Friday, November 28, 2008


by Michel Houellebecq

The story begins with the death of the protagonist's father. This event leads the public servant of Paris to take some weeks of holiday as a sexual tourist in Thailand. He has no moral scruples about the matter as he only engages in adult women under consent, and he pays well. It appears he does not problematize the issue a bit. He has made attempts of relationships before and it does not seem to give him what he wants, and as he is starting to become middle-aged he might as well accept that prostitution and pornography are his only true partners in life. However, on this trip to Thailand the champion of the story connects with a fellow traveller, a woman in her later 20s whom things just fit with. There is no need to make any attempts of anything or try and enter a role, with her things just seem to work out.

Houellebecq portrays the hunger for meaningless happiness and the fear of committing oneself to another person. If one always has to be open for a better alternative that may or may not come up and at the same time one wants maximum joy, what option is left: Sex becomes a pleasure allowed as long as it is without desire. Houellebecq seems to ask if our careers and western life lies in the way of sexual lust and the real emotion of love. Is he a moralist or does he finger a very important part of an ongoing psychological collapse?

The protagonist's new love is working hard in the travel industry. She often spends all her time in the office and is well aware of that she constantly has to improve herself in order to survive in the business. Part of her work lies in figuring out how to lure tourists to her company's destinations. On a job trip to Cuba he gives her the idea of making sex tourism the next big thing. It would give her bureau the edge over the competitors on the market. He believes this is what westerners crave and even sees it as a solution. It is a way of opening up new markets and creating wealth, or with French lingo perhaps more accurately; a way of transferring riches. The plans are put into effect, investments made and travel packages created. But not only does the moral conscience at home oppose it, so does the Islamist terrorists. On a relaxed vacation in one of the company's resorts, where she has just told him she wants them to move away from her stressful life and start something new, Muslim radicals open fire. Killing her and many others.

The story ends with his own death. He visualizes it will come at night and he hopes it will come soon. When he is gone he wants and knows he soon will be forgotten. The reader understands that Platform is the suicide note of our protagonist, written not many months after his only love was murdered.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


-the Rise and Fall of the American Empire
by Niall Ferguson

The Scottish-born history professor Niall Ferguson, behind the international bestseller on the British Empire, opens this argumentative book by telling us that it may be true that a power vacuum could emerge if the United States would be to lose its top position as a hegemon in world politics. Such situations are not unknown in history, he tells us, but experiences of absence of power is in no way encouraging. Apolarity is hardly something of a pacifist utopia but much more probably something leading to political fragmentation and an anarchic new Dark Age. And given the likely scenario that another power would soon seize the opportunity and bid for the role as world hegemon it is by no means of any likelihood that such a power replacing America would be more sensitive to critique, if we scrutinise the supposed options. A question important to ask is if critique would even be allowed.

What about an alternative spelled international community, where established autonomies of powers were to debate and conclude in supranational institutions such as the UN and WTO. Would it not rather be a new Light Age instead of an American superpower? Such is not the trend of today, as Mr Ferguson sees it, since the universal claims such supranational bodies rely on demands authority, and the defining characteristic of our age is not a shift of power upward, but downward. Means of producing general devastation and free flow of destructive technology, lack of control of channels of communication and the collapse of states' monopoly of violence empower criminal organizations and terrorist cells. That is the current trend.

With this background Niall Ferguson argues the case for America to stop living in denial and pronounce what it functions as. International agreements and multipolarity demands, just as a working national state, enforcement of rule of law. Multipolarity between open societies depends on the Liberal Empire. "The best case for empire is always the case for order. Liberty is, of course, a loftier goal. But only those who have never known disorder fail to grasp that it is the necessary precondition for liberty."

