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Friday, 31 October 2014

Concluding post on Sentimental Education

In his introduction of Sentimental Education, Robert Baldick wrote:
"The public still wants works which encourage and exalt its illusions, and consequently many readers are still bound to find Sentimental Education distasteful and even abhorrent. Politicians of every party loathe the book, since it shows up the politics of Right and Left, of the 20th century as much as of the 19th, with impartial ferocity and disgust; young people shy away from it, because it exposes the hollowness and fragility of their ideals; while women regard it with suspicion and dislike, on account of its insidious devaluation of the power of love..."
Such reactions are understandable- Madame Bovary, when hated, is hated for the same reasons. Who wants to find themselves in Emma Bovary, or Frédéric Moreau? Flaubert is not Tolstoy, who has affection and sympathy for all of his characters and who, in War and Peace as well as in his more tragic work Anna Karenina, makes one love life in all of its manifestations. The sadness and disappointment makes Flaubert closer in temperament to Turgenev, but Flaubert doesn't give Hussonnet, Deslauriers and Sénécal the kind of love that Turgenev has for Bazarov. Perhaps one may even argue that Dostoyevsky, in spite of his exploration of evil, at least believes in hope and redemption and free will, whereas no sense of hope or redemption can be found in Flaubert. It's nothing, nothing, nothing. He's a vivisectionist, and as he wanted to become, a demoraliser, cutting open his characters, in both novels, and putting them on display and presenting the horrible, cruel, naked reality, crushing all sentimental dreams and illusions. But if in Madame Bovary, the focus in on a few provincial people, a few philistines, such as Emma Bovary, Léon and Homais, in Sentimental Education, it's the whole generation and the whole society that Flaubert is ridiculing and feeling disgusted with. It's a book of disappointment, of emptiness, of inactive passion, of purposeless existence, of failed dreams, of crushed illusions, of the futility of life. 
2 years ago, after reading Madame Bovary, I distanced myself from Flaubert in spite of my immense admiration for the novel, and haven't read any other of his works till now. I admired him, esteemed him highly and held him in a respectful distance, but now I feel different, and love Sentimental Education, personally. Perhaps the 2 novels are different- both have irony, both are dissection of sentimentalism, philistinism and stupidity, but while the mockery in Madame Bovary seems harsh, cruel and fused with contempt, that in Sentimental Education is tinged with disappointment and profound sadness. Or maybe it's me that has changed- the past 2 years with some experiences of activism (for lack of a better word) have crushed some of my illusions, and though I don't generally see myself as a pessimist, my pessimism about the state of VN, about Viet people, about pro-democracy activists and bloggers, do help understand the sadness and despair of Flaubert, which I probably wouldn't have known, had I read Sentimental Education in 2009 or 2010, when I had just entered that world. A man fails to recognise great works but owns a newspaper about theatre and then uses it to spread slander as a revenge, a man takes his friend's legacy for granted and feels that his friend is entitled to give him money, a man speaks loudly of socialism and the masses and worker poets but, once having power, abuses it and sees no individual, a man has great expectations and aspirations but wanders through life aimlessly, political changes take place but only go with chaos and lead to nothing better...- Flaubert's attitude and tone is not arrogance or disdain but more like disillusionment. The novel is even sadder in its last chapters, when Madame Arnoux meets Frédéric again, then leaves, "and that was all"- they never belong to each other and yet we have a feeling that it is better that way, because their love, if pushed any further, could collapse like everything else. 
In the end Robert Baldick notes:
"... Yet for all of the hopes it kills and the illusions it destroys, Flaubert's novel is not a barren, dispiriting work [...] and any reader who is capable, as he was, of accepting both pleasant and unpleasant experiences as an inevitable part of life, and deriving an ironic pleasure from acquiescence in the human condition, will find Sentimental Education a work of profound, mature, satisfying beauty."
I agree. Sentimental Education may not be everyone's favourite, but it's indeed "a work of profound, mature, satisfying beauty". 

Other random thoughts on Sentimental Education

1/ Flaubert reminds me of Tolstoy, 3 times within the chapter.
1st, the scenes after Monsieur Dambreuse's death are similar to the funeral scene in The Death of Ivan Ilyich: thoughts on a pointless, dishonest, pragmatic life, ceremonial grief, insincere speeches, a bunch of hypocrites, etc.
2nd, the scene of Madame Dambreuse, after her husband's death, crying over her "ruin" and crushed dreams makes me think of a scene in War and Peace that also involves an unexpected will (Count Bezukhov's).
3rd, the way Madame Dambreuse becomes insecure and controls Frédéric and makes the atmosphere suffocating for him is reminiscent of the relationship between Anna and Vronsky in Anna Karenina, in the later period.
2/ Sénécal changes from promoting socialism, prioritising the needs of the mass, stressing the political message over the artistic merits to enjoying and abusing his power, thundering against the inadequacy of the mass, speaking in favour of communism and talking of the necessity of a dictatorship.
3/ Throughout the novel, Frédéric slowly turns into Arnoux, at least in the way he behaves towards women: has more than 1 woman at the same time, goes from 1 to another, lies like a habit, tells all women the same lies, buys them the same gifts, treats them cruelly...
He becomes disillusioned by his experiences, but also becomes more like the people around him, and more despicable. I can't write enough to express my disgust at Frédéric as he, upon hearing the news from Pellerin, leaves right away to look for Madame Arnoux, abandoning the heartbroken Rosanette with her dead baby. It's not only Rosanette's child, but also his. This scene marks a significant difference between him and Rosanette- Frédéric might have more taste, more knowledge, more intelligence but he's a selfish bastard, only Rosanette truly has depth of feeling.
4/ The women, generally, aren't much better than the men: Madame Dambreuse, Mademoiselle Vatnaz, Louise Roque, etc. Madame Arnoux is probably the best one, but she's always enigmatic, always kept in a distance from both Frédéric and the reader. I do care about her, because she's good and virtuous and treated very unfairly by both her husband and Frédéric, but I'm also particularly drawn to Rosanette, the woman who often appears shallow, ignorant, frivolous and coquettish, but her environment and experiences shape who she is and underneath it all she is lost and lonely and insecure, afraid of loving a man too much, and she has more depth of feeling than she initially seems.
There is 1 significant parallel between these 2 women- the image of each of them sitting by their sick child. Madame Arnoux chooses to stay with her sick boy and stays up all night, thinking of nothing else, forgetting about the date with Frédéric. Many chapters later, Rosanette takes care of her sick baby, caring about nothing else, failing to hear Frédéric say he has good news, and she also stays up all night; however, whereas Madame Arnoux's son survives, Rosanette's dies, and Frédéric leaves at once without any thought for his dead baby and his grieving lover.
Flaubert doesn't say much in words, and doesn't attempt to direct the reader's emotions, but these scenes say a lot about these 3 characters.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Sentimental Education: Rosanette

Throughout most of the novel, Rosanette's been described as a pretty but shallow, ignorant and frivolous girl. She has several lovers, likes fancy things, knows nothing about politics and arts, advocates the idea of women being at home, etc. Flaubert stays strictly as a spectator and never enters her mind.
Then in 1 scene in part 3 chapter 1, while looking at a little girl and getting lost in thoughts, Rosanette gives a deep sigh and starts talking about her sad childhood, but, perhaps pained by memories, leaves the story unfinished "Oh, let's forget about it!... I love you, and I'm happy. Kiss me."
"Frédéric was thinking above all of what she had left unsaid. By what steps had she succeeded in emerging from poverty? What lover had given her education? What sort of life had she led up to the day when he had 1st been to her house? Her last admission forbade any further questions."
They change topic, and again leave things unsaid.
"For in the midst of the most intimate confidences, false shame, delicacy, or pity always impose a certain reticence. We come across precipices or morasses, in ourselves or in the other person, which bring us to a halt; in any case, we feel that we would not be understood; it is difficult to express anything at all with any degree of exactness, so that complete relationships are few and far between."
She has never known anything better than this. "Often, as she gazed at Frédéric, tears came into her eyes..." Then why has she resisted him so long? He asks. She, clasping him in her arms, answers:
"It was because I was afraid of loving you too much, darling."
As the scene ends, we hardly know more about what she has been through and what has shaped her as she is, and we never, even once, know what goes on in her mind, but having got a glimpse of her hidden tragic side, a glimpse of what lies underneath that spoilt, superficial image, we can no longer perceive her the same way. 
And we ask ourselves: What do we know about the people around us? 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The male characters in Sentimental Education

