered by the small impediment that we never knew exactly where they were.

Charting a path through the wholesale destruction of a continent’s equilibrium, carving geometric lines through long-established tribal lands and swapping of said territory between Western empires, is always going to be indicative of problems and from this inauspicious beginning, the book doesn’t let up on the blood and tears that have not just blighted a continent but has become a reflection on the rest of the world. Continue reading “The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence – Martin Meredith”

The Second World War – Antony Beevor



‘In several places they had hung out their washing on lines between trees as if it were normal to have a washing day in this desecrated no-man’s land’

 So why should you choose this WWII book over the many hundreds of other books devoted to the subject?

The short answer, is the exhaustive depth of scale that is covered here. As well as the European conflict which is understandably the main focus of British history books, this tome also devotes itself to the Far Eastern theatre of conflict and the lesser known stories of Greece, Holland, Norway etc.

In truth, I’ve battled through this book for almost three weeks before finishing it today, and even if you minus the hours that have gone on an unusually buoyant social life of late, it’s still taken a lot of time to get through (for me at least).

Anyone who has ever read an Antony Beevor book before will know the style of writing, relentless facts lightly sprinkled with anecdotes from survivors, eye witnesses, journalists,soldiers and other sources, all melded together in an easy to read narrative. However due to its nature and wide ranging scope, this doesn’t feel as fluid as his earlier works, most notably Stalingrad and Berlin.  there are plenty of maps though to help you follow the action and a list of abbreviations in the back, although there aren’t that many so it’s not too daunting.

This, though, is not a criticism. I shall be giving away a few other WWII books, as I believe this is the definitive book that I will be referring too from now on. The beauty of its structure is the overlapping chapters detailing campaigns, operations, etc,these don’t suffer from a staggered account but manage to flow without becoming a structural mess and a readers worst nightmare. Really it’s a book designed to be easy to reference as well as read straight through. Continue reading “The Second World War – Antony Beevor”

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