Saturday, 2 July 2022

The Perils of No-Platforming

It has been some time since my last blog post, with a bit of pandemic in between. The lockdown of 2020 had a strange effect on everybody, and many artists felt stifled by the situation. Although I wrote quite a lot, in fact, there was one piece I began that took on epic proportions. Unable to complete it by the end of that peculiar year, I continued working throughout 2021 and finally completed it in early 2022. It is dedicated to my friend Marta, so I thought I ought to share it here today, as it is her birthday.

There was an article in the Metro that said ‘Weltschmertz’ was how many people were feeling in 2020. Indeed, Marta had used that very word in a text to me, although I suspect it was a result of reading Schopenhauer rather than a free newspaper. Besides the many conversations about this, I read, watched, and listened to a great amount of material, not all of which I was able to utilise.

The resulting poem, 366 lines long (2020 was a leap year, you may remember) was a rambling, sometimes contradictory, other times provocative, reflection of not only 2020, but the long history of cancel culture. In some lines I took words directly from the sources that I used in my research. I’ve included a handful of acknowledgements at the end, which may make interesting reading – and some surprises.

As a postlude I will publish another, shorter poem on a similar theme. It is a paraphrase of a famous poem which readers of this blog most likely know. I’ll not hammer it out, even if it has been removed from examination syllabuses in favour of other more relevant poetry. I’ll remind the reader of something ascribed to Cicero – “to not know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.”












In the dark times

Will there also be singing?

Yes, there will also be singing

About the dark times.




2020 Weltschmertz



      for Marta



It was when she pulled her hair

back from her face I recalled

Käthe Kollwitz; hers, in a shawl,

her heavy features less exquisite

than my companion’s as we sat

drinking, discussing Schopenhauer.


Had it been such a terrible year?

History’s had worse – to compare

the past with present woes appears

pessimistic at most, or, at least, unfair.

Yet what’s the point if nobody listens –

from where else can we garner lessons?


If I hammer it out like Richard, who

in his temporary lockdown knew

that time itself – if nothing else –

was out of proportion; nonetheless

it was broken, discordant, corrupted,

or, at any rate, jarringly interrupted.


So I travelled back in time, or fooled

myself I was in the locked-up galleries,

looking into those dark, hooded eyes

that Barlach had chiselled into wood –

art the Third Reich later ridiculed –

to see a pain I thought I understood.


People with dubious proclivities,

Jews, cripples, lunatics, gypsies –

all victims of ‘no-platforming’ then,

who witnessed, in nineteen-thirty-seven,

their art (or lives) destroyed or berated,

labelled ‘degenerate’ or else, cremated.


Did they look back to the jagged thorns

that crowned another Jew with scorn?

(But that attack didn’t stop Him talking

long after His own had killed Him off…)

Shostakovich vowed to continue composing

even if Stalin chopped his hands off.


His music, like that of Prokofiev,

wasn’t deemed nationalistic enough –

maybe they found it too bombastic –

(they’d obviously not heard Berlioz’

ridiculous Symphonie Fantastique!)

A similar censure fell to the Jews.


On the basis of their non-Aryan looks,

shortly after the burning of books

(which, said the poet Heinrich Heine,      

would end with the burning of people)

omitted from the Reichskulturkammer,

these folk were cancel-culture’s prequel.


The art of music, traditionally

is multifaceted and, purportedly,

unpolitical as such – unlike words

it’s hard to define a ‘Jewish chord’

or describe a triad as purely Germanic –

but less can be said for atonal music.


Schoenberg was deemed ‘Jüdisch Ungeist,’

along with his pupils, Webern and Berg,

and composers like Weill and Eisler’s

left-wing views were not to be heard –

the root of political musical ostracism

became the branch to anti-Semitism.


After Barlach was labelled ‘degenerate’

it was time for the Nazi regime to berate

musicians on grounds of Jewishness –

a definition of choice, no less:

this radical culture of racial hate

began long before nineteen-thirty-eight.


Legal measures had stripped professions

not only of writers, artists, musicians,

but Jewish shopkeepers, lawyers, doctors,

lecturers, instructors, theatre directors.

First came Entartete Kunst in Munich;

next, less proverbial, Entartete Musik.       


The first to go was one Franz Schleker –

a threat to Wagner (more on him later.)

The Lexikon auf Juden in der Musik

denounced Schleker’s poetry as unfit:

it represented the ‘age of decay’ –

decay, that is, of the Weimar Republic.


They took exception to his music,

and (unlike Wagner) also his libretti

which dared to examine sexuality.

It seemed exploration of the erotic

was unpatriotic: this Director was removed

from his position at the Berlin Hochschule.


To call him out for ‘sexual aberration’

was a Machiavellian machination

of Hans Zeigler, who based his prejudices

on sham information found in biographies

full of intrusive, unsubstantiated views –

a motley pre-cursor to the term ‘fake news.’


Allow me to digress, for a moment,

to ponder how Zeigler’s choice of language

used rhetoric, hate-speech, prejudice, cant

to dictate to the malleable ignorant

in a way not dissimilar to those of our age

who lack the knack of informed exchange.


From the ba-ba-black-sheep barbarians

who were seen as linguistically degenerate,

it was strong words that rendered their state

as ‘filthy, sub-human, Untermenschen,’

just as we call those we wish to exterminate

or supress ‘untouchable, vermin, ape-men.’


There’s nothing new in this nomenclature –

Jesus ministered to people deemed ‘unclean’

but if history repeats (and it does) be sure

calling someone (their music or art) ‘inhuman’

is Barbarism that justifies and procures

acts that Good People should call inhumane.


