Category Archives: Shakespeare, William

WeWork’s guru-led business model

Dalrymple writes that Adam Neumann, with his long hair, T-shirt, and microphone, indulged, like any guru worthy of the name, in

malversation of funds, morally if not legally, on a large scale.

Neumann claimed — without being laughed down — that his business was worth $47bn, yet it was

nothing but renting out office space to people who could not afford permanent offices. This is a good idea, no doubt, though it was not his, but to have parlayed it into a business allegedly worth many billions while making heavy losses takes genius of a kind.

WeWork, Dalrymple notes,

had a private jet while losing more money than it turned over ($1.9bn against $1.8bn). I don’t know whether this is a first in history.

The company could survive

only by finding someone to throw good money after bad. As Macbeth might have said if he had lent money to it, ‘I am in loan stepp’d in so far that, should I lend no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er‘ — indeed more tedious, in so far as it would imply that the original loans were not performing and might give rise to awkward questions about the wisdom and competence of those who made them. Meanwhile, my bank tells me every month that it is prepared to lend my tiny company up to 4% of the amount of money I already have in the bank. Thanks very much. Such is the wisdom of bankers.

Dalrymple says he finds it difficult to think of the WeWork story without recourse to metaphors of parasitism. He notes that in the modern world, the path to fantastic personal success is not that of inventing something that people want and that can be developed and sold at a profit, but of persuading investors to part with their — or more often, other people’s — money to finance a bubble. For that you need the skills and confidence of gurus, who

fleece by promising new meaning to the gullible. Their eyes shine, they gesture, they are alternately passionate and calm. They don’t believe, they know. If you are lucky, you have never met such a person, for we are all, to varying degrees, susceptible to him. One might have thought, though, that bankers of all people would not fall easily for their wiles.

The most successful gurus, Dalrymple observes,

are not straightforward crooks, at least not to begin with. If they deceive, they are also to a large extent self-deceived. But with repetition and success comes more straightforward skulduggery, swindling, misappropriation of funds, sexual predation, and so forth, all because they believe themselves to have been granted impunity, as with a diplomatic passport.

Many gurus

mark themselves out by their dress — in this case, T-shirt — despite immense wealth. How can such a man not have seen through the triviality of mere appearance to a deeper reality?

Dalrymple asks how

companies that have never made a profit, however long they have been in existence, can be valued so much more highly than those that make profits almost without fail.

No doubt the companies in question

promise at some time in the future to make eye-watering profits once they have cornered the market and can charge monopoly prices, having driven everyone else from the field. But this glorious future (glorious for holders of the stock, not for the average or below-average customer) seems rarely to arrive. Meanwhile, financiers finance, at least until, like socialists, they run out of other people’s money. Then they can ask the government to create more money, so that they never run out of other people’s money.

On strumpets

Strumpets, Dalrymple notes, are

immoral women of Shakespearean proportion.

A debauched or unchaste woman, a harlot, a prostitute. ‘A vile and abominable strumpet’; ‘A strumpet’s boldness’; ‘He regards nothing but to enjoy his little seraglio of six strumpets’; ‘The most degraded and dangerous strumpets are allowed to congregate round our barracks without hindrance’; ‘This is a disease of childhood, and the only exception to this I have seen was in a very young strumpet.’

‘They know the open whoredom of the Babylonical strumpet’; ‘Out, out, thou strumpet-fortune’; ‘The Kaiser and his parasites have gone a-whoring after Bellona, the deadliest strumpet that ever wrecked the souls and bodies of men’; ‘If thou do not altogether consider Christ’s mind, thou dealest strumpet-like with him.’

Strumpetocracy, jocular, government by harlots. Strumpetier, a whoremonger. ‘In the strumpetocracy of France, he had risen to this post by the most servile attention to Mme de Pompadour’; ‘Zola wants to show in action the morals and manners which developed in the aristocracy of the bourse and the strumpetocracy of Paris’; ‘O that our luxurious strumpetiers could read in their diseased bodies the estate of their leprous souls.’

Glib and oily art

Dalrymple notes that the increasing tendency in the West to express emotion in public

undermines the ability to distinguish genuine from bogus feeling.

He describes the modern age as one of

reverberating hollowness. We no longer accept the implicit.

It makes people

exhibitionistic. It sets up an arms race in which people have to express themselves more and more extravagantly in order to persuade others, and perhaps themselves, that they feel anything.

King Lear, Dalrymple reminds us,

is about the difference between real and bogus emotion. The two wicked daughters are able easily to deceive the king with extravagant expressions of love that they do not feel, but Cordelia refuses to ‘use that glib and oily art’.

Lear learns too late that

words and emotion are not necessarily connected in simple fashion.

Censorship makes necessary the implicit

Pushkin statue, St Petersburg

Dalrymple ventures to point out that

the great majority of great art was produced under conditions of censorship.

The removal of all censorship

has not resulted in a florescence of the arts, and certainly not in literature, quite the reverse.

He notes that

the golden age of Russian literature was certainly not one of an absence of censorship, nor was Shakespeare entirely free to write what he might have liked.