Jacques Arnoux is flirtatious, rather manipulative, and pragmatic to the point of being scheming and deceitful, who cheats in both senses of the word. Deslauriers is pragmatic, conceited and ambitious, a man of double standard, who says inheritance is unjust and should be removed but who delightedly associates himself with his friend's inherited fortune "we're going to have an easy time of it now!", who speaks of the destruction of privilege and authority, like an anarchist, but who wants connections and authority and power for himself. Hussonnet is a loud, petty, argumentative philistine who has a frivolous mind, bad taste and no understanding of literature and who disparages great authors such as Balzac and Hugo, with confidence. Sénécal is another philistine, a loud egotist, a socialist who wants art to have a political message and serve a purpose, declaring that everything else corrupts the mass- like Hussonnet, he has no taste, like Deslauriers, he becomes a leftist because of his poverty. All these 4 take advantage of Frédéric in 1 way or another. Pellerin isn't a philistine like Hussonnet and Sénécal, but he's unrealistic, theoretical, self-centred, boastful and untalented. Regimbart's bored and boring, old and morose. Cisy's pretentious, stupid and cowardly. Martinon's a coward, opportunist and conformist. M. Dambreuse goes with the flow. And the protagonist Frédéric Moreau is unambitious, irresolute, passive, quiescent and sentimental.
The only guy that is nice, good-natured and sincere is probably Dussardier, but he's simple and naive, somehow reminiscent of Charles Bovary though not very similar. And he's almost a minor character.



Update at 5.54pm: 
Sénécal, as it turns out, is disgusting just like Deslauriers. Look at this passage about him, at Arnoux's factory (Sénécal= the deputy manager= the Republican): 
"As soon as he set foot in the room, the deputy manager noticed a breach of the regulations [...] Sénécal told them that they would have to stay behind an extra hour. 'Serve you right', he said. They bent over their work without a murmur; but their anger could be guessed from the hoarse sound of their breathing. In any case they were anything but easy to manage, since they had all been dismissed from the big factory. The Republican governed them harshly. A man of theory, he respected only the masses and was merciless towards individuals". 
Oh the irony. 

Norwegian vs Viet facebookers: some observations (or generalisations)

Note: Probably limited, based on people I know or have observed who may or may not be in my friendlist, and not without exceptions.


- Norwegians use fb to keep in touch with friends. Viets, besides wishing to keep in touch with friends, can also use fb as a tool for sharing news and talking politics (because freedom of speech is restricted and all newspapers are state-owned). 
- Norwegians post little and post hardly anything personal and thus can show their timelines to anyone, even teachers, employers, ex-girlfriends/ boyfriends, enemies, the police, etc. Viets post a lot, but can be divided into 2 groups- those that use fb for fun and never deal with politics, and those that use fb for sharing articles and advocating democracy. People in the 1st group can post lots of very personal stuff on fb, from what they have eaten/ bought/ done/ said... during the day, to how angry or disgusted someone has made them feel, even when that "someone" is their teacher, mother-in-law, husband/ wife, employer, etc. People in the 2nd group, even when having fb friends that they don't know in real life, because of their purpose, can still share details that they'd better keep to themselves. Those that only deal with politics and treat their timelines like a newspaper of sort are extremely rare.
- Norwegians can be very different on fb and in real life because, posting little, they don't reveal much about themselves. Viets tend to reveal a lot.
- Norwegians spend most time on the newsfeed. Viets spend time on the newsfeed as well as their own timelines.
- Norwegians spend most time reading other people's posts, i.e. stalking. Viets spend most time posting statuses, photos, videos, notes.
- Norwegians can see everything but rarely leave a trace. Viets like often and comment often.
- Norwegians' posts have relatively few comments. Viets' posts can sometimes have numerous comments, even hundreds of comments below 1 single status. 
- Norwegians often read without liking. Viets can like without reading. 
- Norwegians send messages and only write on their friends' timelines when what they want to say is very general or trivial and unimportant. Viets can have a conversation right on the timeline, where everyone can read.
- Norwegians know most of their fb friends and rarely accept friend requests from those they don't personally know. Viets can have fb friends they've never met and perhaps will never meet, especially when they aim to help others know about the lack of freedom and violations of human rights in VN, which aren't reported by the media. 
- Norwegians often present a picture of themselves being happy and having a good life. Viets can pour our their anger and grievances right on fb.
- Norwegians rarely use selfies as profile pictures. Viets do so more often, and also change them more often.
- Norwegians nearly always use their real names. Viets often use nicknames.
- Norwegians nearly always use photos of themselves as profile pictures. Viets can use celebrities' photos, pictures, symbols, images supporting a cause, etc.
- Norwegians never use their national flag as a profile picture (at least I've never seen it). Viets can do that, especially pro-communist people on Independence day and some other holidays; extremist Southerners can also use the yellow flag as a profile picture.
- Norwegians don't often tag others; and when they tag someone in a photo, it's almost always because that person appears in the photo. Viets tag often, and most of the time, in order to tell friends to see/ read/ watch something.
- Norwegians don't always share (though they may do so on tumblr). Viets share almost everything interesting or funny they come across.
- Norwegians' timelines hardly have anything to see. Viets' timelines are flooded.
- Norwegians generally don't write notes. Viets generally do.
- Norwegians rarely express opinions about politics and social issues, which they can do elsewhere. Viets of the 2nd group always do and don't only discuss Vietnamese politics; e.g. these days everyone's been focusing on the Umbrella Revolution in HK. 
- Norwegians don't necessarily make a remark when it's a holiday or any special day. Viets always do when it's an important holiday, and wish friends to have a happy one.


That's all I can think of right now. 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Lucy and Ginevra as friends

Reading that Frédéric feels drawn to a man he should hate (in Sentimental Education), I can't help thinking about Lucy and Ginevra in Villette. Unlike some people on the internet, I neither doubt the existence of Ginevra, nor distrust the friendship between her and Lucy Snowe, different as they are. Charlotte Bronte is seldom praised for psychological insight, and this character is very much like a type, a caricature, but I've personally known a few girls in life who can say shocking, outrageous things with such honesty that one couldn't believe in such remarks were one to find them in books, and with such innocence that one cannot hate these girls. It should be noted, too, that they don't make such remarks for shocking effect or for attention, instead, it seems that they just, without thinking, blurt out things that are genuinely their own views, and somehow, either because of simplicity or naiveté, don't know how others might feel. Concerning the friendship, it's not impossible for 2 persons with very different personalities and levels of intelligence to be friends, so I won't discuss that. But sometimes people may even feel drawn to someone with some trait that is unpleasant or even deplorable and obnoxious, some trait that they expect to detest or perhaps do detest when it's in someone else. For instance, 1 girl I know is a racist, who has said some horrible things that one wouldn't expect to hear anyone utter in a free country- her words are unacceptable, but for whatever reasons, after being shocked at 1st, I didn't feel what I should have felt, only acceptance with a bit pity because she's a product of the society in which she had grown up before coming here. I neither felt disgust nor pushed her away and pretended not to know her. Because I saw that she's not a cruel, mean, bad-natured person? That's hardly sufficient. Then why? I don't know. 
The same with Lucy and Ginevra. Strange, but not impossible.
After all, human beings are complex, self-contradictory and inconsistent. And that is part of the beauty of life. 

Friday, 24 October 2014

"Sorrow comes in great waves... but it rolls over us"- A letter from Henry James to Grace Norton

Source: https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/james/henry/letters/complete.html


To Miss Grace Norton.

