Monthly Archives: July 2017

Books In Prison

In Yaroslavl prison near the start of her ten year sentence as a victim of Stalin’s purges Evgenia S. Ginzburg writes in Into The Whirlwind how vital books are to prisoners.

At home, I had always been regarded as a passionate and indefatigable bookworm. But it was only here, in my stone sepulchre, that I really learned to explore the inner meaning of what I read. I saw that always until then I had skimmed the surface, developing in breadth but not in depth. And when I came out of prison, I once again became incapable of reading as I had read in my cell in Yaroslav, where I rediscovered Dostoyevsky, Tyutchev, Pastenak and many others.
It was also there that, after ploughing through several books, I first learned the rudiments of the history of philosophy. Paradoxically, books which had long since been withdrawn fro the public libraries could be freely borrowed in prison.
Nothing is simpler than to explain the profound effect of books on a prisoner’s mind by the absence of outward stimulants. But this is not quite all there is to it. Isolation from everyday life and from its rat-race favours a kind of spiritual lucidity. Sitting in a cell, you don’t chase after the phantom of worldly success, you don’t play the diplomat or the hypocrite, you don’t compromise with your conscience. You can be wholly concerned with the highest problems of existence, and you approach them with a mind purified by suffering.
If even in labour camps, with their naked animal struggle for survival, thousands of our fellow-citizens were able to keep their integrity, how much more is this true of solitary confinement! Its ennobling influence is unquestionable – provided, of course, it does not go on so long as to undermine the foundations of personality.

National Effrontery

Politics and violence were all part of the mix at gigs in the late 70s/early 80s. They were the arena where fascism and anti-fascism slugged it out. This response to a racist is from the letters page of Sounds, 25 October, 1980.

I’m not ashamed of being white or of my British heritage either, but that doesn’t equate with the National Front.It does, however, mean a desire to preserve the free speech and democracy we supposedly enjoy in Britain and no doubt the NF do encounter a healthy and venomous opposition, but mainly because there is a realisation that were the NF to gain sufficient impetus, they may not extend the same courtesy of free speech as you and I would perhaps grant them.
You can hardly expect me to defend those who would not have the slightest qualms about denying me the ‘free speech’ that the NF enjoy anyway; I’ve seen one of their political party broadcasts on TV myself.
“Never any outcry about the homeless, jobless, whites?” Every time I turn the television on, a politician or trade unionist is decrying the obscenity of 2 million unemployed. The number is, I assume inclusive of all races. And what about the ‘inter-tribe fights in African States?” that’s no justification of racialism in this country.
“Proud to be white, so are my mates, and if that makes us racist, well so what?” So everything. If you ARE a racist, admit it. If you’re not you should realise the implications of glibness on the subject when compared to the rest of your letter. And I’m sure Sounds writers don’t wish they were black, even though they may well be biased; they’d probably rather be what they are: white and affluent.

Marc, Wotton-Under-Edge, Glos.

Glasgow Slums

A poem from the 1969 Corgi anthology Doves For The 70s

Glasgow Slums

Rats run, unheeding, through the court
or stop to drink
from scum-topped, stinking pools
that make the place a bog.

A dog rakes, mindless, in the waste
from dustbin dropped
and scatters a he goes
a swarm of buzzing flies.

And overall, a smell, a stench
of dump, disease, decay.
The crumbling walls,
the shattered panes,
the filth, the muck.

And, in the midst of this
a child plays, heedless and content,
never questioning
that this is right, or kind, or just.

George Hardie