At Victoria Miro

Room, 2013

Born in Trivandrum in 1959, Celia Paul studied at the Slade and became a pupil of Lucian Freud (they also had a son). At her first solo show at the Victoria Miro Gallery, Freud’s influence is clear – not only in the psychological intensity of her paintings but in the inventive richness of her surfaces. Thin, iridescent glazes summon up a plane tree shadow on a wall and the ghostly skeleton of the Post Office Tower, while the self-portraits in her painter’s smock are heavily worked impasto canvases. More »


The United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, denounced the bombing of the UN school in Gaza as ‘outrageous’ and ‘unjustifiable’. His officials have described the massacres as a ‘disgrace to the world’. Who stands disgraced? The UN General Assembly has regularly voted in favour of an independent Palestine. It is the Security Council that has vetoed the very thought and the Security Council, as everyone knows, is dominated by the United States; on this issue, Russia and China have remained on message. More »

Ebola in the UK?

The current Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia is the biggest ever in terms of fatalities, geographical distribution and duration. A person sick with it flew from Liberia to Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, from which many travellers arrive in the UK every day. So it was no surprise to hear that COBRA has met. Announcing that it has met is in itself crisis management: ‘We are aware of the problem and something is being done.’ More »

According to Regulations

University fees are a dead issue from the point of view of the major political parties. But the last year has seen the development of a new student protest movement that attempts to move beyond the question of fees to the broader logic of the Browne Report. Local campaigns to pay a living wage to support staff have merged with calls for flatter top-to-bottom wage ratios and a reshaped, democratic university administration involving students and academics as well as managers. It’s nothing to match the size and anger of 2010, but the movement possesses something like its reanimated spirit – together with the usual attachment of the British left to heroic defeat. More »

Nothing Unintentional

The Palestinian body count in Gaza has passed 1000, with more than 5000 wounded. Over 70 per cent of the casualties are civilians, including more than 200 children. Extended families have been wiped out. Children playing on a beach have been targeted and killed by Israeli gunboats. Over two thousand homes have been damaged or destroyed. According to an IDF spokesman, 120 one-tonne bombs landed in the Shaja’yya neighbourhood alone. Yet, with three Israeli civilians and 40 Israeli soldiers killed, Israeli leaders and their US allies insist on describing the carnage as a war of self-defence. More »

No, it’s not anti-semitic

Judith Butler in the LRB, 21 August 2003:

It will not do to equate Jews with Zionists or Jewishness with Zionism. There were debates among Jews throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries as to whether Zionism ought to become the basis of a state, whether the Jews had any right to lay claim to land inhabited by Palestinians for centuries, and as to the future for a Jewish political project based on a violent expropriation of land. More »

The Fear that Creeps

There are two types of fear, the fear that bites and the fear that creeps. Nathan Bland, the teenage protagonist of the horror story that David Mitchell recently published on Twitter, has had a strong dose of the first. He’s been mauled by a bull mastiff, which ‘pulled skin off my cheek like skin off roast chicken’ and ‘shook me like a doll, my own blood blinding me’. The dog still stalks his dreams. When Nathan and his mother arrive at the house of Lady Briggs, an aristo his mother is keen to impress, a dog barks and he feels a pang of terror – ‘my lungs fill with dark’ – before he realises that it’s ‘only a little yappy thing’. Later, Nathan plays a game of ‘Fox and Hounds’ with Lady Briggs’s creepy son Jonah. He’s running, trying to catch Jonah up, when he hears the mastiff behind him. Suddenly it appears with Jonah’s bloody head dangling from its jaws. Nathan runs into Lady Briggs’s house, slams the door and blames the apparition on the Valium he took earlier. More »

Forced to …

‘We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children,’ Golda Meir said in 1969, ‘but we cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.’ Forty-five years on, in the third week of the Israeli attack on Gaza, with more than 800 Palestinians killed, about a quarter of them children, Israel’s government, its media and Israeli society have turned Meir’s idea of Israel being ‘forced’ to do unacceptable things into a vast and dangerous superstition. It refuses to take responsibility for the killing, just as it refused to take responsibility for the military occupation and the blockade: these, it tells itself, are what it has been forced into. Killing in Gaza in 2014, killing in 2012, and in 2008. But Israel has convinced itself, despite the rising numbers of dead, that it isn’t killing anyone in Gaza. Hamas are the people doing the killing; they are responsible for the siege, the destruction, the underdevelopment, the poverty, the absence of peace talks, the postponement of a ceasefire and the use of UNRWA schools for military purposes.  More »

‘The Little Red Schoolbook’

9781780661308 copy In 1971 I had just finished a teacher training course and was teaching at a comprehensive school in Hackney, now a flourishing educational establishment, but then a place where the sixth form consisted of the highest achievers doing their CSEs in the near forlorn hope that they might get work in a bank. When I first started teaching there, none of the kids had ever taken A-levels or gone to university. It was a place where good teaching really meant doing social work and trying to pump up the kids’ ambition and interests (it was an all girls’ school) beyond getting free from school and family by getting pregnant. At the same time, I was involved in a freeschool I’d started with a friend, for seven siblings and a couple of others from the locality I’d got to know from their hanging about in the local playground, and whose real social worker had come to me and said that unless I invented a school for them over the weekend, they would be taken into care for non-attendance at school.

More »

On Liberty Island

Liberty Island is a website for conservative ‘literature’ set up by Adam Bellow, son of Saul. A disproportionate number of the stories on the site’s front page are classified as ‘dystopia’ or ‘horror’, which suggests that the Islanders may be just the teensiest bit paranoid. Conservative values triumph, by turns, over a pandemic, an invasive social service sector, a genetic disorder that turns babies gay – beneath that one someone’s commented ‘a real thinker’ – full employment, and a Lovecraftian tentacular monster. There are no romance stories or nature writing because they are for the weak; ‘military’ stories have their own replete section. One writer, Lari Vine, contributes a weekly send-up of Hillary Clinton’s campaign diary to the ‘humor’ section, in which she cracks jokes such as ‘It’s my day to babysit a recovering Chris Matthews. The other day he got his nose too far up Obama’s ass and he strained something.’ Guffaw. More »

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