131 Mount Vernon St., Boston.
July 28th 1883.

My dear Grace,
Before the sufferings of others I am always utterly powerless, and your letter reveals such depths of suffering that I hardly know what to say to you. This indeed is not my last word — but it must be my first. You are not isolated, verily, in such states of feeling as this — that is, in the sense that you appear to make all the misery of all mankind your own; only I have a terrible sense that you give all and receive nothing — that there is no reciprocity in your sympathy — that you have all the affliction of it and none of the returns. However — I am determined not to speak to you except with the voice of stoicism. I don’t know why we live — the gift of life comes to us from I don’t know what source or for what purpose; but I believe we can go on living for the reason that (always of course up to a certain point) life is the most valuable thing we know anything about, and it is therefore presumptively a great mistake to surrender it while there is any yet left in the cup. In other words consciousness is an illimitable power, and though at times it may seem to be all consciousness of misery, yet in the way it propagates itself from wave to wave, so that we never cease to feel, and though at moments we appear to, try to, pray to, there is something that holds one in one’s place, makes it a standpoint in the universe which it is probably good not to forsake. You are right in your consciousness that we are all echoes and reverberations of the same, and you are noble when your interest and pity as to everything that surrounds you, appears to have a sustaining and harmonizing power. Only don’t, I beseech you, generalize too much in these sympathies and tendernesses — remember that every life is a special problem which is not yours but another’s, and content yourself with the terrible algebra of your own. Don’t melt too much into the universe, but be as solid and dense and fixed as you can. We all live together, and those of us who love and know, live so most. We help each other — even unconsciously, each in our own effort, we lighten the effort of others, we contribute to the sum of success, make it possible for others to live. Sorrow comes in great waves — no one can know that better than you — but it rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot, and we know that if it is strong we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain. It wears us, uses us, but we wear it and use it in return; and it is blind, whereas we after a manner see. My dear Grace, you are passing through a darkness in which I myself in my ignorance see nothing but that you have been made wretchedly ill by it; but it is only a darkness, it is not an end, or the end. Don’t think, don’t feel, any more than you can help, don’t conclude or decide — don’t do anything but wait. Everything will pass, and serenity and accepted mysteries and disillusionments, and the tenderness of a few good people, and new opportunities and ever so much of life, in a word, will remain. You will do all sorts of things yet, and I will help you. The only thing is not to melt in the meanwhile. I insist upon the necessity of a sort of mechanical condensation — so that however fast the horse may run away there will, when he pulls up, be a somewhat agitated but perfectly identical G. N. left in the saddle. Try not to be ill — that is all; for in that there is a failure. You are marked out for success, and you must not fail. You have my tenderest affection and all my confidence. Ever your faithful friend —
Henry James

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Delete! Remove! Leave out!- Sentimental Education vs Adam Bede

For aspiring writers, Flaubert's a perfect model. Now I can see why he's been called a novelist's novelist.
He is detached and concise. The discussions on art, women, politics... are described objectively- Flaubert may not be invisible as he wants to, we can notice the irony and hear some mockery, we can feel his presence somewhere behind the narrator and the free indirect speech, but Flaubert doesn't jump out and ruin the narrative. An author like George Eliot would, at least she has done that, lots of times, in Adam Bede.
Take this passage in Sentimental Education:
"... And [Sénécal] went on to talk about a well-known lithograph which showed the entire royal family engaged in edifying occupations [...] This picture, which was entitled 'A Good Family', had been a source of delight to the middle classes, but the despair of the patriots. Pellerin, speaking in an offended tone as if he had drawn the picture himself, remarked that everybody was entitled to his own opinion. Sénécal objected to this. Art should aim exclusively at raising the moral standards of the masses. The only subjects that should be reproduced were those which incited people to virtuous actions; all the rest were harmful:
'But that depends on the execution!' cried Pellerin. 'I might produce masterpieces!'
'So much the worse for you, then. You haven't any right...'
'What's that?'
'No, Monsieur, you haven't any right to interest me in matters of which I disapprove. What need have we of elaborate trifles from which it is impossible to derive any benefit- those Venuses, for instance, in all your landscapes? I can see no instructions for the common people there. Show us the hardship of the masses instead. Rouse our enthusiasm for their sacrifices. Good God, there's no lack of subjects; the farm, the workshop...'
Pellerin, stammering with indignation and thinking that he has found an argument, said:
'What about Molière? Do you accept him?'
'Certainly!' said Sénécal. 'I admire him as a precursor of the French revolution!'
'Oh, the Revolution! What art! There's never been a more pitiful period!'
'There's never been a greater, Monsieur!'
Pellerin folded his arm, and, looking him straight in the face, said:
'You talk just like a member of the National Guard.'
His opponent, who was used to arguing, retorted:
'I'm not 1 of them, and I hate them as much as you do. But principles like that corrupt the masses. Besides, that sort of thing is just what the Government wants. It wouldn't be so powerful if it hadn't the support of a lot of rogues like Arnoux.'..."
I'm tempted to copy here chapter 17 of Adam Bede, where George Eliot refers to Dutch paintings and states that she means to present people as they are instead of idealising them. But I won't. Instead, I'll give you another passage from it: 
"After all, I believe the wisest of us must be beguiled in this way sometimes, and must think both better and worse of people than they deserve. Nature has her language, and she is not unveracious; but we don't know all the intricacies of her syntax just yet, and in a hasty reading we may happen to extract the very opposite of her real meaning. Long dark eyelashes, now—what can be more exquisite? I find it impossible not to expect some depth of soul behind a deep grey eye with a long dark eyelash, in spite of an experience which has shown me that they may go along with deceit, peculation, and stupidity. But if, in the reaction of disgust, I have betaken myself to a fishy eye, there has been a surprising similarity of result. One begins to suspect at length that there is no direct correlation between eyelashes and morals; or else, that the eyelashes express the disposition of the fair one's grandmother, which is on the whole less important to us.
No eyelashes could be more beautiful than Hetty's; and now, while she walks with her pigeon-like stateliness along the room and looks down on her shoulders bordered by the old black lace, the dark fringe shows to perfection on her pink cheek. They are but dim ill-defined pictures that her narrow bit of an imagination can make of the future; but of every picture she is the central figure in fine clothes; Captain Donnithorne is very close to her, putting his arm round her, perhaps kissing her, and everybody else is admiring and envying her—especially Mary Burge, whose new print dress looks very contemptible by the side of Hetty's resplendent toilette. Does any sweet or sad memory mingle with this dream of the future—any loving thought of her second parents—of the children she had helped to tend—of any youthful companion, any pet animal, any relic of her own childhood even? Not one. There are some plants that have hardly any roots: you may tear them from their native nook of rock or wall, and just lay them over your ornamental flower-pot, and they blossom none the worse. Hetty could have cast all her past life behind her and never cared to be reminded of it again. I think she had no feeling at all towards the old house, and did not like the Jacob's Ladder and the long row of hollyhocks in the garden better than other flowers—perhaps not so well. It was wonderful how little she seemed to care about waiting on her uncle, who had been a good father to her—she hardly ever remembered to reach him his pipe at the right time without being told, unless a visitor happened to be there, who would have a better opportunity of seeing her as she walked across the hearth. Hetty did not understand how anybody could be very fond of middle-aged people. And as for those tiresome children, Marty and Tommy and Totty, they had been the very nuisance of her life—as bad as buzzing insects that will come teasing you on a hot day when you want to be quiet..."
Sénécal is a philistine, but Pellerin is also described as dreaming big and creating nothing- Flaubert depicts them objectively, without commenting, even if his objectivity is charged with irritability. In the Sentimental Education passage, if you read it without knowing anything about Flaubert's view, you're not likely to know whether he sides with Pellerin or Sénécal. In the Adam Bede passage, in contrast, George Eliot doesn't only interrupt the flow with her lengthy comments, but also directs the reader's emotions. How can anyone read it and like Hetty? 
Now, another passage from Sentimental Education
"... To conceal his agitation, Frédéric walked up and down the room. Stumbling against a chair, he knocked down a parasol which was lying across it; the ivory handle broke.
'Oh, dear!' he exclaimed. 'I'm terribly sorry, I've broken Madame Arnoux's parasol.'
At this remark, the dealer looked up and gave a peculiar smile..." 
Later, on her name day, Frédéric comes and brings a new parasol as a present. 
"She thanked him warmly for it. Then he said:
'But... it's almost a debt! I was so upset.'
'What about?' she asked. 'I don't understand.'
'Dinner's ready!' said Arnoux, seizing Frédéric by the arm.
Then, in his ear:
'You're not very bright, are you?'
Nothing could have been more delightful than the dining room with its sea-green walls..." 
The last sentence can feel abrupt, but I include there to show that at that point Flaubert moves on to describe something else. That scene is enough. He adds nothing, explains nothing, and doesn't need to. 
Let's look at a passage from Adam Bede
"He could see there was a large basket at the end of the row: Hetty would not be far off, and Adam already felt as if she were looking at him. Yet when he turned the corner she was standing with her back towards him, and stooping to gather the low-hanging fruit. Strange that she had not heard him coming! Perhaps it was because she was making the leaves rustle. She started when she became conscious that some one was near—started so violently that she dropped the basin with the currants in it, and then, when she saw it was Adam, she turned from pale to deep red. That blush made his heart beat with a new happiness. Hetty had never blushed at seeing him before.
[...]
Not a word more was spoken as they gathered the currants. Adam's heart was too full to speak, and he thought Hetty knew all that was in it. She was not indifferent to his presence after all; she had blushed when she saw him, and then there was that touch of sadness about her which must surely mean love, since it was the opposite of her usual manner, which had often impressed him as indifference. And he could glance at her continually as she bent over the fruit, while the level evening sunbeams stole through the thick apple-tree boughs, and rested on her round cheek and neck as if they too were in love with her. It was to Adam the time that a man can least forget in after-life, the time when he believes that the first woman he has ever loved betrays by a slight something—a word, a tone, a glance, the quivering of a lip or an eyelid—that she is at least beginning to love him in return. The sign is so slight, it is scarcely perceptible to the ear or eye—he could describe it to no one—it is a mere feather-touch, yet it seems to have changed his whole being, to have merged an uneasy yearning into a delicious unconsciousness of everything but the present moment. So much of our early gladness vanishes utterly from our memory: we can never recall the joy with which we laid our heads on our mother's bosom or rode on our father's back in childhood. Doubtless that joy is wrought up into our nature, as the sunlight of long-past mornings is wrought up in the soft mellowness of the apricot, but it is gone for ever from our imagination, and we can only believe in the joy of childhood. But the first glad moment in our first love is a vision which returns to us to the last, and brings with it a thrill of feeling intense and special as the recurrent sensation of a sweet odour breathed in a far-off hour of happiness. It is a memory that gives a more exquisite touch to tenderness, that feeds the madness of jealousy and adds the last keenness to the agony of despair.
Hetty bending over the red bunches, the level rays piercing the screen of apple-tree boughs, the length of bushy garden beyond, his own emotion as he looked at her and believed that she was thinking of him, and that there was no need for them to talk—Adam remembered it all to the last moment of his life.
And Hetty? You know quite well that Adam was mistaken about her. Like many other men, he thought the signs of love for another were signs of love towards himself. When Adam was approaching unseen by her, she was absorbed as usual in thinking and wondering about Arthur's possible return. The sound of any man's footstep would have affected her just in the same way—she would have felt it might be Arthur before she had time to see, and the blood that forsook her cheek in the agitation of that momentary feeling would have rushed back again at the sight of any one else just as much as at the sight of Adam. He was not wrong in thinking that a change had come over Hetty: the anxieties and fears of a first passion, with which she was trembling, had become stronger than vanity, had given her for the first time that sense of helpless dependence on another's feeling which awakens the clinging deprecating womanhood even in the shallowest girl that can ever experience it, and creates in her a sensibility to kindness which found her quite hard before. For the first time Hetty felt that there was something soothing to her in Adam's timid yet manly tenderness. She wanted to be treated lovingly—oh, it was very hard to bear this blank of absence, silence, apparent indifference, after those moments of glowing love! She was not afraid that Adam would tease her with love-making and flattering speeches like her other admirers; he had always been so reserved to her; she could enjoy without any fear the sense that this strong brave man loved her and was near her. It never entered into her mind that Adam was pitiable too—that Adam too must suffer one day.
Hetty, we know, was not the first woman that had behaved more gently to the man who loved her in vain because she had herself begun to love another. It was a very old story, but Adam knew nothing about it, so he drank in the sweet delusion..." 
Does Hetty's blush need to be explained? I don't think so. Flaubert would stop there or only add a few sentences; so would Fitzgerald, Salinger, Nabokov, Jane Austen, Turgenev... Tolstoy might write as much, but he would describe, not "explain". George Eliot gives the impression of explaining, clarifying the blush, while constantly addressing the reader with "you know" and "we know". The passage is superfluous and clumsy, especially the last line. 

