Julian Gough’s new novel portrays a world that we are already well on the way to – one in which human concerns are very much outweighed by issues of the control of ‘tech’. It’s perhaps a problem that a certain kind of reader remains unmoved by tech and stubbornly interested in people.
Richard Murphy felt out of place in American universities, where his students equated poetry with self-expression. As Gerald Dawe has recently suggested, Murphy was always a poet of other people, whose poems are not about himself at all but about ‘others’ and their reality.
Conscience, Hamlet felt, could make cowards of us all. Nietzsche agreed, seeing it as a conspiracy to rein in the strong and free-spirited. And yet it is those moved by conscience, human rights activists, dissidents in totalitarian societies, whom we see as holding up a light for a better world.
Joyce drew on his theories in creating Leopold and Molly Bloom. Freud thought he was ‘highly gifted but sexually deranged’. Wittgenstein thought he was ‘great’, though one couldn’t agree with him, while Strindberg thought he had solved the hardest problem, the problem of women.
A classic experiment in social psychology and group antagonism now looks as if it was manipulated to produce the results required by the preceding theory. That doesn’t, however, mean the theory is wrong: if people grow up in a culture of us against them, that’s the society we will get.
That Mario Vargas Llosa should champion liberal principles is scarcely surprising, given the damage wrought by rival doctrines in South America. His new study might have benefited, however, from considering the ways in which liberal politics seems to have come unstuck elsewhere.