From African Kleptocracy to Spark’s Legacy

A feature length article in the Australian edition of the Spectator deals with the political flap over policy toward immigration of white South African farrmers into Australia. This is entitled “Kleptocracy on the Cape” by Thomas Jones and opens with this:

There is a brilliant scene in Evelyn Waugh’s paean to Fleet Street, Scoop, in which the reader is acquainted with the fictitious, yet all-too-familiar, African Commonwealth of ‘Ishmaelia’. It is the kind of place where the mosquitos grow plump, clean water is scarce, and the missionaries are eaten; a land frequented by misguided humanitarians and cynical foreign correspondents. More to the point, ‘Ishmaelia’ is a nation in which, to quote Waugh, ‘It had been found expedient to merge the functions of national defence and inland revenue’ so that ‘towards the end of each financial year the General’s flying columns would lumber out into the surrounding country on the heels of the fugitive population and return in time for budget day laden with the spoils of the less nimble’.

Setting to one side the obvious question (How on earth did that make it past the Human Rights Commission?) the second observation to make is that Waugh was able to predict with near-clairvoyant acuity the emergence of that distinctively ‘post-colonial’ phenomenon in modern statecraft: the African kleptocracy. Which brings us to the plight of the white South African farmer, and the ‘debate’, if it can be so described, over Australia’s response.

The article continues to consider the reactions from right- to left-wing Australian political factions on various proposals relating to the Boer farmers, including the “decidedly post-Waughian theory which holds that whatever comes after colonialism will always be an ethical improvement.”

The Guardian carries a story by literary and TV critic Rachel Cooke about what she sees as a renewal of interest in working-class TV series. She begins with this reference to one of her favorite series from the past:

At 16, when I was about the most adept truant you could ever have hoped to meet, I spent most of my free time – and what a lot of that I had – reading and rereading Brideshead Revisited, a book with which I was then slightly obsessed. Evelyn Waugh’s world, it probably goes without saying, overlapped not one bit with mine (Sheffield, 1985). But it pulled at my heart all the same. The rippling melancholy; Sebastian’s ever more determined boozing; a family that did not quite know how to talk to one another: it was these things that spoke to me, not the bottles of sauternes and the bear with the ridiculous name.

Finally, the New Statesman carries a feature-length essay by literary critic Leo Robson on the occasion of novelist Muriel Spark’s recent centenary. In this, he begins with Martin Amis’s assessment of Graham Greene, who, according to Amis, for his generation:

served as “an awakener”, and what he awakened was a taste for Literature, a property that his writing embodied in a pleasing, plotty form. Assuming this role for later generations looks an immeasurably taller order. Greene, by cross-breeding the novel in its earnest and ethical mode with the devices of the thriller and the yarn, helped to create an appetite for the Catholic tradition as well as for godless existentialism, and for such heroic forebears as Conrad, James, and Dostoevsky. But who could prepare the budding reader in the 1980s or 1990s or today for such multifarious challenges as, say, the po-faced nouveau roman, the postmodern jeu d’esprit, the whodunit that shows its working, the medieval mystery with a semiotic treatise tucked inside?

No surprise that in an article devoted to Muriel Spark, this is Robson’s answer:

The leading and only obvious candidate is Muriel Spark, who was born in Edinburgh just over a hundred years ago, and who now more than ever looks like the standout British novelist of the later 20th century. Spark’s novels – 22 in all – are the product of a ruthlessly confident, even clairvoyant sensibility, and fuse an impossible range of tones and strengths. … Her prose is icily impudent and briskly profound, “cruel and lyrical at the same time” – to borrow her own description of the Scots Border ballads that she read as a girl, which provided her earliest model in straddling other borders, such as being both dense and spare.

Robson continues with a review of the Spark centenary events in Scotland as well as an interesting review of her carreer.


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