Does this mean I think Flaubert's the greater writer? No. Does this mean that I dismiss George Eliot's writing abilities? No. Greatness isn't equivalent to perfection- vision, imagination and psychological insight certainly outweigh faults such as this, and this post only touches a tiny aspect in 1 book by George Eliot and 1 book by Gustave Flaubert. All I'm saying here is that, at the sentence/ paragraph level, Flaubert's the better model. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Horrible, cruel and naked truth- 2 passages by Flaubert

Flaubert once said "If ever I play an active part in the world, it will be as a thinker and a demoralizer. I shall simply tell the truth, but it will be horrible, cruel and naked." (http://classiclit.about.com/od/flaubertgustave/fr/aatp_flaubert.htm)
Look at these 2 passages from Sentimental Education (trans. Robert Baldick): 
"... Then, catching sight of a volume of Hugo and another of Lamartine in the bookcase, [Hussonnet] launched out on to a sarcastic attack on the Romantic school. Those poets lacked both common sense and grammar, and above all they were not French. He prided himself on knowing his language and criticized the finest phrases with that cantankerous severity, that pedantic taste which characterizes frivolous-minded people when they come face to face with serious art..."

"... Pellerin used to read every book on aesthetics he could lay his hands on, in the hope of discovering the true theory of Beauty, for he was convinced that once he had found it he would be able to paint masterpieces. He surrounded himself with every conceivable accessory- drawings, plaster casts, models, engravings- and hunted around fretfully, blaming the weather, his nerves or his studio, going out into the street to seek inspiration, thrilling with joy when he had found it, but then abandoning the work he had begun, to dream of another which would be even finer. Tortured by a longing of fame, wasting his days in argument, believing in countless ridiculous ideas, in systems, in criticisms, in the importance of the codification or reform of art, he had reached the age of 50 without producing anything but sketches. His robust pride prevented him from feeling any discouragement, but he was always irritable, and in that state of excitement, at once natural and artificial, which is characteristic of actors. 
[...] 
His hatred of the vulgar and the mediocre found expression in sarcastic outburst of superb lyricism, and he held the old masters in such veneration that it almost raised him to their level..."

Startled. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Notes on how to deal with dictators (Wintrobe) and the determinants of coups d'état (Powell)

