The Point of Publishing

The Anonymity of the Centre

The Spaces between Words

Ifallwordswererunononeintoanotheridoubtthatmostpeoplewouldbeabletomakemuchsenseofthem

Soth espa cesb etwe eenw ords arei mpor tant

B ut the ymus tnotb eregul aroracc ordingto anysortof organisati onstructure

No r sh ouldt he yb een tire lyran dom

Searching for the avant-garde in England

Searching today for the avant-garde in England I found:

avant-garde public relations
avant-garde cars
avant-garde e-liquids
avant-garde alloy wheels
avant-garde hair and beauty
avant-garde audio-visual solutions
avant-garde creative studios
avant-garde T-shirts
avant-garde garden structures
avant-garde personal loans
avant-garde model kits
avant-garde clothing
avant-garde home improvements
avant-garde promotional merchandise
avant-garde natural stone steps and paving
avant-garde security
avant-garde wedding photography
avant-garde business consultancy
avant-garde roofing
avant-garde music venues
avant-garde bars
avant-garde bathrooms
avant-garde posters
avant-garde fireplaces
avant-garde lawns
avant-garde dining room furniture
avant-garde dance
avant-garde fonts
avant-garde housing developments
avant-garde distribution
avant-garde jobs
avant-garde models
avant-garde opticals
avant-garde corporate role-play
avant-garde bathroom furniture
avant-garde men’s fragrances
avant-garde financial advice
avant-garde drinks
avant-garde holiday homes
avant-garde dental services
avant-garde murder mystery events
avant-garde clematis
avant-garde chocolate glazed donuts
avant-garde sofas
avant-garde damp solutions
avant-garde rugs
avant-garde model planes
avant-garde hypnotherapy
avant-garde funeral stationery
avant-garde chauffeur drive cars
avant-garde wig conditioner

Brexit-Trump and the end of language hegemony

It looks as if the Brexit-Trump era is already having an effect on the international nature of higher education. In the anglophone world, academics are either feeling unwelcome or are being discouraged from taking up positions because of anticipated changes to immigration law and zealous security vetting. Internationally minded students are looking to live and study in countries where society is more welcoming, where universities are still supported by internationally minded governments, and are, quite often, far less expensive to attend. Add to this the movement of private research and development to more amenable locations, and the higher education sector has a lot of contingency planning to do.

As well as these being interesting times for scholarship and research, they might also affect the varieties of publications that promulgate, disseminate and critically evaluate the results of these activities. One unintended consequence of the current turn towards isolationism and xenophobia in the North Atlantic anglosphere may be a significant shift in the language of global and local publishing. There may be a smaller market for English language books and journals, and a renewed realisation that using one’s own language can give scholars and scientists more political and personal freedom, and more opportunity for innovation.

English became the language of science publishing when it became the language of scientific experimentation and exploration, but now, as science looks set to migrate from the British and American powerhouse universities, it may face greater challenges from other languages, as both the language of science and as the language of the business of science. German and Russian may rediscover a scientific clout not known for several decades; others, Mandarin, Hindi or Turkish perhaps, will become important servants of scientific innovations that serve the needs of large local and regional economic interests. National and regional languages may be used, not to spread the word about local knowledge to rapacious international exploitative industries, but to foster local innovation for local good.

In the social sciences, there must always be a nagging suspicion that analysis and policy have been inappropriately developed in a world language whose vocabulary and inflection were developed to analyse and direct the institutions of very different, often predatory societies. The tone set by the use of English in social research may have obscured understanding and made the development of successful local policies more difficult.

In the humanities, where knowledge of and sensitivity to meaning used to come from using and understanding a variety of languages, any current experience and knowledge is increasingly gained through translation, the development of new Englishes – both Globish and social patois, and the development of Artificial Intelligence and language learning by algorithm. At the same time, English as a language of creativity and as the language predominantly used to discuss such creativity has become overloaded with jargon and in-group locutions. Using more languages as an antidote to Brexit-Trumpism may be a shot in the arm for culture in all our countries.

Many now feel that the world is entering a new political era, and this may well entail a move away from English as the pre-eminent language of science and the humanities. This will change publishing, both in traditional formats and in whatever new publishing develops in the digital space. Publishers must not be slow to recognise that the dominance of English has been only a phase in the history of publishing and information dissemination, and they will need to plan for survival in the more linguistically nuanced publishing landscape created as the European and North American anglosphere retreats and retracts.

While English will not disappear as a language of knowledge and creativity, it may be on an irrevocable path to becoming, like Kiswahili, mostly a convenient language of business along the physical and digital shipping lanes of the world, with a fine tradition of religious and literary writing and publication, but mostly overtaken by the languages of those countries that are actually out there in the world doing the creating, experimenting, trading and colonising.

UEA, Russia and 2017

The library at the University of East Anglia has kindly found and sent me this announcement for A Series of Lectures to mark the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. I attended these lectures in 1967 and have some observations now that another fifty years have passed.

