Why did countries curb their imperialistic tendencies?

Answer by Matthew Spencer:

The Second World War was a decisive factor in decolonization worldwide. Nazi Germany waged what in many respects could be called a neocolonial war in Eastern Europe. Japan’s policy of creating, through force, what it called The Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere was an analogous development in the Pacific. The catastrophic consequences of both efforts did much to discredit the idea of expansion and empire building as a central plank of government policy.

The war did much to discredit official racism as well. The Germans and Japanese were certainly not alone in thinking that different peoples in different parts of the world were inherently inferior or superior. But after 1945, arguments favoring eugenics or the so-called duty to civilize “savage” peoples could not withstand the weight of those associations.

On a more pragmatic dimension, the Second World War did serious damage to the major colonial powers of the time: France, Belgium, Great Britain and The Netherlands. Anticolonial political leaders such as Ho Chi Minh saw their chance to achieve independence within this power vacuum.

The surviving superpowers, the USA, the Soviet Union, and Communist China, could in many ways be seen as imperialistic and neocolonial, but all of those nations favored the exercise of political, military and economic power by proxy. There were areas that were annexed. For example, the Soviet Union took parts of East Prussia, and China invaded and settled Tibet, but these are exceptions rather than the rule.

The end of the Second World War marked a new phase in international politics, one in which nations do not officially rule over vast foreign territories but instead exercise power through military interventions, economic investment or sanctions, cultural change through mass media and numerous other channels of influence.

Whether or not this is truly imperialism is a discussion unto itself, but no one can deny the massive level of power that the US, Russia, and China exert on an international level. But what also can’t be denied is that the forms this power takes are profoundly different compared to imperial politics a hundred years ago.

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Shabazz Palaces Preview New Album Lese Majesty.

Late last month, the Seattle rap duo Shabazz Palaces debuted new material at the Pacific Science Center. I wish I had been there.  Since forming sometime around 2009, they’ve made some of the most interesting music in the city, full stop. Pitchfork and other national music pubs have paid attention since the group’s inception.



That’s good. Seattle has earned the reputation for being middle of road, culturally speaking. And while Shabazz Palaces doesn’t rep the city as loudly as that other rap duo, I do prefer them as musical representatives for Seattle, however obscure they might be in comparison to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. False dichotomy? Least interesting thing about Shabazz Palaces? OK.



So what does this new stuff sound like? The answer is quite similar to their previous full-length release Black Up.  “They Come in Gold” features the deep, robotic grooves characteristic of the group backed with philosophical but easy flowing verses from lyricist Ishmael Butler.

Press releases make for dull reading most of the time. Here again, Shabazz Palaces do things differently. Their statement about the new album, Lese Majesty, is a little slice of pop-spiritual philosophizing that wouldn’t be out of place on the liner notes of a Sun Ra LP.

Herein bumps and soars Lese Majesty, the new sonic action of Shabazz Palaces. Honed and primal, chromed and primo. A unique and glorified offering into our ever-uniforming musical soundscape. Lese Majesty is a beatific war cry, born of a spell, acknowledging that sophistication and the instinctual are not at odds; Indeed an undoing of the lie of their disparate natures.

Lese Majesty is not a launching pad for the group’s fan base increasing propaganda. It is a series of astral suites, recorded happenings, shared. A dare to dive deep into Shabazz Palaces sounds, vibrations unfettered. A dope-hex thrown from the compartments that have artificially contained us all and hindered our sublime collusion.

These reveries were sent to Palaceer Lazaro and Fly Guy ‘Dai in the year of gun beat battles in excess; In a succession of days, whilst walking in dreams and in varied transcendental states….(every minute of every day is filled with observation and composition. In action). Songs are committed and gathered by robots at Protect and Exalt Labs, a Black Space in Seattle, Washington.

The visual features of Lese Majesty are resultant of the gleanings of fellow Constellationaire, Nep Sidhu.

The Black Constellation squads up, protects and exalts the messages within, and colludes accordingly. We thank you.

According to the label, the album is structured as series of suites rather discrete pieces of music.  Unusual for hip-hop, sure, but similar to how the group as always written their music.  And while the new track doesn’t break new ground for them,  it still proves that Shabazz Palaces are still one of the most unique bands working in hip-hop today. Listening to them means entering into a unique aesthetic space, an afrofuturistic universe where sound worlds intersect according to their own mysterious laws. Lese Majesty is definitely something to look forward to.



What are some of the best historical fiction novels?

Answer by Matthew Spencer:

My personal favorite is The Leopard, the only novel by Giuseppe di Lampedusa. The book tells the story of Prince Fabrizio, a Sicilian nobleman who struggles to adapt to a changing society during the Risorgimento, or the period of Italian unification which took place during the mid-19th century. Prince Fabrizio is an intelligent, open minded man who sees plainly how the aristocracy is slowly losing ground in the new political order. He faces difficult decisions on how to continue the family name and its ancient privileges despite the surrounding society, which is doing its best to thwart those efforts.