If the United States were to become self-conscious as a liberal empire and had the courage to articulate goals, what should be learned? What is the blueprint for spreading wealth, democracy and freedom? There are good reasons to believe that a minimum requirement for economic success lies in adopting a state governed by rule of law where property is protected, as it would be quite impossible to attract investments otherwise. Furthermore, what is needed for development is a legal system of publicly known rules securing rights of personal liberty, not only against tyranny but also against crime and corruption. Under such stability the finances of the state would be in such a condition that the government also could start having some welfare responsibilities. This does not only seem well-grounded in theory, professor Ferguson reasons, but is demonstrated in former parts of the British empire, and has been crucial in why global poverty levels have decreased the past decades.

The British endeavoured to build institutions they regarded as essential to prosperity: free trade and migration, infrastructural investment, balanced budgets, incorrupt administration and rule of law. This form of liberal Empire, Niall Ferguson argues, was on balance a good thing, but he questions if the United States of today actually is up to it. America, just like Europe, faces huge demographic problems with seventy-five million baby boomers starting to collect social security and medicare benefits. Ferguson uses the term generational accounting, and implies that people born today faces extremely high taxes in order to finance the ever-growing retired population. Under such circumstances it may be hard winning an election on arguing the case for a costly liberal empire. Mr Ferguson's other big doubt on whether America is up to such an achievement is due to the lack of character in the modern man. He describes this partly by pointing to one of the bigger differences between the American occupier and the British empire. That is to say that the former one wants to get out as quick as possible. Successful nation building however takes endurance, which is dependent on self-sacrifice and a belief in the goal. Where the Britons sent their best educated away, fostered with an overtly imperial ethos, hardly anyone at all of the graduates of the top American universities aspire to spend their life in far away disease-ridden, malicious and uncomfortable areas: "the letters ambitious young Americans would like to see after their names are CEO, not CBE."

What if Niall Ferguson had painted another opening in Colossus. Would a different conclusion be possible? Most certainly, that is the very honest basis of his way of interpreting history. I must say however, that I find his preconditions seeming pretty sound. Perhaps sad at times, but nonetheless truthful. Colossus is a very healthy response to those people certain of only one thing, and that is how bad America is. When so many wanting to pull the United States from grace, what exactly are they opposing? One must force these people to be more explicit in their critique, as in some circles all bad things in the world falls under the category of Americanism. If it is junk food and too high a BMI score one criticizes, then Ferguson would most certainly join in. In fact he does it wittily in this book, writing about the White Man's Burden around his waist. But if it would be America as the world power and defender of reliable supranational institutions these people are against, what is it they realistically opt for instead?

The mere fact that we have the opportunity to discuss these matters is proof of that we live in a free world. It is even more underlined by the fact that we can, and in some aspects should, criticize American power. But one must not let go of a sober view on matters. The free world is not free as in something we get for nothing. In that way the free world is far from free, it is quite the exact opposite. To bear the burden of defending it, for several reasons, is never a popular task. An ignorant scope may too often fail to understand its necessity and yearn for its downfall. In this respect the importance of this lucid defence of United States as guardian of, and in cooperation with, the free world should not be diminished.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Travels in the Scriptorium

by Paul Auster

In this thin book Paul Auster does not offer quite the same excitement that we have gotten used to in his other volumes. There is no force making you have to turn the page just now, but rather you are left with a tepid feeling of I could do it later.

At first one could think the story is that one of a man, suffering from dementia of some sort, in a kind of nursing home. Mr Blank struggles to make pieces match one another, with incoherent recollections, photographs and stories which reminds him, but does not connect him with an actual past. Names of characters from other Auster tales come intruding into a patchwork of short stories, in resemblance I guess, to the mind of a man whose sentience and consciousness is deteriorating due to structural neurological failure. This is Paul Auster however, and not Oliver Sacks. Auster is into mental and emotional reflexes triggered by imaginative reasoning, just like Samuel Farr who is Mr Blank's doctor in this story, on a visit from In the Country of Last Things. For such a therapy to function, it needs a working narrative to hang upon. Because the lack of this Travels in the Scriptorium becomes almost a little dull, until the very end where it all turns revolutionary and one really wonders what this plot is all about.