"How to Understand, and Deal With Dictatorship: An Economist's View" (Ronald Wintrobe)
- The dictator's dilemma: a dictator has more power over his subjects, much more than a democratic ruler=> citizens are reluctant to express displeasure=> the dictator doesn't know what citizens think=> he fears=> the problem is magnified when he rules by repression, i.e. through fear=> paranoia.
- Overpay supporters, i.e. pay them more than they are worth (e.g privileges).
=> more widespread in dictatorships than in democracies.
- In dictatorships: class of people who are repressed and class of the overpaid.
- Other tools to stay in power: restrictions on freedom of the press/ rights of citizens to criticise government/ rights of opposition parties to campaign against government, prohibition of groups/ associations/ political parties opposed to government, monitoring of the population, sanctions for disobedience (imprisonment, internment in mental hospitals, torture, execution, etc.)
- Note: the use of repression doesn't mean that dictators are unpopular.
=> dictatorships use 2 instruments: repression and loyalty/ popularity.
=> 4 types:
tinpots: low repression and loyalty (sole aim: maximise consumption)
tyrants: high repression, low loyalty (maximise power)
totalitarians: high levels of both (maximise power)
timocrats: low repression, high loyalty (benevolent dictator=> objective: welfare of people)
- Some dictatorships appear to outperform the democracies, but economic systems under autocracies vary a lot.
- Democracies: need support+ there may be no agreement on what should be done=> democratic inaction (also in war).
- Greater distribution under dictatorship than under democracy=> who it is for and its consequences and efficiencies depend partly on who controls the regime.
- Bureaucracies aren't inherently inefficient but: over time, loyalty to the top tends to deteriorate and to be replaced by alliances among the bureaucrats themselves, which bureaucrats use to line their own pockets, do favour for friends, distort information travelling up the hierarchy to make themselves look better...=> bureaucracies need to be "shaken up" periodically (as in democratic governments when a new party takes office).
- In dictatorships: those who do the purging can be purged themselves.
- Military regimes: double pay scales of military personnel=> cost twice as much to stay in power as before=> weaken rather than strengthen their own capacity to govern=> such regimes are short-lived.
- More rent seeking under democracy=> wasted (in economic sense).
Dictatorships have restrictions on who gets the rents. And when rents are given out, the dictator receives political support or money payments of other things in return=> not wasted.
(But: extortion, corruption, bribery, etc.)
- Aid to dictatorships is wasted or even counterproductive, unless it's tied to human rights observances.
- Sanctions may not work. E.g: stimulate nationalist support for the dictator and strengthen his hold on power.
Accept aid and renege?=> must be monitored and enforced.
- All the totalitarian regimes which have collapsed historically are a result of falling, not rising real income, and the increase in real income in China has resulted in not the slightest relaxation of repression there=> the case for trade with totalitarian regimes is particularly weak.




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"Determinants of the Attempting and Outcome of Coups d'état" (Jonathan Powell) 
- Though the motives may be the same, countries will differ in their vulnerability to coups based on the ability of plotters to organise and execute a coup conspiracy. 
- Coup-proofing is found to reduce both the likelihood of a coup attempt and the likelihood that an attempted coup will succeed. 
- Economic concerns have little impact on coup activity. 
- Rationalist framework: 
individual level=> a man pushing for his own interests 
group level=> organisational interests of the military
=> catalysts for coups 
- Coups occur when a government faces a legitimacy crisis
The citizenry must overly demonstrate its dissatisfaction with government in order for the military seize power. 
- Soldiers with more generous financial endowments are more content with the status quo and less likely to attempt a coup. 
The hypothesis that well-funded soldiers are more likely to succeed than their poorly funded counterparts (increase in armaments, training, professionalism) is not supported. Not because the soldiers are incapable of mounting a coordinated effort, but because the resources provide them with incentive to resist any potential coup that might arise. 
- Coups attempted by large militaries rarely succeed. 
- Coup plotters not only avoid action until high levels of instability are present but also benefit from instability. 
- Military regimes are about 5 times more likely to suffer a coup attempt than civilian dictatorships. They're also easy targets. 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Best Years of Our Lives

Do you know that feeling when you've just watched a great film and feel too overwhelmed to write a decent review (or anything at all) but still want to yell to let others know that you've just watched a masterpiece and feel very excited about it and think everybody should go watch it?* 
Well, that's how I feel now. And the film is, as you can see in the title, The Best Years of Our Lives. 3 men return home from the war: Al returns to his loving wife and 2 children but feels that he no longer recognises them; Fred comes back to a frivolous, mercenary wife who no longer cares about him as he now must work at a drugstore at a low salary, i.e. he neither likes his marriage nor his job; Homer, having lost both hands and using hooks instead, comes back feeling hopeless and afraid of facing his girlfriend Wilma. The 3 stories are woven, depicting the difficulties veterans face after a war, whilst emphasising on love, hope and human fortitude. A beautiful, moving and inspiring film. 
98% on Rotten Tomatoes, 8.2 on IMDB, 7 Oscars. 








*: I felt that way 3 times over the past 30 days: On the Waterfront, Sunset Boulevard and now this one. 


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Thoughts on Adam Bede

I've finished reading Adam Bede
It isn't without flaws. Chapter 15 is distasteful, for example. Now and then some passages are a bit superfluous, as though the author wants to make something clearer, more obvious, which is unnecessary. George Eliot sometimes wanders, sometimes comments, and very often addresses the reader; I myself don't have a problem with it, generally- if postmodern writers can do that, so could she; though now and then she seems to direct the reader's emotions. 
According to wikipedia, critics see Arthur's rescue of Hetty as deus ex machina that "negates the moral lessons learned by the main characters". I'm fine with it. Maybe I've read too many novels and watched too many films in which a woman commits suicide or gets punished after doing something wrong that it gets slightly boring and I yearn for something different. Wikipedia also says that some scholars criticise Adam's marriage to Dinah. Again, I'm fine with it. The realisation and declaration of love can feel a bit abrupt after Hetty's trial, but all the actions and conversations leading up to it make it convincing enough, and I already felt from the early chapters that they would end up together. If I have an issue with anything, it's the fact that there's too little known about Arthur and Hetty in the later part of the novel. The book is titled Adam Bede, so I know they aren't the central characters, but I'd like to know more about them. Arthur Donnithorne isn't Arthur Huntingdon or Henry Crawford- he's thoughtless, weak-willed and selfish, not the cruel type who toys with women's feelings, and he does love Hetty; and Hetty isn't the fatalistic, deceitful, self-destructive type like Emma Bovary, just naive, weak-willed and confused. George Eliot makes us sympathise with them and feel sorry for them and see them as fellow beings who make mistakes rather than hurt anyone deliberately, but after many chapters she draws attention to other characters and hardly thinks of them any more. Or maybe this says more about me than about her. 
However, it's a 1st novel, and as such, a very good one. The main strength of Adam Bede is in the characterisation. The characters feel so real, so natural, as though we can see them before our eyes, not only the 4 important characters Adam, Hetty, Dinah and Arthur, but also the others- the mild, accepting Seth, the constantly wailing and complaining Lisbeth Bede, the misogynist Bartle Massey, the sharp-tongued but tender-hearted Mrs Poyser, the patient and understanding Mr Irwine, etc. I know too little to compare George Eliot to Tolstoy, especially when I haven't read her magnum opus Middlemarch, but she resembles him in the way she tries to get into the minds of different characters (and even a dog) and thinks of all with sympathy. As I thought before reading this book, she's intellectual, intelligent and deep; more than that, contrary to my expectations, she can also be witty and funny, and has, for lack of a better phrase, a large heart. I don't mean that these points are criteria of literary merit- but they add more to my admiration for George Eliot and interest in reading her works. 
Must read Middlemarch this winter. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

On Mr and Mrs Poyser, or The severity of mild people

This is the scene where Mr Irwine communicates the bad news to Hetty's family.
"Before ten o'clock on Thursday morning the home at the Hall Farm was a house of mourning for a misfortune felt to be worse than death. The sense of family dishonour was too keen even in the kind-hearted Martin Poyser the younger to leave room for any compassion towards Hetty. He and his father were simple-minded farmers, proud of their untarnished character, proud that they came of a family which had held up its head and paid its way as far back as its name was in the parish register; and Hetty had brought disgrace on them all—disgrace that could never be wiped out. That was the all-conquering feeling in the mind both of father and son—the scorching sense of disgrace, which neutralised all other sensibility—and Mr. Irwine was struck with surprise to observe that Mrs. Poyser was less severe than her husband. We are often startled by the severity of mild people on exceptional occasions; the reason is, that mild people are most liable to be under the yoke of traditional impressions."
Curious, isn't it? Facing Hetty's scandal, Mr Poyser, who is usually mild, is more severe than Mrs Poyser, whose tongue is "is like a new-set razor" and who used to scold Hetty all the time. 
I don't think he reacts that way because he is mild and "mild people are most liable to be under the yoke of traditional impressions", but because: 1st, he has a mild temper, but lacks the kindness and compassion of Dinah and Mr Irwine (who also have a mild temper)- these things don't necessarily go together. To me, Mrs Poyser's outburst before the old Squire suggests that she has a stronger sense of justice. 2nd, Mr Poyser lives a good, honest life because of the importance he places on honour, that's his principle, that's the code he lives by, and as he has lived that way all his life, he cannot forgive the person who goes against it and who brings disgrace upon the whole family. To Mrs Poyser, family matters more than family honour. 3rd, the shock is too great for him, whereas for his wife, who has a sharper eye, she has known something of Hetty's character. This shock makes Mr Poyser extremely severe, unable to forgive or sympathise- this is in some ways similar to the way Adam reacts to Hetty and Arthur. Adam isn't too hard on Hetty only because he loves her and clings to the hope that he hasn't been mistaken and delusional for a long time, but it's precisely because he tells himself not to condemn Hetty that he puts all the blame on Arthur and hates him to the core of his being, ready to revenge and not at all interested in knowing Arthur's side of the story or understanding him. Of course jealousy is another factor, but I think shock is important, and if I can put it this way, Adam sort of transfers his anger at Hetty to Arthur. 
Anyway, I now have another concern- I've read till the morning of the trial, why have we not got another glimpse into the minds of Arthur and Hetty since the chapter before "The Quest"? 

