the post-retro Ostalgie of Paulina Olowska

Yesterday I was looking at the retrofuturism (or is that Nachträglichkeit?)of Paulina Olowska:

Paulina Olowska, L’introvertie, 2012
Paulina Olowska, Girl in Portobello Road Market Offers For Sale Dresses She has Made, 2012
Paulina Olowska, The Swan (After Norman Parkinson Foundation), 2017

…and today I read that Paula Rego died yesterday…

…not that there’s much similarity: Olowska’s work is like a painterly Ostalgie. Perhaps it recalls Antoine Volodine?


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on transcendental experience … after Mario Levrero

Mario Levrero begins The Luminous Novel… he is a writer from Uruguay, was. An unnecessary detail, perhaps. Alejandro Zambra, a writer I admire, Chilean, as it happens, or happened, like Bolaño, yet very unlike him, writes about Levrero that we cannot, we readers, we cannot hope to understand that mythical beast, that chimaera, that the literature of Latin America is, without taking in the part Levrero has in it. He says something like that.

And we might for a moment consider the chimaera. Mythical, yes, but also a fish…

…although to call it a fish is to dismiss the inventiveness that’s gone into it. …but also man-made, the chimaera:

…here pictured as a kind of babble of bodies.

Chimaera is mythical, fish and … here made by Kate Clark:

Or, consider the following, in view of literature, from E.V. Day:

The chimaera is also a work of conscious and deliberate construction. Matching chicken and lion, bird and reptilian parts. To put on display, and this is the key word, don’t you think? display.

4222 years ago, the Egyptians weren’t engaging in the earliest known taxidermy for the sake of producing chimaera to display. Embalming and processes of corporeal preservation, of animals, including humans, was conducted not for the living but for the dead on whom these practices were being used. Unless we consider that the exhibition of the dead was not as we understand it but for religious purposes.

Was the intended spectatorship some kind of cosmic audience?

Probably not, because the way out into the cosmos was back in through the world, a world of living deities and cosmic entities present rather than having to be presented, not requiring elaborate rituals, for example, in order to be presented, but already there, in attendance. And these were waiting to see themselves join the throng of the dead.

Their embalming and preservation must have seemed like having to join the queue, for the afterlife. Death.

And now they see themselves sail the stygian waters of the Nile into the omphalos of night. They don’t leave their bodies… no Judgement will have to restore the lucky ones who got the winning ticket to their discarded corpses.

Embalmed, taxidermied, they wait in line, the living gods, and travel over into death beside themselves, beside themselves, if everything has gone well with their preservation, beside themselves in the same way as we might think of an other world being beside this one. An early multiverse.

It is also the Egyptians we tend to thank for our first glimpses of chimaerae. (The word itself is something like a chimaera.) The Sphinx, whose riddle is herself. The bird-headed people, the dog-headed, and the alligator-headed dog.

When does this all change?

Is it at the birthplace of the human individual that Siedentop announces with the advent of early christianity? When, he maintains, before a subsequent crackdown by the institutions of a priestly caste, there were just as easily female communities and communities in which women were considered individuals as they were male… children, individually, born with a relation, a corporeal relation, to the living body of Christ, and, to life everlasting?

So Larry Siedentop maintains in Inventing the Individual: the Origins of Western Liberalism, 2015.

If you bear in you this inner connection, in your living body, this special relation that is special to you, would not the display of the dead pass to individuals to behold? Would you not already have in hand your ticket, to join the queue…?

General exhibition would be a thing institutions might want to have some say over, so restricting entry to an other world, and cutting out the ones not worthy for being somewhat… chimaerical. Raising ticket prices, and so on.

Cutting out animals entirely. Women. Naughty children. Saving them who’ve not had time to sin. Little angels. But all would press against the gates, to see… the exhibition.

Instruction enters. Education, and edification. Now it is on how to live beside yourself, next to your immortal part: the real you. It is no longer the practice of separating to be rejoined in the afterlife.