Perhaps I should hold on to my tepid feeling and give this book another chance when I have the time, later. It could be that the detective work needed to decipher the puzzle of this trip needs a revitalisation of my memories of City of Glass, In the Country of Last Things and the most fantastic Oracle Night. If not I shall be left without a full appreciation of this clip show or rap album of a novel, as Bookslut puts it.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Linda - som i Lindamordet

av Leif GW Persson

På en grek-ö gör man två saker; man hyr antingen moped och upptäcker glädjen i trafik utan regler eller så ligger man i en badring med ölhållare ute i Medelhavet och läser. Har man dessutom fått tag på en billig restresa till något ställe där andra skandinaver ofta huserar kan man ha möjligheten att hitta annan litteratur än den man själv har tagit med sig, vilket kan vara otroligt praktiskt eftersom seriös avslappning ofta leder till att man läser sju gånger fortare än man räknade med när man packade böcker. Detta är bakgrunden till att jag kom att läsa min första Leif GW Persson på norska. Denna svenska macho-ikon (av helt annan kaliber än Paolo) har jag faktiskt tänkt att läsa flera år, faktiskt ända sedan jag träffade någon som hävdade att hon var GWs dotter på musikfestivalen i Hultsfred. Vi hade samtalat moral och politik över ett par pilsner innan hon försvann i myllret på The Streets-konserten.

Leif GW beskriver i boken den utrotningshotade svenska mannen. Han som över huvud taget inte teoretiserar kring könsroller, är smått konspiratoriskt lagd, otroligt självgod och bitter över omgivningarna. Helt klart är denna man en pelare varpå samhället vilar, och i detta specifika fall, i mordkommissionens utredning av det sadistiska Lindamordet. I veckorna som följer de tragiska händelserna på Pär Lagerkvists väg i Växjö behåller denna huvudefterforskare fanan högt trots den konstanta dryckturen. Under tiden avrättas hans guldfisk hemma i huvudstaden, feminister bestämmer den samhälleliga dagordningen, samt annat samhälleligt förfall. Efter en rad fadäser bestämmer högre ort i Stockholm att de antagligen borde göra en annan ansvarig för det som sker nere i provinsen, och in skickas räddningen för mordutredningen i form av professionalism - två kvinnor. Den ena av dessa kvinnor skriver dessutom en avhandling i praktisk filosofi om semiotiska förbindelser mellan sexualmord och hur dessa mord kom att tituleras i media. Nåja, GW är nog ingen akademiker, men han skriver roligt i alla fall. I slutet av boken sitter den före detta mordutredaren hemma med en maltwhisky och myser. På tv går ett program där en psykläkare uttalar sig om den mentala undersökningen av den nu funna Lindamördaren. Vår hjälte som trots sina fel och brister har en stark förnimmelse av folklig rättskänsla, tycker det vore betydligt bättre om de bara hade kokat lim på den jäveln.

Linda - som i Lindadrapet var en ypperlig träning i att läsa norska. Eftersom jag för stunden residerar i den Skandinaviska metropolen Odense är min omedelbara bekantskapskrets bestående av danskar, svenskar, norrmän och islänningar. Pubkvällar företas i pan-skandinavisk anda på något slags mellanspråk, och den svensk som hävdar att vederbörande har svårt att förstå danska eller norska göre sig ej besvär. Dylika utsagor är hur som helst tämligen pinsamma, och då det egentligen är i stort sett samma språk handlar det naturligtvis enbart om träning för att få bort sådana stockholmska fasoner. Engelska är ett språk som är otroligt mångfacetterat och vackert, det är därför jag har valt att studera det och försöker upprätthålla en hög nivå genom mångsidigt användande. Men engelska ska vi skandinaver använda till de utomnordiska, inte sinsemellan. Viktigt är att vi försöker odla fram en renässans för Skandinavismen, och att vi så småningom i vänskaplig anda försöker lösa tvisten om huruvida civilisationens vagga låg utanför Uppsala eller någonstans på Jylland.