Vertical Takeoff

On 1st October 1972, having just left the Soviet Union, Joseph Brodsky wrote in New York Times a five-thousand words article in which he condemned the political climate in Europe, and worldwide, evaluating its dangerous principles and hunger for domination and destruction. Brodsky expressed his scepticism in reference to all ‘political movements’ which he described as ‘structured methods used to avoid personal responsibility.’

Brodsky defended his belief in a different, and superior, system built on ‘personal movements – movements of the soul when a man who looks at himself is so ashamed that he tries to make some sort of change.’ The article, translated from Russian by Carl Proffer, appeared tangled, verbose and aimless; it sounded like so many other disoriented voices coming from dissidents and defectors of the era, but those who managed to read it in full recognised its unswerving accuracy in describing a failing world system.

Seamus Heaney called it a moment of literary ‘vertical takeoff’, crucial in establishing the capacity of language to go farther and faster than expected and thereby provide an escape from the limitations and preoccupations of the self.

It was, in itself, a warning signal that politics became a psychological danger for humanity, as it engaged people in external fights with the Evil, which automatically made them begin to identify themselves with the Good. And when mankind begins to consider itself bearer of Good, it slides into self-congratulation. This is a state of complacency which Brodsky, who was stateless in 1972, saw it as the source of everything that was radically bad about people.

Brodsky carefully re-considers the role of a united writing community which is vital in opposing official points of view and which should support ‘personal movements’ by engaging with our society in real exercises of reflection and learning. This engagement, however, is built on access to books, not articles about books; direct contact with ideas, not ‘pre-packed’ blurbs.

The latest PN Review editorial comments on the closure of nearly 800 British libraries over the past ten years. The Trump era defines how we conduct literature not only politics. ‘The triumph of the tweet’ reduced our engagement with books to a suite of emoticons, in which the responsibility for personal engagement with ideas is a constant forward-re-tweet and a sum of likes. Bring me someone who sits down to read War and Peace or a five-thousand words article in New York Times. I’ll be either their friend or their follower.

Brodsky, J. (1972) ‘A writer is a lonely traveler’. In: New York Times, 1st October 1972. Available here.

Brodsky, J. (1997) On Grief and Reason. Essays. London: Penguin Books.

PNR, January-February 2020, Vol. 46, No.3.

© Maria Stadnicka 2020

On Euro Vision and the Migration Strategy #Flashnews (part III)

©John Stadnicki, 2019.

In 2012, Theresa Mary May (née Brasier) was just a mere Home Secretary. She was under pressure from David William Donald (née Cameron), who was fighting Nigel Paul (née Farage) on the electoral front, to do something about the migration data. And she had an idea which got her a few brownie points from the PM. ‘Dave, why not produce a hostile environment for undocumented migrants,’ she said, to which the PM responded ‘Well done, Theresita, that’s my girl.’ And, as simple as that, the hostile environment strategy was conceived on a sofa in 10 Downing Street, and later on ended up being implemented.

The strategy is up and running since 2016. The Guardian(ed. 16th Feb. 2019) reports that the Home Office is attempting to embed immigration officers at a rate of almost £60 an hour as part of an ‘enhanced checking service.’ The service is available to public services, including NHS trusts and local authorities, as well as private firms. Over the past two and a half years, Home Office officers have been deployed to test the policy. But the strategy is not just about ‘enhanced checking.’

Institutions and organisations are offered ‘real-time’ access to information about someone’s immigration status as well as ‘on-site immigration official.’ The on-site officer can attend interviews and can encourage undocumented migrants to leave the country voluntarily. There is no public information about the methods used to encourage people to leave but, hopefully, with the media’s pressure, the Home Office will release further details.

I will not explore any further how the public funds are used under the pretext of national security. The governmental misjudgement and funding misplacement are, by now, legendary locally and Europeanly. And the Home Office’s policies seem to fit well a system based on miscommunication and misunderstanding.

There is something more bothersome I came across not very long ago. A few weeks ago, I came to understand that a young British citizen, travelling by train from London to Paris, managed to cross the border without a passport. The UK Border Agency let the young Brit off on the basis that the teenager was travelling as part of the group and had a scanned copy of his passport saved on a laptop. Although getting out of the country was easy, coming back from Paris a few days later created a bit of a problem at the Parisian train station. But the British citizen managed to get back to Britain on his scanned document, whilst the UK Border Agency’s officer warned the eyewitnesses that he would put a complaint against the section of the UK Border Agency which had let the person travel in the first place. Well, who is going to check that such a complaint was actually put forward?

The questions this incident brings forward are numerous. The issue of ‘legality’ in such a case would be the first, followed by the problem with the Home Office’s wasted funds on ‘monitorisation.’ And there are rhetorical points here. What is the point in having passports, if one could just travel without? Would a migrant have been allowed to travel from the UK to Europe and vice-versa without a passport? If I turn up at Heathrow or St. Pancras with just a scanned copy of my passport, will I manage to cross the border without problems? (to be continued)

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

Published in International Times on 2/3/2019.