Until we consider resurrection in the body. Then we have to consider which one the dead part is: and it is clear. It is the body of the animal to which the soul is glued on, by cosmic taxidermy. Well, not really. More by transcendental taxidermy:

the human soul stuck to the body of a corpse… and which the afterthought? For the afterlife, the latter.

…Is resurrection in the body metaphorical? or… virtual?

This would make sense. I mean: it would make sense. The rational part of sense, to which the soul is the best proportion, the perfect ratio. … And freed from the body takes off, like this:


What part is the insubstantial again? and what the rendered insubstantial? the de-prioritised?

It’s that old body of the animal again, of which the chimaera is the perfect example: a constructed thing.

A mechanical thing, even, that David Bentley Hart rails against with such seriousness. Seriously. (In a nod to Hart I wanted to say, with such wanton solemnity.)

A book I am reading. Roland is a dog. He talks to the narrator on serious subjects like the dismissal of the transcendental experience (of living beside yourself, body and soul) by the mechanistic world view. The book’s success will be in the measure to which Roland separates himself from the views of Hart, the narrator.

From instruction, edification, tutelary and educative purposes, to … entertainment, would seem to be the path followed by chimaerae into modernity. Entertainment and art, that is. And we ought to think of those lesser souls belonging to lesser bodies, bodies more chimaerical, like those, classically, of women. And of the children who are yet to be edified and educated; and of non-whites, yet to be colonised, indentured, and given a mission.

Too embodied, these ones.

Will Hart allow his dog, Roland, to be one of these?

And what of the bodies of literature, like Latin American literature? The chimaera of …?

I don’t think Zambra really uses the word, chimaera. χίμαιρα is the female form of χίμαρος, meaning, in Ancient Greek, male goat: female goat.

– Jacopo Ligozzi, c.1600

I said female goat… but we do have here the fire-breathing part, and the querulous lion: is this masculinisation concessionary?

We can ask the same of literature, of course, as well as we can whether it is non-concessionary.

Mario Levrero begins his novel… this happens in the first two pages… by relating the sort of psychologism that Hart might reject.

Levrero tells us that he had a transcendental experience, which he told a friend about in the form of an anecdote. Why an anecdote? Because the etymology of anecdote is clear: it means unpublished account (ἀνέκδοτος = ἀν- not + έκδοτος published. έκδοτος derives from έκ- out of or ex– and δίδωμι, which is the first person singular of the verb to give).

Levrero’s friend says he must write it down. It would make a great novel. A great and luminous novel, perhaps, like we have here in our hands.

And Levrero says no. Impossible. Impossible to recapture the transcendental experience, to do it justice, in anything more substantial than an anecdote. End of discussion.

Except that it’s not, it’s not the end. It’s the beginning.

Levrero forgets, and this is the important point: he forgets the friend’s instruction, the friend telling him what he must do; he has, afterall, rejected it. And, anyway, it turns out they are no longer friends.

He forgets it. Levrero says, of course, what he is in fact forgetting is his resistance to his friend’s advice. And from this resistance comes the whole problem. The problem that is The Luminous Novel, in its published form. Because his opposition to the idea inflames it.

He tries again and again to write down the anecdote in which he relates his transcendental experience. And he dismisses each effort, and destroys it. But, the next important point: the urge and urgency to pursue the idea no longer comes from the friend, the friend who is no longer a friend, but from Levrero himself. It comes from inside him.

He attributes to himself, to his inner being or core, or soul, if you like, the demand, the commandment to write … and even tells himself it was own idea. It came from him…

And what is he doing, then, the poor man, torturing himself, when every effort to write down the story of the transcendental experience is in vain?

One thing is for sure, he can’t write his way out, he can’t write himself out of this problem, because he is the problem!

He is the problem and the cause of the problem and he can’t cut himself into two halves, even if they are unequal halves, returning to himself once he has cut himself off from or cut out the criminal part. The corpse, if you like. The animal. He can’t claim transcendence by following the only part that is transcendental.

As I said a psychologism, or a psychological ghost story. And, like Hart’s, a spiritual one.

