Sunday, November 25, 2007

The memoirs of Eric Hobsbawm. I was so eager to read the memoirs of this great Marxist historians that I could not wait to read it. Finished it on the plane last night. What a big disappointment. You can be a great historian and write a lousy memoirs. You don't even learn much about who he is from reading it. You learn some about the times but I would rather read his The Age of Extremes (a history of the 20th century). Now that is a fine piece of work. I think that the problems with this memoirs is this: to write a good memoirs 1) you need to think that you are somewhat interesting; 2) you need to be a good story teller; 3) you need to be comfortable talking about yourself. That does not apply here. Bobsbawm is too modest for this enterprise. But what a principled man he is. Several things struck me. First, I really enjoyed his attitude toward Israel and Zionism. He has utter contempt for Zionism, and his words drip with disgust when he writes about Israel. (He says: "I have no emotional obligation to the practices of an ancestral religion and even less to the small, militarist, culturally disappointing and politically aggressive nation-state which asks for my solidarity on racial grounds" (Interesting Times: A Twentieth Century Life, (NY: Pantheon, 2002, p.24). But he is such a powerful writer and eccentric in some of his views. He seems to have an aversion to sex: he at one point say that "rulers kept slaves adn the poor quiet by encouraging sexual freedom among them..." (p. 250). What was that? In fact, for much of history, the rulers enjoyed sexual freedoms and banned it for the masses. But look at him comparing demonstration to sex: "Next to sex, the activity combining bodily experience and intense emotion to the highest degress is the participation in a mass demonstration at a time of great public exaltation. Unlike sex, which is essentially individual, it is by its nature collective, and unlike the sexual climax, at any rate for men, it can be prolonged for hours. On the other hand, like sex, it implies some physical action--marching, chanting slogans, singing--through which the merger of hte individual in the mass, which is the essence of the collective experience, finds expression."(p. 73). Well, I can only say that in the few demonstrations that I have participated in, I did not experience that pleasurable sensation described by Hobsbawm. At times I felt that he holds that dogmatic Marxist-Leninist puritanical attraction to ascetism in the revolution. I am not for that at all; never was. Even his references to the 1960s (which he describes as the Golden Age in the Age of Extremes), are filled with disrespect for the hedonistic elements. It was hilarious to read that the owner of the Mars (the chocolate bar that is breaded and fried in Scotland) company called him and asked him to assist the company in its ad campaign.(p. 89). I liked what he said about Bob Dylan: "a potential major poet too idle or self-absorbed to keep the muse's attention for than two or three lines at a time" (p. 252). I always liked Dylan and was crushed when I learned about his funding fanatic Zionist groups. Did you see Scorsese's documentary about Dylan? Fascinating. He talks about visiting occupied Palestine: "The Israeli Jews made no secret of their contempt for "the Arabs", especially before 1987, when their intifada had not yet broken the passive acceptance of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. It was a strange but instructive experience to be treated as one of them on my visit to the West Bank in 1984, the only time I have found myself living under the rule of a foreign military."(p. 366). I recommend all the books of Bobsbawm but I don't recommend his memoirs unfortunately. And if you want to make sense of the ideological consequences of the collapse of the Soviet Union, read his two essays in Robin Blackburn, After the Fall: The Failure of Communism and the Future of Socialism, Verso.) Oh, one more thing: "And from the window, I will throw off myself to you. And from the window..."
ومن الشباك, لارميلك حالي, ومن الشباك