Monday, 13 October 2014

On Adam Bede


How about something similar for Adam Bede? 
He's not a gentleman, and not rich- but what a man! he's manly, strong, hardy, upright, honest, artless, firm, straightforward, generous, hard-working, principled, proud, trustworthy, kind, considerate, loving...; takes care of his family, works hard, thinks of others before himself, has his principles and has self-respect, does nothing half-heartedly, talks plainly, takes care not to hurt anyone...; loves sincerely; is ready to protect her, stand up for his love and fight like a man... Of course Adam isn't perfect. Because he has his principles, he can be hard, especially in comparison with his mild brother Seth, and when impassioned, can lose self-control, which he does at the beginning, for Seth, and later in the middle of the novel, for Hetty. He can be proud, and direct, and in some cases it may not be to everyone's liking. And most of all, he's so blind- his belief in the goodness of people makes him such a bad judge of character. It is funny that Seth, meek and overshadowed and not as good as Adam in many aspects, chooses the right person to love- the admirable Dinah, whereas Adam falls in love with the frivolous, shallow Hetty. But these weaknesses make him human. Adam's realistic, and convincing. 
And have I said that he's cool? Well he is. 
What a guy. 



[Still, who knows, I'm only halfway through the novel. I may change my opinion later on]. 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The delusion of lovers

This is a passage from George Eliot's Adam Bede- the dance scene, after Adam accidentally sees Hetty's locket: 
"... Adam assented silently. A puzzled alarm had taken possession of him. Had Hetty a lover he didn't know of? For none of her relations, he was sure, would give her a locket like that; and none of her admirers, with whom he was acquainted, was in the position of an accepted lover, as the giver of that locket must be. Adam was lost in the utter impossibility of finding any person for his fears to alight on. He could only feel with a terrible pang that there was something in Hetty's life unknown to him; that while he had been rocking himself in the hope that she would come to love him, she was already loving another. The pleasure of the dance with Hetty was gone; his eyes, when they rested on her, had an uneasy questioning expression in them; he could think of nothing to say to her; and she too was out of temper and disinclined to speak. They were both glad when the dance was ended.
Adam was determined to stay no longer; no one wanted him, and no one would notice if he slipped away. As soon as he got out of doors, he began to walk at his habitual rapid pace, hurrying along without knowing why, busy with the painful thought that the memory of this day, so full of honour and promise to him, was poisoned for ever. Suddenly, when he was far on through the Chase, he stopped, startled by a flash of reviving hope. After all, he might be a fool, making a great misery out of a trifle. Hetty, fond of finery as she was, might have bought the thing herself. It looked too expensive for that—it looked like the things on white satin in the great jeweller's shop at Rosseter. But Adam had very imperfect notions of the value of such things, and he thought it could certainly not cost more than a guinea. Perhaps Hetty had had as much as that in Christmas boxes, and there was no knowing but she might have been childish enough to spend it in that way; she was such a young thing, and she couldn't help loving finery! But then, why had she been so frightened about it at first, and changed colour so, and afterwards pretended not to care? Oh, that was because she was ashamed of his seeing that she had such a smart thing—she was conscious that it was wrong for her to spend her money on it, and she knew that Adam disapproved of finery. It was a proof she cared about what he liked and disliked. She must have thought from his silence and gravity afterwards that he was very much displeased with her, that he was inclined to be harsh and severe towards her foibles. And as he walked on more quietly, chewing the cud of this new hope, his only uneasiness was that he had behaved in a way which might chill Hetty's feeling towards him. For this last view of the matter must be the true one. How could Hetty have an accepted lover, quite unknown to him? She was never away from her uncle's house for more than a day; she could have no acquaintances that did not come there, and no intimacies unknown to her uncle and aunt. It would be folly to believe that the locket was given to her by a lover. The little ring of dark hair he felt sure was her own; he could form no guess about the light hair under it, for he had not seen it very distinctly. It might be a bit of her father's or mother's, who had died when she was a child, and she would naturally put a bit of her own along with it.
And so Adam went to bed comforted, having woven for himself an ingenious web of probabilities—the surest screen a wise man can place between himself and the truth. His last waking thoughts melted into a dream that he was with Hetty again at the Hall Farm, and that he was asking her to forgive him for being so cold and silent..." 

Here is another one: 
"... He could see there was a large basket at the end of the row: Hetty would not be far off, and Adam already felt as if she were looking at him. Yet when he turned the corner she was standing with her back towards him, and stooping to gather the low-hanging fruit. Strange that she had not heard him coming! Perhaps it was because she was making the leaves rustle. She started when she became conscious that some one was near—started so violently that she dropped the basin with the currants in it, and then, when she saw it was Adam, she turned from pale to deep red. That blush made his heart beat with a new happiness. Hetty had never blushed at seeing him before.
"I frightened you," he said, with a delicious sense that it didn't signify what he said, since Hetty seemed to feel as much as he did; "let me pick the currants up."
That was soon done, for they had only fallen in a tangled mass on the grass-plot, and Adam, as he rose and gave her the basin again, looked straight into her eyes with the subdued tenderness that belongs to the first moments of hopeful love.
Hetty did not turn away her eyes; her blush had subsided, and she met his glance with a quiet sadness, which contented Adam because it was so unlike anything he had seen in her before.
"There's not many more currants to get," she said; "I shall soon ha' done now."
"I'll help you," said Adam; and he fetched the large basket, which was nearly full of currants, and set it close to them.
Not a word more was spoken as they gathered the currants. Adam's heart was too full to speak, and he thought Hetty knew all that was in it. She was not indifferent to his presence after all; she had blushed when she saw him, and then there was that touch of sadness about her which must surely mean love, since it was the opposite of her usual manner, which had often impressed him as indifference. And he could glance at her continually as she bent over the fruit, while the level evening sunbeams stole through the thick apple-tree boughs, and rested on her round cheek and neck as if they too were in love with her. It was to Adam the time that a man can least forget in after-life, the time when he believes that the first woman he has ever loved betrays by a slight something—a word, a tone, a glance, the quivering of a lip or an eyelid—that she is at least beginning to love him in return. The sign is so slight, it is scarcely perceptible to the ear or eye—he could describe it to no one—it is a mere feather-touch, yet it seems to have changed his whole being, to have merged an uneasy yearning into a delicious unconsciousness of everything but the present moment..." 

Oh come on, David Shields, do you truly believe that fiction doesn't reflect reality as nonfiction does and that we should abandon fiction and go for nonfiction instead? 