The friend is ghosted, dead to you, and you tell yourself it is you yourself who told you what you must do because of what you had done.

thigein & conatus

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matter in the raw, and god or simulationeer must be a monster, capable of near-infinitely sadistic cruelty: Iain M. Banks, the moral argument for their nonexistence, our existence.

You know there is a theory … that all that we experience as reality is just a simulation, a kind of hallucination that has been imposed upon us.

…how can we know that our own reality is the last, the final one? How do we know there is not still a greater reality external to our own into which we might awake?

There are those who hold that, statistically, we must live in a simulation; the chances are too extreme for this not to be true.

If we assume that all we have been told is as real as what we ourselves experience–in other words, that history, with all it torturings, massacres and genocides, is true–then, if it is all somehow under the control of somebody or some thing, must not those running that simulation be monsters? How utterly devoid of decency, pity and compassion would they have to be to allow this to happen, and keep on happening under their explicit control? …

War, famine, disease, genocide. Death, in a million different forms, often painful and protracted for the poor individual wretches involved. What god would so arrange the universe to predispose its creations to experience such suffering, or be the cause of it in others? What master of simulations or arbitrator of a game would set up the initial conditions to the same pitiless effect? God or programmer, the charge would be the same: that of a near-infinitely sadistic cruelty; deliberate, premeditated barbarism on an unspeakably horrific scale.

By this reasoning we must, after all, be at the most base level of reality–or at the most exalted, however one wishes to look at it. Just as reality can blithely exhibit the most absurd coincidences that no credible fiction could convince us of, so only reality–produced, ultimately, by matter in the raw–can be so unthinkingly cruel. Nothing able to think, nothing able to comprehend culpability, justice or morality could encompass such purposefully invoked savagery without representing the absolute definition of evil. It is that unthinkingness that saves us. And condemns us, too, of course; we are as a result our own moral agents, and there is no escape from that responsibility, no appeal to a higher power that might be said to have artificially constrained or directed us.

— Iain M. Banks, Matter, 2009, 338-340

Attila Richard Lukacs, S.H.A.R.P.


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from Night Thoughts by Wallace Shawn, published by Haymarket books radical, independent, nonprofit book publisher … make our books a vibrant and organic part of social movements and the education and development of a critical, engaged, international left.

The aggressiveness that has been our daily mode of being can’t help us any more. We wake up and start massacring people whom we see as our enemies. We wake up and break into the earth with gigantic drills and terrifying explosions. We wake up and find our place in a monstrous final struggle. On the one side, there are all the lucky people, and on the other side, strangely allied together, we find all the unlucky people, plus the birds, the crickets, the ladybugs, the bees, the monkeys, the parrots, the forests and the rivers. At the moment, the lucky people are clearly winning, and almost all the evidence seems to indicate that they’ll ultimately prevail. The nonhuman creatures and the unlucky people are running from place to place, gassed, strafed, shot at, booby-trapped, gasping for breath. And the living planet that we’ve blasted and bombed and injected with poison is now, like an enormous animal who’s been tortured for hours by some horribly disturbed demented children, finally beginning to die, and its terrible groans are dreadful to hear. But the animal may not die, if we can convince the children, who are ourselves, to stop killing it. It’s perhaps still a possibility that we might be able to stop being murderers. This could be our night, and during this night we might be able to stop. Stop. Think. And start again in a different way.

— Wallace Shawn, 2017


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reading 4 am the Window by Tony Birch, I want to call him on the phone, let the poet know…

restless after a bout of strange dreams
drinking hot chocolate reading
poetry by a writer acclaiming
sweet light of early mornings

I want to call him on the phone
let the poet know I know
but don't have his number
and who knows if he would answer
having been dead for decades

a mouse scuttles across the floor
(we avoid eye contact)
the garbos wake the street
disposing of all I cannot fathom


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lucky you! Indulge all your worst tendencies and most sadistic desires

— why is it people like bad music?

— it’s not that they like bad music, it’s that they prefer it.

