Category Archives: vandalism

Eviscerator of the idiocy of the age

If fame were the reward of merit alone, writes Dalrymple, Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans)

would have been one of the most famous men. Not that he would have greatly enjoyed such fame: his probity and attachment to higher values was too great for that. He combined in his person qualities that are rarely so closely associated: erudition and scholarship, taste, intellectual honesty, wit, literary gifts. I admired Leys more than any other contemporary writer.

Leys was a connoisseur of Chinese culture

and viewed its barbarous destruction with horror; he abominated Maoism at least two decades before it became obligatory for right-thinking persons to do so.

The Cultural Revolution, Dalrymple notes,

was not a very funny subject, since it was one of the greatest episodes of vandalism in history and caused the death of a million people; but Leys wrote so as to make you laugh. He was contemptuous of Western Mao-fanciers.

Dalrymple explains that

Leys’ guiding star was cultivation (in a broad sense) and his bêtes noires barbarism, stupidity and humbug. There was no better sniffer-out of humbug, the besetting sin of intellectuals.

Leys, Dalrymple points out,

could eviscerate the idiocy of an age in a few lines.

For example:

If one thinks of the great teachers of humanity — the Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, Jesus — one is struck by a curious paradox: today, not a single one of them would be able to obtain even the most modest teaching post in one of our universities.

The time of optimism

The optimists

The optimists

Dalrymple comes across a reference in the Guardian to Maoist groups in the West during the late 1960s, a time when, the newspaper says approvingly, many young people

threw themselves wholeheartedly into the leftwing politics of optimism.

This was, Dalrymple points out,

during that great time of optimism for the Chinese people that lasted several years,

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.40.43namely the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, in the course of which, Dalrymple points out,

unknown numbers of people were killed, but certainly hundreds of thousands at the least.

During the time of optimism many millions of people in China, Dalrymple reminds us, were

  • persecuted
  • publicly humiliated
  • tortured
  • Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.34.11hounded from their jobs
  • separated from their spouses
  • exiled
  • subjected to forced labour.

All this occurred

to the cheering sound of smashed cultural artifacts, demolished monuments,

and the

hosannas

of large sections of the Western Left.

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Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.34.50Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.41.07 Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.41.45 Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.37.05 Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.37.33 Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 08.35.48

What do we care about a fucking piano?

A still from footage taken in Phnom Penh after its fall in April 1975. A grand piano also features in Dalrymple's Monrovia Mon Amour, in the chapter describing a visit to the Centennial Hall. Dalrymple writes: 'Lying on the ground…was a Steinway grand piano (the only one in the country…), its legs sawn off. The body of the piano, still gleaming black and in perfect condition, was in direct contact with the floor, while the three sawn legs were strewn about….A long-contemplated but long-frustrated revenge upon a whole alien civilization…. simmering rage and envy….Michel took photos of the stricken instrument….How long…before some post-modernist composer has a pianist not play the instrument but, in front of the audience, saw off its legs, to the craven applause of critics afraid to be thought stupid or reactionary?….We felt we had secured something of a scoop….We returned to the Olympic Hotel….There we found two…British photographers….I described to them…the destruction of the piano….’What do we care about a fucking piano?’ one of them said….I despaired then of my own country.'

A still from footage shot in Phnom Penh, April 1975. A piano also features in Dalrymple’s Monrovia Mon Amour, in a passage about a visit to the Centennial Hall. Dalrymple writes: ‘Lying on the ground was a Steinway grand piano (the only one in the country), its legs sawn off. The body of the piano, still gleaming black and in perfect condition, was in direct contact with the floor, while the three sawn legs were strewn about. A long-contemplated but long-frustrated revenge upon a whole alien civilisation… Simmering rage and envy. Michel took photos of the stricken instrument. How long before some post-modernist composer has a pianist not play the instrument but, in front of the audience, saw off its legs, to the craven applause of critics afraid to be thought stupid or reactionary? We felt we had secured something of a scoop. We returned to the Olympic Hotel. There we found two British photographers. I described to them…the destruction of the piano….’What do we care about a fucking piano?’ one of them said. I despaired then of my own country.’

Centennial Hall

Delirious joy of rioting and looting

Panama City

Panama City

A day out that combines the pleasures of destruction with those of moral indignation

Dalrymple recounts that while working as a journalist, he once reported on a riot in Panama City

in which I saw middle-class people throwing bricks through windows and making bonfires in the street. I recognised one of the rioters dining in an expensive restaurant that same night.

