We haven’t had any Mitchelmore for a while, perhaps because he seems to have decided his form of literary criticism is better served by the 140-character limit of twitter. I did enjoy his recent piece though on Eliot Weinberger’s [firewalled] criticism of Josipovici’s What Ever ..? . The following paragraph is, I find, a particularly masterly piece of logical argument:
He [Josipovici] wonders if Britain is relatively innocent of Modernism precisely because it wasn’t touched by the Napoleonic and First World Wars, the ideological ardors of communism and fascism, and mass migrations. At least, not to the same extent as Europe was touched. Of course, hundreds of thousands of Britons died in WW1, only it took place on the other side of the English Channel and has always been somehow unreal; told rather than experienced. As the Battle of the Somme turned the sky dark and scorched the landscape, in England the sun still shone and birds still cheeped. It still does, they still do. It explains why we still write and reward novels about a century-old war.
As always, it’s hard to tell where Josipovici ends and Mitchelmore begins [ed. Surely it’s with the phrase “As the Battle of the Somme”]: such is the misfortune of the apologist; – but which ever, this paragraph contains one of the most extraordinary and fascinating ideas I’ve ever come across. For Josipovici-Mitchelmore appears, if I understand his argument aright (and I admit, it’s often difficult – but this is what I at least take the last two sentences to mean) to be saying that Britons often have written and continue to write about the first world war precisely because they weren’t affected by it. – Now, as an amateur philosopher myself, I’m well enough aware that you should always generalise specific arguments, so the above would only be likely if we also argued in general: people tend to write about things precisely because they’re unaffected by them.
Yes, it’s given me much pause for thought. Because in my middlebrow complacency, I’d always imagined the opposite was more likely.