Not to give too much away, but things don’t turn out as planned. Those looking for happy endings and virtue rewarded will, in all likelihood, not enjoy the ending of the book. Nevertheless, I think the novel has a vital message: enduring, both on a personal and cultural level, means changing with the times, even though there’s no guarantee of any reward for the effort. This message was something deeply felt by the author, who saw his own aristocratic family dwindle to extinction and his ancestral home destroyed during the Second World War. He wrote the novel while dying of cancer, with the knowledge that he had largely squandered his life. If there’s any lesson in all of this, it’s seize the moment.

Other contenders for best historical novel:

I Claudius by Robert Graves

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

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Bolaño’s 300 Years of Laziness

ELISEO ÁLVAREZ: Did your parents influence your love of literature, books?

ROBERTO BOLAÑO: No. In terms of genealogy, the truth is I come from two families: one that dragged with it 500 years of constant and rigorous illiteracy and the other, maternal, that dragged with it 300 years of laziness, just as constant and as rigorous. In that sense I’m the black sheep of the family. I suppose that they would have preferred any other thing. The truth is I’m fifty years old and knowing what I know now I wouldn’t want my child to be a writer either. That isn’t to say I would want him to continue with 500 more years of illiteracy, but why not 300 more years of laziness? It’s quite hard to be a writer, although, let’s not exaggerate.

A wry allusion to Marquez? I’d like to think so.

From Roberto Bolaño : the last interview & other conversations

Is pulp fiction a genre? Why or why not?


Answer by Matthew Spencer:

Not specifically a genre, but a publishing model that supported many different genres. These included, but were not limited to, science fiction, horror, romance, westerns, adventure stories– in other words, the same mass market categories we see in contemporary fiction.

The pulp in pulp fiction refers to cheap paper that was developed in the late 19th century. That, along with more efficient printing techniques, made books and magazines more accessible to mass audiences. This in turn supported the growth of writers and publishers catering to popular tastes.

The terms dime novel and penny dreadful refer not only the cheap cost of these publications but also the overall quality of the writing. Pulp fiction was created and published on an industrial scale with little thought given to careful composition or literary taste. A single author working alone could churn out hundreds of stories or a dozen or more novels a year.

Though most pulp authors are now justifiably forgotten, there were aspects of the industry that encouraged artistic innovation, especially in fantastic or speculative literature. H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian, are two prime examples of authors who worked within the pulp world and are still widely read today.

Then as now, publishers printed violent and, for the time, highly sexual content in order to boost sales. And also like today, educators, politicians and activists worried about the effect that reading these stories would have on children, particularly young boys. In the 50s, violent content from publishers such as EC Comics ignited a public reaction that led to the creation of the Comics Code, an important early example of a general rating system.

During the 50 and 60s, the trade in pulp fiction went partially underground, with more and more sensational subject matter. Magazines with stories catering to nudists, mercenaries, drug enthusiasts, beatniks and hippies, among other specialized demographics, appeared.

With the revolution in digital publishing  and the migration of print into the prestige  market, the term pulp is not completely accurate in describing the physical format of books and magazines, but aspects this publishing model do still exist today. Electronic publishing has lowered overhead costs and scheduling restrictions to such an extent that we might be seeing a contemporary renaissance in pulp fiction

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Thoughts on The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

An unconventional teacher and the life-changing effect she has on her pupils—a subject weighed  over with so much sentimental baggage. Among other things, many other things, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is an attack on the myth of the saintly teacher.  The titular character is exceptional, not only in her degree influence but in the ambivalent effects her influence create. An emancipated woman, a consummate teacher who cares deeply about education, Jean Brodie lives out those ideals while simultaneously being a sexual manipulator and a political reactionary, a seducer by proxy and an unrepentant supporter of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco.

On the subject of Jean Brodie’s Fascism: a key irony in an irony laden book. One of the most striking aspects of the novel is its simple and effective evocation of historical ignorance. Jean Brodie remarks to the students that Mussolini “ has solved unemployment” and posts pictures of Blackshirts on the classroom wall—a tricky maneuver that assumes two rather difficult points: that it was possible for moral people (or moral characters, as it were) to embrace Fascism, and that the inculcation of these ideas can be source of comedy, albeit black comedy. On that count, Spark achieves a difficult victory. Brodie’s reactionary politics are explained without being affirmed.  Sympathetic biographers of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and Gertrude Stein should take note.

Jean Brodie is justly famous for its use of prolepsis, or use of flash-forward. Conventional narrative thrives on the tension between truth and concealment—not so here. In contemporary terms, Spark spoils the ending again and again. We know from the beginning that Miss Jean Brodie will be betrayed and who will betray her. We know who among her students will thrive and who will die tragically. Yet these devices do not slow the narrative momentum. The effect is more than anticlimactic. By making the future so plain, we experience how it is to be blind to it.

Being swept away by time: in eliciting this sensation, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie resembles another, more or less contemporaneous classic of European literature, The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa.   The characters and scenarios in both suggest a rather conventional social novel, but what we get is something more radical. The 50s and 60s were a time when modernist techniques were being pushed to their very limit. These two novels must have seemed oddly retrograde alongside Borges, Beckett, Calvino, and the OULIPO.  Yet few of these vanguardists achieved the same level of chronological sophistication. The structural innovations of Spark and Lampedusa, while being widely commented upon, are still underrated.