Censorship

makes necessary the implicit, which is always more powerful and moving than the explicit.

If we were obliged to disregard that part of the artistic heritage of Man that was produced under conditions of censorship,

there would be practically nothing left. And if, conversely, we were obliged to regard only that part of the heritage that was produced under conditions of complete freedom of expression, we should have but little artistic sustenance from the past.

African hero

With Olof Palme

The evil of Julius Nyerere

Dalrymple points out that the Tanganyikan dictator was cultured enough to translate Julius Cæsar and The Merchant of Venice into Swahili. His influence, however, was

almost wholly pernicious.

He was able to preserve his reputation for sainthood in rich countries, and especially in Scandinavia,

because he shrewdly realised that, to assuage its guilt for its colonial past, the West had need of an African hero.

Pauperisation of an already poor country

He also recognised that his audience

would be far more interested in what he said than in what he did.

Such an audience of Western dupes

had no interest in the reality of the Tanzania he had created.

Civilised rejection of politics

The passion of W.S. Melsome, Dalrymple notes, was

the Bacon–Shakespeare controversy. Some said that he had the whole of Bacon and Shakespeare at his recall, and if either were quoted, could instantly produce a close analogy from the work of the other, which proved their identity.

Dalrymple finds it consoling that Melsome

pursued his obsession during the years when the world about him was collapsing, as if Mussolini and Hitler, and Stalin further east, were historical epiphenomena and that the real question confronting Mankind were: ‘Who wrote Shakespeare?’

Implicit in this, says Dalrymple,

is a civilised—though not, under the circumstances, very practical—rejection of politics as the dominant influence in life: an attitude from which one could learn something.

Life is far too short

Dalrymple writes:

The life of Man being but three score years and ten, nothing on earth would induce me to read Hillary Clinton’s memoir of her electoral defeat.

If he had two millennia rather than only two years to go, he would not read it. In fact, he says,

no memoir by any modern politician would tempt me to read it, since the main characteristic of such politicians is mediocrity tempered by unbridled ambition and lust for power. Better to reread Macbeth. Hillary Clinton, after all, is Lady Macbeth to Bill Clinton’s Felix Krull, the confidence trickster.

Folie à deux

Lasègue-Falret Syndrome (psychose partagée)

There are cases every day, writes Dalrymple,

that defeat the neurochemists and would have baffled Shakespeare himself.

He recalls a spinster in her fifties who lived in a council flat with her brother. They

appeared to be suffering from standard (if I may put it so) paranoid delusions.

The spinster believed that her neighbours, a simple and inoffensive West Indian couple,

  • were pumping poison gas into the flat
  • had invented an electronic thought scanner that read all her thoughts. She heard them talking about her, plotting to kill her, and referring to her in the most abusive terms

Her brother, who,

though only an unskilled worker, insisted on going everywhere by taxi and smoked cigarettes through an ivory and silver holder, like a proletarian Noël Coward,

also heard the voices and strenuously denied that his sister was mad. To prove it, he handed over to Dalrymple 10 tapes — 15 hours in all — of recordings of what he said were the whirring sound of the thought scanner and the voices of the neighbours taunting and insulting his sister.

Dalrymple promised to listen to the tapes when he had a spare 15 hours.

Encounter in Pyongyang

The Study House in Kim Il-sung Square

The Study House in Kim Il-sung Square

Strolling through the North Korean capital, Dalrymple finds himself

in the enormous and almost deserted square in front of the Grand People’s Study House. (All open spaces in Pyongyang remain deserted unless filled with parades of hundreds of thousands of human automata.)

A young Korean slides surreptitiously up to him and asks:

Do you speak English?

It is, says Dalrymple, an electric moment, for in North Korea, unsupervised contact between a Korean and a foreigner is as unthinkable as shouting, ‘Down with Big Brother!’ Dalrymple nods. The young Korean says:

I am a student at the Foreign Languages Institute. Reading Dickens and Shakespeare is the greatest, the only pleasure of my life.

It is a

searing communication. We parted immediately afterwards and of course will never meet again. For him, Dickens and Shakespeare (which the régime permitted him to read with quite other ends in view) guaranteed the possibility not just of freedom but of truly human life. Orwell and Huxley had the imagination to understand why—unlike me, who had to go to Pyongyang to find out.

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 09.51.42

 

Why Shakespeare should not be taught in schools

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 19.08.33There are, Dalrymple discovers,

no Chinese characters in Shakespeare,

despite the Chinese representing a fifth of the global population. Moreover, fewer than 16 per cent of Shakespeare’s characters are women — a fact drawn to Dalrymple’s attention via electronic message by Oxford University Press. Dalrymple is shocked, and believes

it is time to impose quotas on the sex of characters. Until Shakespeare is rewritten to include more women, his plays should not be taught in schools, banned from them in fact.

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 19.13.22If, he points out,

you measured the proportion of lines spoken by women in Shakespeare, the situation would be worse.

While, Dalrymple says,

the impact factor of certain female Shakespearean characters, such as Gertrude and Ophelia, Juliet, Desdemona, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, etc., is considerable, it is numbers that count.