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The phrase ‘fifty years ago’ will be the last words many want to read or hear, but in 1967 they were used at UEA with dramatic effect to introduce a lecture series to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. These lectures took place against a backdrop of the first stirrings of évènements in Paris, the intensification of conflict in Vietnam, the colonel’s coup in Greece, civil wars in Congo and Nigeria, and the six-day war between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Like 1917, 1967 was a year full of international uncertainty.

The people who told the story of 1917 understood the effects of the revolution and vividly communicated the rush and chaos of historical events. These experts had experienced the turmoil that followed the Russian Revolution: economic meltdown, Nazi atrocities, the rise and the effects of both communism and anti-communism, war, deprivation, exile, imprisonment, loss of livelihood, homeland and family.

E. H. Carr, whose 14-volume history of the Soviet Union demonstrates the breadth and depth of the knowledge that underpinned this lecture series, was not only a prominent scholar but also someone with extensive personal experience of the diplomatic comings and goings of the first half of the twentieth century. Leonard Shapiro worked as a barrister and in military intelligence before becoming one of the ‘fathers of Sovietology’. Others had family connections: Leo Tolstoy was Tamara Talbot-Rice’s godfather, and John Erickson had an uncle who was serving in the Russian navy during the storming of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg (called Leningrad in 1967).

Werner Mosse and Lionel Kochan were key figures in exploring the story of Jews in Eastern and Central Europe, so intimately bound up with all European history, and they opposed those who sought to trivialize or politicise this history. Kochan attacked the ‘Holocaust industry’, believing that this was a matter too serious for popular comment. He also thought that it made little sense to study Jewish history without a knowledge of Hebrew.

All of the lecturers had an impressive command of languages. Kochan was fluent in French, Russian, Hebrew and German; Erickson had German, Polish, Czech, Serbo-Croat and Russian; Shapiro translated Turgenev and Hayward produced a definitive English translation of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. These were people who were immersed in the history of East and Central Europe and felt that it contained important lessons. As Shapiro wrote in an obituary: Hayward ‘had a profound knowledge of Russia and of things Russian, and his judgment was unerring and penetrating, and never eccentric, wrong-headed, or sentimental as is regrettably so often the case with students of the Soviet Union.’

As we enter 2017 we are again in interesting times, and, while the Russian Revolution is now part of a mostly unremembered history, let’s hope that the events that will mark its centenary will sharpen our awareness of the unpredictability and volatility of human events, awaken the desire to understand history in order to shape the future, and avoid the sentimentality and kitsch that has so often tarnished recent commemorations of historical events.

The leaflet for the 1967 lectures shows the full list of the eminent historians and their broad-ranging topics. The lectures were delivered with knowledge and understanding to an audience that included many callow young people who were then trying to interpret the political realities of their own troubled time. Fifty years ago the long-lasting effects of the 1917 revolution were clear and the lectures made connections across the decades. Now they are not so obvious.

It’s worth considering that 2017 will be marked by equally key events, ones that will shape our world for the coming century. The role of the university and the public lecture in making connections between the past, present and future in the international sphere remains important, even when this may be unpalatable or embarrassing to the powers that be, both inside and outside the university.

John Lennon: 8 December 1980

I’m in the shower then and hear
Someone’s shot John Lennon dead.
I ask, as a New Yorker might, ‘you sure?’
‘Yes. That’s what they said.’

In Central Park a few days later, as they played
Imagine and I saw a generation stare
Into its own eyes, we were like a calm and stoic Easter Parade,
Proud of each other but beginning to despair.

Castro enjoys an Irish coffee in Shannon

There was a time when I used to pass through Shannon airport on a regular basis; so did Fidel Castro. In those days, the flight from Moscow to Havana would come down to refuel in the west of Ireland and the passengers would sometimes get off and have a stroll around the airport. Once the bar tender told me that Fidel had been there a few days previously and had enjoyed an Irish coffee made especially for him by the bartender himself. The great revolutionary leader had liked it so much that he had sent one of his companions directly to the duty free shop to buy a case of Powers. This was rapidly loaded onto the Aeroflot jet, which then sped off to Havana.

Memories of Bratislava

A visit to Bratislava in 1970 entailed a short bus ride from Vienna through barbed wire fences and past watchtowers. The walk up to the castle was a rough path covered with snails of many colours: brown, yellow, green. Up in the castle museum, my companion, a Welsh speaker, was intrigued to find that he could read some of the Slovak signs. We remarked about this evidence of a pan-European culture underlying the differences and conflicts of Cold War Europe. Back down the hill in what was then a sleepy town we enjoyed excellent ice cream before getting on the bus back to Austria.

German words and playful statues

In Bad Hersfeld there is a memorial to Konrad Duden who produced the 1880 Vollständiges Orthographisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache, a work that was to influence the standardised spelling of German throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Here he seems to be practising Tai Chi which may have helped him focus on this challenge, or he may be relaxing by dancing a playful jig.