— Shannon Cartier Lucy, If My Hand Offends, 2019

… almost all of those who are born unlucky have been brutally prevented from developing more than a fraction of their own abilities, and this is perhaps the most shocking fact about our human world.

Undoubtedly less shocking, but possibly more weird, is the incredible fact that in the contemporary world many even of those who are born lucky are voluntarily forgoing the opportunity to develop their inner resources. Gorgeous and delicious fruits, grown by seductive geniuses, sit on the plates of these lucky people but remain uneaten. A process of decay has infected the lucky in various parts of the world, and very notably in the United States, leading many even of the luckiest to turn vehemently against complex thought in general and the cultivation of the intellect in particular–and even to turn against complex pleasures. And in certain circles, crude thought and ignorance are openly respected and praised, while the concept of basing one’s conclusions on evidence (or on replicable experiments)–and even the principle of rationality itself–are ignored or even mocked. Traveling in precisely the opposite of the direction that would help the world to dig itself out of its crisis, many lucky people have come to believe that our spiritual and mental lives should have only two elements: first, everyone should learn whatever technical skills are necessary in order for them to be able to work and make money (skills learned by the unlucky would bring them a small amount of money, skills learned by the lucky would bring them a large amount of money) and second, for relaxation, people should consume very simple pleasures such as very simple stories, very simple music, very simple eroticism, and various sadistic forms of amusement such as television programs that show people insulting or tormenting each other or killing each other. Omitted from this short list of recommended intellectual activities–and from the type of education that can be derived from it–is anything conducive to the development of the wide-awake, thoughtful, curious, sharply logical, and deeply emotional human beings who could save the world, on the one hand, or, if a better world were to be created, could actually enjoy it.

— Wallace Shawn, Night Thoughts, 2017, pp. 69-71.


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the book from the TV: DIEM25 TV

Everything Must Change! The World After Covid-19 is the book from conversations from the online television series from the Democracy In Europe Movement 2025. (ed.s Renata Ávila and Srećko Horvat, OR Books, 2020.)

DIEM TV diem25

it’s probably more important to know that it happened, that it’s happening, than to read the book or watch the TV… I didn’t know before how much of a stranglehold is exercised by Wall Street on the global financial system, simply because of the high percentage of transactions globally that are conducted in dollars. I didn’t know that Gaddafi was assassinated, dragged from a drainpipe and shot, before he was able to institute a pan-African currency called the Afrique. … And I didn’t know a lot more. But what I suspected and what has been confirmed by this book is that the Left is embarrassed.

Embarrassed by the redundancy of its moral indignation. Embarrassed by the winding-up of the ideas market. Embarrassed by the downturn of its own fortunes in that market, from stakeholder to small stall-holder, to panhandler. Embarrassed by a nostalgia for its own rich past, a nostalgia for Ideology; now a poverty of ideas. A riches to rags story. Embarrassing for all that it seems able to do is to critique. To slip around in the spilt blood of its historical and historicised present. … Panhandler? no, the pan has no handle.

Here’s a little of Brian Eno’s contribution to the conversation, a bit I liked, a kind of dandiacal tastegroup led political aesthetic, slowcooking populism to raise consciousness:

one thing I think might make a difference is a shift in societal attitudes toward wealth. I think that displays of wealth will soon seem very coarse, gross and crude, and that this shift will impact people’s actions. For example, when minimalism began as an art movement about fifty years ago, it seemed quite radical in its questioning of this idea of “more is better,” and that more detail and luxurious materials were better. Minimalism has now, however, translated into a broader cultural movement from its beginnings as a stylistic notion. While it takes a long time, these aesthetic shifts do eventually have societal effects.

Yes. There’s a call to arms!