Brushstrokes (a stolen post)

From a brilliant post by Himadri at The Argumentative Old Git


"Some writers paint, as it were, with small brush-strokes. With the most meticulous precision, they delineate the most subtle and seemingly intangible of things with the utmost delicacy. One has to peer at the canvas very closely to see the brush-strokes, and even then they may elude the eye. Writers that come to mind at this end of the spectrum include Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen, Gustave Flaubert, Henry James, Edith Wharton.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are writers who paint with big, broad brush-strokes. Usually, though not always, these are writers whose works may, though not always, be described as “epic”. They are generally not too interested in pastel colours: they choose big, bright colours, and apply them with broad sweep and panache and vigour. Authors at this end of the spectrum include Charles Dickens, Honoré de Balzac, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Herman Melville, William Faulkner.
With Leo Tolstoy, I come across a problem. Is he a delicate short-brusher, or an epic broad-brusher? It’s not so much that he lies at some half-way point on the spectrum between these two extremes: rather, he seems almost effortlessly to encompass the entire spectrum. He could be as subtle and delicate as an Austen or a James; he could be as vigorous and epic as a Dickens or a Melville.
I am currently re-reading Anna Karenina for the umpteenth time, and reading it very slowly, savouring every single page. And it seems to me that, as a novelist, there was absolutely nothing he couldn’t do: there’s absolutely nothing beyond his range. Whether depicting the physical exhilaration in the epic mowing scene, or dissecting with infinite delicacy the subtlest shades and nuances of Anna or of Karenin, he never seems out of his element. Whether he is describing the vast panorama of the field of battle at Austerlitz or at Borodino, or describing the feelings of a teenage girl enchanted by a moonlit night, every single aspect of human life appears to be within his range. And he varies the brush-strokes as he sees fit, confident that the is the master of whatever style of brush-stroke may be required.
..."
Precisely what I wanted to say but didn't know how. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Notes from "Institutional Veto Players"

Chapter 15 of Principles of Comparative Politics (William Roberts Clark, Matt Golder and Sona Nadenichek Golder)

- Criteria of federalism:
+ Geopolitical division: the country must be divided into mutually exclusive regional governments that are constitutionally recognised and that cannot be unilaterally abolished by the national or central government.
+ Independence: the regional and national governments must have independent bases of authority.
+ Direct governance: authority must be shared between the regional governments and the national government; each governs its citizens directly, so that each citizen is governed by at least 2 authorities. Each level of government must have the authority to act independently of the other in at least 1 policy realm; this policy sovereignty must be constitutionally declared.
Notes: devolution occurs when a unitary state grants powers to subnational governments but retains the right to unilaterally recall or reshape those powers. 
e.g the UK doesn't meet the 1st condition and cannot be called a federal state. 

- States that are not federal are unitary states.

- Congruent federalism: the territorial units of a federal state share a similar demographic makeup with one another and the country as a whole= each of the territorial units would be a precise miniature reflection of the country as a whole. E.g: the US.
Incongruent federalism: the demographic makeup of territorial units differs among the units and the country as a whole. E.g: Switzerland has 4 official languages but 22 of the 26 cantons have only 1 language, 3 are bilingual and only 1 is trilingual.

- Symmetric federalism: the territorial units of a federate state possess equal powers relative to the central government. E.g: the US.
Asymmetric federalism: some territorial units enjoy more extensive powers than others relative to the central government. E.g: in Canada, Quebec has more autonomy.

- Decentralisation: the extent to which actual policymaking power lies with the central or regional governments in a country.
=> federalism in practice (as opposed to federalism in structure).

- Coming-together federalism: results from a bottom-up bargaining process in which previously sovereign polities come together and voluntarily give up part of their sovereignty in order to pool together their resources so as to improve their collective security and achieve other, economic goals.
E.g: the US, Switzerland.
Holding-together federalism: results from a top-down process in which the central government of a polity chooses to decentralise its power to subnational governments. Typically occurs in multi-ethnic states=> to appease these groups.
E.g: Belgium.

- Advantages:
  • citizens can move to the region that best matches their policy preferences=> fewer citizens are dissatisfied in a federal state than in a unitary one
  • brings the government closer to the people
  • better information
  • poor performance=> citizens leave and take away taxes and assets=> incentive for regional governments to perform well
  • subnational governments have opportunity to experiment with and evaluate different policies
  • check each other=> reduces the risk of tyranny
Disadvantages:
  • unnecessary duplication of government, inefficient overlapping of potentially contradictory policies
  • regional governments may spend beyond their means because the central government can come to their rescue and bail them out
  • regional governments have less incentive to make decisions in the interests of the federal system as a whole
  • competition=> downward harmonisation/ race to the bottom
  • regions with welfare=> the poor move=> must lower welfare
  • inequality between regions
  • blame shifting and credit claiming

- Unicameral legislature: legislative deliberation occurs in a single assembly.
Bicameral: 2 distinct assemblies.
The existence of an upper chamber, even one widely considered to be weak, can significantly influence the legislative process.

- Types of bicameralism:
+ Congruent bicameralism: 2 legislative chambers have a similar political composition.
vs incongruent bicameralism.
=> depends on how the membership of the 2 chambers is elected and whom that membership is supposed to represent.
+ Symmetric bicameralism: 2 legislative chambers have equal or near equal constitutional power.
vs asymmetric bicameralism.


In a strong bicameral system: the upper house's likely to be an important political actor because it enjoys similar constitutional powers to the lower house and because the different political composition of the upper chamber tends to mean that it has different policy preferences from the lower chamber.

=> Why bicameralism?
In federal countries, bicameralism is defended as an institutional means for protecting the federal system and promoting the distinct preferences of different territorial units. All examples of strong- symmetric and incongruent- bicameral systems are in federal countries.
E.g: the US- the lower house (House of Representatives), elected on the basis of the state's population, represents the popular dimension of the people's will and the upper house (the Senate), granting equal representation to each state to protect the interests of small states, represents its territorial dimension.
In unitary countries, bicameralism is defended as an institutional means for improving the quality of legislation=> rests from the belief, going back to ancient Greece, that members of the upper chamber have things like wisdom, age, knowledge and training that members of the popularly elected lower chamber don't have (only if it's incongruent bicameralism).

_______________________________________________________


- Constitutionalism: the commitment of governments to accept the legitimacy of, and be governed by, a set of authoritative rules and principles that are laid out in a constitution.

- A codified constitution: written in a single document.
An uncodified constitution: has several sources, which may be written or unwritten. E.g: the UK.

- An entrenched constitution: can be modified only through a special procedure of constitutional amendment (differs from country to country: popular referendum, majority of regional legislatures, legislative supermajorities, etc.)=> implicitly/ explicitly recognise that constitutional law has a higher legal status than ordinary statutes.
An unentrenched constitution: has no special amendment procedure and can be modified at any point in time with the support of a legislative majority.

- Legislative supremacy constitution:
+ no constitutional review
+ no bill of rights
+ not entrenched
(+ explicit recognition that legislatures can do no legal wrong
+ no institution to review the constitutional legality of statutes
+ no statute can be challenged once promulgated, and a law can be replaced or modified only by a new statute)
E.g: the UK.
Higher law constitution:
+ constitutional review
+ bill of rights
+ entrenched
=> new constitutionalism
=> shift began in Europe after 1945=> response to the experience with fascism

- Constitutional review: the authority of an institution to invalidate legislation, administration decisions, judicial rulings and other acts of government that violate constitutional rules, such as rights.
=> exercised by judges sitting on special tribunals- constitutional courts- that aren't part of the regular judicial system=> most European countries.
vs the US: ordinary judges in the regular judicial system=> judicial review.
=> to Europeans: the American-style judicial review doesn't correspond to the separation of powers but enables the judiciary to participate in the legislative function=> confusion of powers.

- Abstract constitutional review: constitutional review of legislation in the absence of a concrete legal case.
Concrete constitutional review: constitutional review of legislation with respect to a specific legal case.

A priori constitutional review occurs before a law is formally enacted.
A posteriori constitutional review occurs only after a law is formally enacted.

Centralised constitutional review: only 1 court can conduct constitutional review (constitutional court, outside the regular judicial system).
Decentralised constitutional review: more than 1 court.



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- Veto player theory: offers a way to think about political institutions in a consistent way across countries.
A veto player: an individual or collective actor whose agreement is necessary for a change in the political status quo. 2 types:
  • institutional veto player: generated by a country's constitution
  • partisan veto player: generated by the way the political game's played


- Countries in which there are many veto players with conflicting policy preferences are likely to be characterised by:
  • greater policy stability
  • smaller shifts in policy
  • less variation in the size of policy shifts
  • weaker agenda-setting powers

- A central concept is the winset- set of policy alternatives that would defeat the status quo in a pair-wise contest under whatever voting rules are being employed (unanimity is required to change the status quo).
=> its size has a significant impact on policy outcomes.
  • large winset=> many policy alternatives=> policy less stable
  • large winset=> more radical shifts
  • influences how much variation we're likely to see in the size of policy shifts=> small when winset's small, small or large when winset's large
  • large winset=> the agenda setter (who gets to make take-it-or-leave-it proposals to others) can move policy from where the other veto players would choose if they were the agenda setters
=> the size is determined by the number of veto players and the ideological distance between these veto players
(increasing the number of veto players decreases the size of the winset or leaves it the same, never increases it)

winset: shaded area


- Federalism, bicameralism and constitutionalism=> create political actors capable of blocking a change in the political status quo.
federalism=> potential to create powerful regional actors capable of blocking the implementation of national law
bicameralism=> creates a 2nd legislative body capable of blocking legislation
constitutionalism=> creates the possibility that judges might overturn laws that the legislature approves of

- We should expect to see higher levels of judicial and bureaucratic activism in federal and bicameral countries than in unitary and unicameral ones.

