Classicising modernity

I wrote this post after attending a University of Birmingham talk last week 🙂

Rome and all that...

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a provocative and thoughtful discussion of the relationship between classical Greek tragedy and the development fascism in Italy, Germany, and Greece. The speaker was my wonderful colleague Eleftheria Ioannidou, and the occasion, our fortnightly Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology research seminar (all are welcome!).

The full title of the paper (‘Classicising modernity: Performances of Greek tragedy and the cultural poetics of fascism’) helped to unpack some core issues economically, in particular, how fascism and the idea of ‘the modern’ were rooted in complex understanding of ‘Greek’ (or ‘Classical’) and ‘tragedy’.

We were challenged, as an audience, to reflect on whether and how one can explore aesthetics of fascism and its culture without forming a value-judgement embedded in grand ideological narratives (and the sweep of 20th/21st century history). It was especially useful, for me, to be asked to think hard about the origins…

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Mervyn Morris // LAS Cultural Events Programme // 20th October 2014

The first official event in the LAS Cultural Programme pulled in no less than Mervyn Morris, current Poet Laureate of Jamaica and the first since the country gained independence. In a tight, focussed 45 minutes, Morris read some of his most famous work, filtering such universal themes as death, love and religion through distinctively Caribbean lenses.

On Holy Week was the stand out, a sequence of poems exploring Jesus’ last week through the eyes of the people who knew him most. We hear from Mary and Judas of course, but also Pilate’s wife and Simon of Cryene. Crucially, Morris never sides with any of these voices; instead he gives us different interpretations of the crucifxion and challenges us to reunderstand what we think is familiar.

Morris’ verse is warm, often flecked with dry wit. Subtly alternating between Jamaican Creole and “standard” English, his performance was one of highly practised ease – an audience member later commented that the delivery of the poems hadn’t changed in twenty years. It was meant as a compliment but it has its downsides: the steady stream of a poet’s own “poetry voice” can be difficult to engage with. Morris’ sincerity and humour are clear to see on the page; in recital from the man himself, occasionally there were times when poem blended into poem blended into poem.

He was more impressive and truly engaging when speaking without his words in front of him, as he did in a brief Q&A session after the reading. The challenges of dialect, poet laureateship and Dub poetry were explored with great insight, Morris not being limited to being in “recital mode”.

Clearly, the organisers are looking to attract big names to this new programme of free events and there is no disputing the potential here for real academic and cultural exploration. If anything, the fact that the first of them wasn’t perfect only whets the appetite for future guests.

Sam Forbes // 6th November 2014

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Liberal Arts cultural tour of Birmingham city, 19 November 2014

Thanks so much to Phillip Myers from the department of Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology for taking us on a fantastic cultural tour of Birmingham: from the German Market to the Symphony Hall, the REP to the Electric cinema. It was great to spend an afternoon learning about some of the fab events going on & cool places to visit here in Birmingham – here are some photos of the tour.

News from Japan

I posted this on The Conversation:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to call a snap election for December 14 comes after what has been a rather bad week for him. Japan has slipped back into recession for the first time since 2012 and Abe has seen his popularity ratings drop below 50% for the first time.

Abe clearly believes he needs to act fast if he is to survive this crisis and avoid falling victim to the factional politics that are so often the cause of leadership upheavals. He doesn’t have to hold an election for another two years so in calling this vote, he is aiming to maximise his remaining popularity, bolster support for Abenomics and prevent a political ousting.

Japanese prime ministers are not renowned for their staying power. Factional politics feature prominently in the day-to-day running of the country and internal jostling is intensified in periods of coalition government. Abe leads a coalition government made up of his Liberal Democratic Party and its partner party, the Komeito – so he has experienced this jostling for some time.

He and his party are likely to win a majority in this December election though. The LDP currently occupies 294 out of the 480 seats of the Lower House and starts the campaign in a strong position.

The key for Abe is to ensure that the LDP’s majority is large enough to give him room for manoeuvre. The Komeito currently only holds 31 seats, while the opposition Democratic Party of Japan has 54 seats. Abe needs to urgently reduce the political tensions around him if he is to succeed in his economic reform agenda.

The prime minister is a man with a mission. He is strongly committed to consolidating his economic reforms, based around quantitative easing, fiscal stimulus and structural reform. A newly secured mandate from the electorate would give him the space to pursue his plans.

He has other goals aside from Abenomics. The disaster at Fukushima led to the closure of Japan’s nuclear reactors, and Abe is striving to have them restarted, in order to reduce the high costs of energy to Japanese consumers. Since the 2011 disaster, electricity prices have increased by dramatically and Japan remains vulnerable to external energy providers.

On the political front, Abe is keen to overturn a half century of a particularly Japanese form of pacifism. He wants to enable the country’s well-equipped Self Defense Forces to become an internationally accepted army, navy and air force. Instead of existing to defend Japan, the force would be deployable elsewhere too.

This is linked to Japan’s sense of insecurity in the region, particularly when it comes to the rise of China. Bolstering the military reconfirms Japan’s ongoing commitment to its security treaty with the United States.

Abe also wants to sign the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would establish a free trade agreement among the states around the Pacific Ocean. Japanese farmers, who have always represented a powerful political lobby in Japan, estimate that up to 90% of Japanese agriculture could be severely affected by the TPP, and Abe will have his work cut out to convince them of its value.

Without a resounding mandate for the next two years, Abe will struggle to meet these goals. He stands out as a bold leader and the electorate has supported his ambitions so far. But while he is not necessarily risking his position with the snap election, he is gambling on his ability to push through the big changes he has been seeking since the start of his premiership.

Julie