Baltimore

Baltimore

Rioters, writes Dalrymple, are

a self-selected group, who are fully aware of what rioters are likely to do.

He points out that in the London riots of 2011, rioters

smashed and looted every store in a street except the bookstore, the only one to remain with its windows and stock entirely intact. The rioters had no use or desire for books.

London

London

And when eventually the police,

who took a long time to intervene, arrested some of the rioters engaged in the gravest actions, it turned out that the majority had serious criminal records.

During the Parisian riots of 2005, the rioters

burned thousands of cars belonging to people very similar to themselves, and who lived in the same area as they.

Paris

Paris

This, Dalrymple points out, was hardly

the manifestation of an acute sense of injustice. If anything, it was a manifestation of wounded amour propre, for the rioters would never have rioted against the kind of injustices that people such as they committed every day.

The rioters

expect from the authorities a completely different standard of behaviour from that they exhibit themselves: they are children, the authorities parents.

 

 

Relative calm in the banlieues

Youths burned only 1,064 cars in the banlieues on New Year’s Eve, about 100 fewer than on the same night in 2012, Dalrymple reports.

Who says that there is no progress?

Notes from underground

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 13.23.08On an escalator on the Metro, Dalrymple witnessed this scene:

A young man in international slum-costume and face as malign as the late Mark Duggan’s…used a spray gun to scrawl his initials in bright red on the handrail. Scores of people saw him do it….He returned the other way to repeat his action on another handrail.

Dalrymple was saddened.

The ease with which the stupid and criminal insolence of one young man was able to defeat the civilised conduct of the vast majority of citizens present was…dispiriting.

Duggan: malign

Duggan: malign

And just because the young man was cretinous

doesn’t mean he wasn’t cunning, or wouldn’t be able to draw the correct lesson that he could act with…impunity.

Dalrymple dared not do anything to stop the French Duggan. Nor did anyone else. Why? Dalrymple points to these factors:

  • He and others were ‘busy with their own lives’
  • He and others were afraid of the French Duggan, ‘that he might carry a knife or a gun’
  • He and others were ‘by no means confident that if they had intervened…it would be the young man and not they who would be charged with an offence’
  • Certain witnesses — admittedly a very few, the silliest among them — might have ‘so read, marked and inwardly digested the exculpatory sociology of our time that they saw in his graffito not an act of moral depravity but a cry for help’

Postcards from Folkestone

Folkestone was a jewel of Victorian and Edwardian seaside building, with a beautiful Victorian wrought-iron bandstand on the front.

Folkestone was a jewel of Victorian and Edwardian seaside building, with a beautiful Victorian wrought-iron bandstand on the seafront.

Near to the bandstand has been erected an enclosed pavilion that makes some kind of pastiche reference to the style of the bandstand but which is ugly beyond description. It obtrudes itself upon the retina so that the bandstand cannot be seen in its absence, as a pushy person continually interrupts a conversation to which he has nothing to contribute.

The fouling of Folkestone: the bandstand is just visible on the horizon, centre right. To its east was erected in 1980 this octagonal structure apparently in the style of a pagoda, serving as the entrance to the Leas Cliff Hall. The original hall entrance, in the classical style, has been demolished. The modern building makes some kind of pastiche reference to the style of the bandstand. It obtrudes itself upon the retina so that the bandstand cannot be seen in its absence, as a pushy person continually interrupts a conversation to which he has nothing to contribute.

Dalrymple asks whether this kind of built environment is the result of incompetence or of ideological malice. While acknowledging the difficulty in distinguishing between the two, he tends to the latter explanation.

Only this can explain why every prospect has been ruined by the strategic placement of something constructed in what might be called social-democratic style, the style that is incompatible with any other and which pronounces a dog-in-the manger philosophy: if not everyone can live somewhere beautiful, no one will. For it is much easier to destroy beauty or grace than to create it. To make all the world ugly was an act of justice, of restitution to those who had lived in ugliness all their lives. British architects of the second half of the last century were not incompetent if their goal was to bring about the destruction of an existent beauty that was unequally distributed. On the contrary, they were the most successful architects who ever lived.