Trans-European Express

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Curzio Malaparte, choice cuts of The Skin with photos by Lieutenant Wayne Miller illustrating

the moon broke the edge of the crater like an eggshell

— Malaparte, The Skin, translated brilliantly by David Moore, New York Review Book publication, 2013. Original work published as La pelle, 1949. p. 36

All of us, officers and men, vied with one another to see which of us could throw our arms and flags in the mud most “heroically.” We threw them at the feet of everyone, victors and vanquished, friend and foe, even at the feet of the passersby, even at the feet of those who, not knowing what it was all about, stopped and looked at us in amazement. Laughingly we threw our arms and our flags in the mud, and immediately ran to pick them up so that we could start all over again.

— Ibid., p.58

We marched with heads high, singing, proud at having taught the peoples of Europe that in these days the only way to win wars is to throw one’s arms and one’s flags heroically in the mud.

— Ibid., p.59

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Ensign K. Dimin, (left), and Lieutenant Fritz Plumer, relax in former Royal Palace at Naples, Italy. Steichen Photograph Unit: Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. TR-11092. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/12/08).

Jimmy was an honest fellow, socially of the middle class, and of moderate culture. In civil life he was a clerk in an insurance company. His culture was of a standard far lower than that of any European of his station. It was certainly not to be expected that a little American clerk, who had landed in Italy for the purpose of fighting the Italians and punishing them for their sins and their crimes, should set himself up as the Christ of the Italian people. It was not even to be expected that he should know essential facts about modern civilization—for instance, that a capitalist society (if one disregards Christian pity, and weariness of and disgust with Christian pity, which are sentiments peculiar to the modern world) is the most feasible expression of Christianity; that without the existence of evil there can be no Christ; that capitalist society is founded on the conviction that in the absence of beings who suffer a man cannot enjoy to the full his possessions and his happiness; and that without the alibi of Christianity capitalism could not prevail.

— Ibid., pp.62-63

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Children in Naples. Little boy helps one-legged companion across the street. Steichen Photography Unit: Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. TR-11306. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Malaparte on his dog, Febo:

“His mere presence helped me to acquire that contempt for mankind on which the serenity and wisdom of a human being primarily depend.”

— Ibid., p.165

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Children in Naples, Italy. A group of little Italian boys pose. Steichen Photograph Unit: Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. TR-11307. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/12/08).

The edges of those dreadful wounds were held apart by thin steel wires, wound round wooden pegs of the kind that in musical instruments serves to keep the strings taut. One could see the naked heart beating; the lungs, with the veins of the bronchial tubes looking like the branches of a tree, swelling exactly as the foliage of a tree does when the wind blows; the red, shining liver very slowly contracting; slight tremors running through the pink and white substance of the brain as in a steamy mirror; the coils of the intestines sluggishly disentangling themselves like a heap of snakes waking from their deep slumber. And not a moan came from the half-open mouths of the tortured dogs.

And suddenly I saw Febo.

He was lying on his back, his stomach exposed and a probe buried in his liver. He was staring at me; his eyes were full of tears, and they had in them a wonderful tenderness. He was breathing gently, his mouth half-open, and his body was trembling horribly. He was staring at me, and an agonizing pain stabbed at my heart. “Febo,” I said in a low voice; and Febo looked at me with a wonderfully tender expression. In him I saw Christ, in him I saw Christ crucified, I saw Christ looking at me with eyes that were full of a wonderful tenderness. “Febo,” I said in a low voice, bending over him and stroking his forehead. Febo kissed my hand, and not a moan escaped him.

They all had a wonderfully tender expression in their eyes, and not the faintest moan escaped them.

Suddenly I uttered a cry of terror. “Why this silence?” I shouted. “What does this silence mean?”

It was a horrible silence—a vast, chilling, deathly silence, the silence of snow.

The doctor approached me with a syringe in his hand. “Before we operate on them,” he said, “we cut their vocal cords.”