Konrad Duden

12 weeks later

The last trip was just before the EU referendum; through France, Spain and Portugal, preoccupied with the possibility of a leave vote, but knowing somewhere deep inside that it would never, could never happen. So much for gut feelings.

Twelve weeks later and it’s across the channel for the first time since the shock of the leave majority. It feels different. Waiting on the dockside at Dover most of the cars nearby are German and Dutch, and I feel excluded from their confident comradeship. Bright young people look as if they have the world in front of them; they stand tall, chatter and smile; you want to know them, be in their future. Older travellers seem healthy and thoughtful, obviously returning to a comfortable life. In contrast, the occupants of the few British cars look sheepish, smile in a shamefaced way, are older, eat sandwiches, appear wistful.

Halfway across the channel, looking at the other side, the heart lifts. All is not lost. Europe is still there, and I still want to be there, still feel that I will belong. We soon arrive in Dunkerque, where the fences of Calais have been replicated, and images of Fortress Europe come forward. Although there is less police presence than in Calais, very soon we pass the exit that is signposted to Grande Synthe. It is closed off, and a police van is parked on the ramp with blue light flashing.

It gets hotter. A short while later, at the Belgian border, it’s 35C: it has been the hottest September day in the UK for 105 years – a scorcher. Things are hotting up, and the fear of climate change melds with news of other changes already coming as we speed on. Cameron is gone; GCHQ powers are to be increased; Guy Verhofstadt articulates a new two-part narrative for European solidarity; the European Parliament hears Junckers stress a Europe of security – he anticipates tighter borders and a new military collaboration; Luxemburg criticizes Hungary’s refugee policy. The British referendum is part of a broader distress across the continent. No one has any solution, even in the midst of so many glib promises and barefaced lies.

Much of the broader chaos is passing the London media by as Britain remains fixated – as so often in a country where education is closely tied to social class and cultural division – on the major concerns of where you go to school and whether you are good at games.

We overnight in the Netherlands in an area where Aachen, Liège and Maastricht make up a designated Euregio, where you move seamlessly from one country to another, from one language to another, as if it’s the very core of Europe: a bit bland, but hopeful, safe and positive about the future.

At the next stop in Germany, green tendrils in the swimming pond embrace arms and legs, attach but do not threaten. The sun shines. The steam room relaxes muscles. On buildings all around vast arrays of solar panels show a commitment to a communal future; food is produced with customary respect; beer is brewed by methods that take as much pride in producing beer without alcohol as with it. There is trust.

Now comes the news from the UK: Hinkley Point, a backward looking decision based on fear of offending foreign powers, trade unions, and industrial lobbies. My life has felt the impact of the Windscale disaster, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, so this is more bad news. More and more it feels that Britain has stepped back into the past just when it might have made the decision to move forward to a kinder future, and I do not like that one little bit.

It’s a country abandoning responsibility for its people, its environment, and forsaking any regard for its neighbours and the broader world. It’s a culture that gets fat while watching others perform great athletic feats, that treats baking sickly cakes as entertainment while demanding gastric bands; a country that has resurrected the television shows that rely on parochial concerns, class, race and gender based humour and has shunned the cosmopolitan or avant-garde.

Even as there are some small signs of recognition that it’s more complex than they were letting on, there’s not enough attention given to the reasoned arguments of lawyers, parliamentary committees, academic experts and research scientists. The three stooges running the operation for Theresa May seem committed to learning nothing, saying less, and blustering.

Britain crows over gold medals and Great British Bake-Off, but it doesn’t work for me. It won’t work for anyone in the long run. The bread is better in Europe.

The Long March to Freedom in Colombia

The first time I met Tom Hargrove he boasted, tongue in cheek, that he had published one of the world’s most successful titles: a rice disease identification manual that had been printed in millions of copies in many languages throughout Asia. At the time he was working for the International Rice Research Insitute (IRRI) in Manila and we met at various times and in various places over a period of more than a decade and talked about publishing, agricultural development and about life. He was one of those people who always felt like a friend.

I remember one conversation in the bar of a New Delhi hotel called The Claridges, when we talked about how often the people we met assumed, because we travelled the world and were often vague or jokey about what we did, that we were connected to the world of intelligence. We laughed, but if the truth be told, Tom’s background in Vietnam made me wonder.

A few years later Tom was working for another agricultural research centre in Colombia called Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical, and the similarity between the acronym CIAT and the CIA may have been a factor in his capture by FARC guerrillas. He was held captive for nearly a year, and the record of the experience – kept as a secret diary during his captivity – was published in 1995 in Long March to Freedom. A film based on Tom’s story, Proof of Life, appeared in 2000.

A few years ago I learnt that Tom had returned to his native Texas, continued his career in international agricultural development and given occasional courses on terrorism analysis for US Joint Services Special Operations University. He died in 2011, but on this day, when we are told the war in Colombia is over, I pause to think of Tom Hargrove, a very special publisher.