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On not writing about politics

Somewhere in this study, hidden under piles of other books and papers, lurks my copy of The Abbess of Crewe, Muriel Spark’s feline, semi-funny Watergate novel. Since, however, I can’t find it anywhere — although I did, at least, find a fat hardback by Peter Fuller that I’d forgotten I owned — a paraphrase of the relevant passage will have to suffice.

There’s a point, early on in The Abbess of Crewe, where the elegant, Machiavellian, vaguely tragic abbess of the title rings up gruff-voiced, globe-trotting, Kissingeresque and not entirely reliable Sister Gertrude, seeking advice on some pressing problem. ‘A problem you solve,’ crackles the answer down the line, before explaining that the situation troubling the Abbess is, instead, a paradox. ‘Have you time for a very short seminar, Gertrude, on how one treats of a paradox?’ asks the Abbess, as sweetly as she can manage. ‘A paradox you live with,’ replies Sister Gertrude, before ringing off.

Thus in the right sort of mood it should be possible to construe the omission of any overt political content on this notionally right-of-centre blog — an omission that’s been particularly acute over the past six months — less as a problem than, well, a paradox.

Some readers will, perhaps, insist that the paradox is more apparent than genuine, if only because it’s almost impossible to write anything without expressing a hierarchy of preferences that’s inherently susceptible to translation, accurately or otherwise, into the language of politics. Even omissions can thus be made to stand as credos. Or to put it another way, if the spectre of Mrs Thatcher surfaces in my art-related writing rather more than some might regard as entirely healthy, then it’s worth remembering that the Cambridge of my youth was a place in which even the most basic facts of late medieval and early modern English history could only be transmitted, or so it appeared, if intercut at every possible point with effusions of the rawest sort of Thatcher-hating rhetoric — attributions of selfishness, callousness and philistinism which construed these as necessarily conservative errors, self-evidently absent elsewhere across the political spectrum — so that, even now, invoking Mrs Thatcher without simultaneously saying something unpleasant about her still counts as a political gesture, a wilful step outside the pale of civilised cultural discourse, an exercise in outing oneself as culpably ‘right wing’. All of which is, of course, why I do it as often as possible. Continue reading

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