— Ibid., pp.170-172

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Children in Naples, Italy. Little girl holds her apparently blind baby brother. Steichen Photograph Unit: Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. TR-11308. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

General Cork asked what Germany, France and Sweden were really like. “The Comte de Gobineau,” I replied, “has described Germany as les Indes de l’Europe.” “France,” I replied, “is an island surrounded by land.” “Sweden,” I replied, “is a forest of fir trees in dinner jackets.” “That’s funny!” they all exclaimed, looking at me in amazement. Then, blushing, he asked me whether it was true that in Rome “there were bro…hm…I mean…a maison de tolerance for the priests. “They say there’s a very smart one in Via Giulia,” I replied. “That’s funny!” They all exclaimed, looking at me in amazement. Then he asked me why the Italian people had not had a revolution before the war to throw out Mussolini. “So as not to displease Roosevelt and Churchill, who were great friends of Mussolini before the war,” I replied. “That’s funny!” they all exclaimed, looking at me in amazement. Then he asked what a totalitarian State was. “It’s a State in which everything that isn’t forbidden is compulsory,” I replied. “That’s funny!” they all exclaimed, looking at me in amazement.

— Ibid., p.206

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Children in Naples, Italy. Boys on cart. Steichen Photograph Unit: Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. TR-11320. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/12/08).

I like to remain detached from danger—to be able to stretch out my arm blindly and lightly touch it, as one touches something cold with one’s hand in the dark.

— Ibid., p.247

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Children play while mother works. Steichen Photograph Unit: Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. TR-13030. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/12/08).

As always, the populace ascribed to that awful scourge the character of a punishment from heaven … [for the] sins, the corruption and viciousness of men. And side by side with repentance, with a melancholy desire to expiate their misdeeds, with the eager hope of seeing the wicked punished, with an ingenuous confidence in the justice of a Nature that was so cruel and unjust—side by side with shame at their own wretchedness, of which the people are sadly conscious, there was growing up, as always, in the minds of the populace a base feeling of impunity, the origin of so many deeds of wickedness, and a miserable conviction that in the midst of such great destruction, such widespread chaos, anything is lawful and just. And so men were seen in those days to perform deeds both base and sublime, inspired by blind fury or by cold reason, almost by a wonderful desperation.

— Ibid., p.263

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Reading notices. Steichen Photograph Unit: Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. TR-13034. U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/12/08).

if there’s one chapter you must read of this The Skin, it’s the one called The Flag, “the flag of the country of all peoples and all men,” “It was a flag made of human skin”.

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Older woman holds baby. Steichen Photograph Unit: Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. TR-13038. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/12/08).

more of Lieutenant Wayne Miller’s photographs, here. (Wayne F. Miller, 19 September 1918 – 22 May 2013)

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Boy enjoying fruit. Steichen Photograph Unit: TR-13050. Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/12/08).

Tom Clark liked a bit in Malaparte I too liked, again about Febo, here.


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Enola Gay

Tinian Island, August 1945. Boeing B-29 Superfortress, Enola Gay, returns after strike at Hiroshima, August 6, 1945, entering hard sand. Official photograph of the Office of Chief of Engineers, now in the collection of the National Achives. (2015/08/25).


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two things worth saying

that Max Richter says, plus the beginning of a third, in the liner notes for The Blue Notebooks, last first, since it considers the music:

“I come from a high-modernist classical music training, … where maximum complexity, extreme dissonance, asymmetry and impenetrability were badges of honour. If you wrote a single tonal chord–even by accident–people would mock you, and concerts were more like the issuing of manifestos. I wrote a lot in that tradition, but came to feel that, for all its technical sophistication, this language was basically inert.”

[worth pausing there, for a minute.]

“It reached almost nobody beyond the new music cliques. I didn’t want to talk to just those people. I deliberately set out to be as plainspoken as possible.”

The third thing, left here hanging for its suggestiveness:

“I chose the texts … to reflect on my sense of the politics of the time. Facts were beginning to be replaced by subjective assertions”…

And the first last:

“I wanted to invite the listener in, allowing them space to reflect rather than be beaten into submission. The world is tough enough, and I don’t want to add to the brutality.”

[another pause is called for.]

“Over the years, I’ve ralised there’s a balance to strike, and that actually, as our world spins into something quite threatening, increasingly based on loud and vicious rhetoric, I want to talk about quiet protest.”


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