Friday, 10 October 2014

You ruined that a bit, George Eliot

I'm reading Adam Bede at the moment.
So far it has been an excellent book- George Eliot is very similar to Tolstoy. I intended to write something like "Where have you been all my life, George?"- to praise her, you see. Everything was going very well, I will get back to this later, till chapter 15. 
Let me pause a bit- before this chapter George Eliot has been introducing Hetty Sorrel and Arthur Donnithorne, and describing the beginning of their relationship. There are some wonderful scenes, and passages, such as the scene where Mr Irwine comes to talk to Dinah about the preaching and Arthur, full of charm and flattery, goes with Mrs Poyser to another room and invents clever excuses to have a look at the pretty Hetty, who is conscious of the effect of every single movement she makes, as she's making butter, on the man watching her. Charlotte Bronte could never write such a scene convincingly. George Eliot also gets into the minds of Arthur and Hetty, describing him debating with himself, entranced by Hetty's beauty whilst also conscious of its complications and determined, at 1st, to put an end to it all before anything bad happens, and describing her falling in love and getting so immersed in it and her dreams that nothing else has any meaning. In these bits, the brilliant George Eliot comes very close to Tolstoy- it is no wonder that people have made such comparisons. 
Or, take the scene in chapter 14. At this point, Arthur, who is not bad-natured, has made up his mind about what to do when they meet, then... 
"She doesn't know that there is another turning to the Hermitage, that she is close against it, and that Arthur Donnithorne is only a few yards from her, full of one thought, and a thought of which she only is the object. He is going to see Hetty again: that is the longing which has been growing through the last three hours to a feverish thirst. Not, of course, to speak in the caressing way into which he had unguardedly fallen before dinner, but to set things right with her by a kindness which would have the air of friendly civility, and prevent her from running away with wrong notions about their mutual relation.
If Hetty had known he was there, she would not have cried; and it would have been better, for then Arthur would perhaps have behaved as wisely as he had intended. As it was, she started when he appeared at the end of the side-alley, and looked up at him with two great drops rolling down her cheeks. What else could he do but speak to her in a soft, soothing tone, as if she were a bright-eyed spaniel with a thorn in her foot?" 
See, sadly life rarely goes according to plan. 
So the story has been very well-written, and so far I have never had any problem with George Eliot addressing readers, until chapter 15. Here, Hetty looks into the mirror, thinks of herself and Arthur and their future together, with happiness and luxuries. After telling us about her beauty, the narrator directs our attention to Adam and Arthur, both of whom mistakenly associate (her) beauty with goodness, and suddenly out of the blue launches into a lecture, or rather, a rant, about that mistaken view, about the deceptiveness of beauty. 
"... After all, I believe the wisest of us must be beguiled in this way sometimes, and must think both better and worse of people than they deserve. Nature has her language, and she is not unveracious; but we don't know all the intricacies of her syntax just yet, and in a hasty reading we may happen to extract the very opposite of her real meaning. Long dark eyelashes, now—what can be more exquisite? I find it impossible not to expect some depth of soul behind a deep grey eye with a long dark eyelash, in spite of an experience which has shown me that they may go along with deceit, peculation, and stupidity. But if, in the reaction of disgust, I have betaken myself to a fishy eye, there has been a surprising similarity of result. One begins to suspect at length that there is no direct correlation between eyelashes and morals; or else, that the eyelashes express the disposition of the fair one's grandmother, which is on the whole less important to us.
No eyelashes could be more beautiful than Hetty's; and now, while she walks with her pigeon-like stateliness along the room and looks down on her shoulders bordered by the old black lace, the dark fringe shows to perfection on her pink cheek. They are but dim ill-defined pictures that her narrow bit of an imagination can make of the future; but of every picture she is the central figure in fine clothes; Captain Donnithorne is very close to her, putting his arm round her, perhaps kissing her, and everybody else is admiring and envying her—especially Mary Burge, whose new print dress looks very contemptible by the side of Hetty's resplendent toilette. Does any sweet or sad memory mingle with this dream of the future—any loving thought of her second parents—of the children she had helped to tend—of any youthful companion, any pet animal, any relic of her own childhood even? Not one. 
There are some plants that have hardly any roots: you may tear them from their native nook of rock or wall, and just lay them over your ornamental flower-pot, and they blossom none the worse. Hetty could have cast all her past life behind her and never cared to be reminded of it again. I think she had no feeling at all towards the old house, and did not like the Jacob's Ladder and the long row of hollyhocks in the garden better than other flowers—perhaps not so well. It was wonderful how little she seemed to care about waiting on her uncle, who had been a good father to her—she hardly ever remembered to reach him his pipe at the right time without being told, unless a visitor happened to be there, who would have a better opportunity of seeing her as she walked across the hearth. Hetty did not understand how anybody could be very fond of middle-aged people. And as for those tiresome children, Marty and Tommy and Totty, they had been the very nuisance of her life—as bad as buzzing insects that will come teasing you on a hot day when you want to be quiet. Marty, the eldest, was a baby when she first came to the farm, for the children born before him had died, and so Hetty had had them all three, one after the other, toddling by her side in the meadow, or playing about her on wet days in the half-empty rooms of the large old house. The boys were out of hand now, but Totty was still a day-long plague, worse than either of the others had been, because there was more fuss made about her. And there was no end to the making and mending of clothes. Hetty would have been glad to hear that she should never see a child again; they were worse than the nasty little lambs that the shepherd was always bringing in to be taken special care of in lambing time; for the lambs were got rid of sooner or later. As for the young chickens and turkeys, Hetty would have hated the very word "hatching," if her aunt had not bribed her to attend to the young poultry by promising her the proceeds of one out of every brood. The round downy chicks peeping out from under their mother's wing never touched Hetty with any pleasure; that was not the sort of prettiness she cared about, but she did care about the prettiness of the new things she would buy for herself at Treddleston Fair with the money they fetched. And yet she looked so dimpled, so charming, as she stooped down to put the soaked bread under the hen-coop, that you must have been a very acute personage indeed to suspect her of that hardness. Molly, the housemaid, with a turn-up nose and a protuberant jaw, was really a tender-hearted girl, and, as Mrs. Poyser said, a jewel to look after the poultry; but her stolid face showed nothing of this maternal delight, any more than a brown earthenware pitcher will show the light of the lamp within it.
It is generally a feminine eye that first detects the moral deficiencies hidden under the "dear deceit" of beauty, so it is not surprising that Mrs. Poyser, with her keenness and abundant opportunity for observation, should have formed a tolerably fair estimate of what might be expected from Hetty in the way of feeling, and in moments of indignation she had sometimes spoken with great openness on the subject to her husband..." 
I must say, this part is in very bad taste. Brings to mind Virginia Woolf's arguments in A Room of One's Own. This is indignation. This is a personal grievance. This is the author getting furious and losing control of her pen and letting her private problem interfere with her work, deforming it, twisting it, disrupting the flow and ruining the mood. Is it a female thing?* I don't think I've ever seen that in War and Peace and Anna Karenina
Still, the overall quality, up till now, is extremely good. Let's hope that I won't encounter anything of the kind again, or if I do, let's hope that the qualities, the merits of Adam Bede will outweigh its nuisances.  




*: You can find rants about beauty and its insignificance or deceptiveness in the works of Charlotte and Anne Bronte, by the way, though of course that's not what I mean in the phrase "a female thing".