Meanwhile, in the frenzy of a Witches’ Sabbath

(perhaps Berlioz’ allusion to the Revolution

inspired Hans Zeigler’s motley exhibition...)

the guillotine of his spiritual terrorism

fell on the likes of Krenek and Hindemith,

with denunciations of ‘Cultural Bolshevism.’


This cull went far beyond composers:

others became persona non grata:

those who taught or wrote about music;

players, singers, directors, conductors –

Steinberg, Walter, Otto Klemperer –

the list also included music critics –


Bekker, Einstein, Adorno – instrumentalists,

singers – Lehmann, Kipnis, Richard Tauber –

and in a particular case of one violinist/

conductor – Alma Rose, a niece of Mahler –

she fled to France but, arrested somehow

was sent to her death in Auschwitz-Birkenau.


Had Mahler lived to be seventy-eight

he’d very likely have faced the same fate.

Despite his Roman Catholic conversion,

it’s doubtful he’d have duped execution:

his music supposedly lacked German depth,

and, during the Third Reich, was suppressed.


Mendelssohn, in a post-mortem debate,

was quietly removed from German culture,

leaving Germany, paradoxically, in a state

of cultural dearth. His monument, under

cover of darkness, was destroyed; meanwhile

his bullied descendants were forced into exile.


The opera composer, Meyerbeer,

was considered by some incapable

of creating work that was anything more

than derivative: far from original –

according to one’s man’s rancour –

his opera, naturally, fell out of favour.


To find out how this came to be

we have to plunder more history

and call upon our Star Witness,

Romantic composer and librettist,

Richard Wagner: operatic Colossus

and, regrettably, a colossal racist.


He wrote his own libretti, like Schleker,

but Wagner went one large step better:

he wrote a controversial thesis

denouncing Jews as musically worthless –

a warning against Jewish influence

that appealed to a young Adolf Hitler.


But I’m jumping the gun here:

playing the Hitler Card is disastrous –

according to Godwyn’s Law – this is

when arguing who’s the most monstrous

of men. Humpty-Dumptying will fall

as surely as Trump’s ridiculous wall.


Let us just, as another digression,

consider others for whom suppression

of artistic merit has gone on and on

through the ages: let us not forget

Alma Mahler, Fanny Mendelssohn,

the Milkmaid Poetess, and Collette –


where are the women? Clara Schumann,

Mary Shelley, Christina Rosetti, Aphra Behn;

Abbotess Hildegaard von Bingen,

Dorothy Wordsworth, Doreen Carwithen

Avril Coleridge-Taylor, Dorothy Howell,

Élisabeth (Claude?) Jacquet de La Guerre,


George Elliot (aka, Mary Ann Evans)

Judith (aka, the sister of Shakespeare)

that one in Les Six, ie: Francois Taillefaire,

those sisters, Acton, Currer and Ellis Bell:

these, just a few late-discovered names

whose very existence history suppressed –


the myriad artists who went unnoticed,

or utilised canny ways to get published –

those who wrote under pseudonyms

simply because they were not men…

the marginalised, or long-forgotten,

or multiple women known as ‘anon.’


But, to return to this difficult riff,

we still perform Wagner, even if

his views are now an aberration

that led to the mass annihilation

of culture – and lives – on the basis

of his bitter attack on one race… is


music not above all this; doesn’t Art

have the right to be presented far apart

from the views or acts of its creator?

(Barthes cries: “death of the author!”)

Is a person defined by what they achieved,

or by how their behaviour is perceived?


Shall we ask the old and dreary question:

What to do with the art of Monstrous Men?”

This, a broadsheet newspaper headline,

for a weak discussion on Woody Allen,

to whose name we could add James Levine,

or countless other disgraced musicians,


or those from our Creative Industries

with equally compromised histories,

from Carravaggio to Harvey Weinstein;

from Gesualdo to Roman Polanski,

and many others who’ve blurred the line

between Great Art and gross abomination.


Should we burn down their houses,

beat in their heads, break them

in pieces on the wheel – just as

Michael Tippett, in Child of Our Time

showed happening to the Jews

in acts of abhorrent retaliation?


Should we pull down their statues,

ban their recordings, their books,

delete their existence from history,

boycott the cinemas, theatres, shops

that give these ‘monsters’ a platform –

or simply give us freedom to choose!?                     

Ultimately, Art is about Humanity:

compromised, troubled, flawed, even evil.

There by the grace of God go I, you, we:

we all exist somewhere between the devil,

the monster, the saint, and the deep blue sea. 

We are ‘us’ – all of us – not just you or just me. 


Permit me one more aside, parenthetic,

and relocate you to a pub in Partick:

in the Lismore you can commemorate

my ancestral name while you urinate, 

for above the urinals in the Gents’ loos

is a plaque denouncing those who used


excessive force to clear the Highlands –

one of them was the Duke of Sutherland.

Crofters were turfed out in favour of sheep,

and still in Glasgow, resentment runs deep.

(That said, in another pub, you can piss

on urinal cakes with Donald Trump’s face.)


So it seems my family name is tainted,

but is that the reason somebody painted

‘Monster’ on that Duke’s memorial –

or was this another cultural vandal

who’d rather not have us be reminded

of an unpleasant past lest we’re offended?


Perhaps it shouldn’t have been erected,

but humanity’s story is ever conflicted:

should the Museum of Childhood remove

a certain doll in a dire attempt to disprove

the fact that, sometimes, people fuck up? 

You don’t right wrongs by crying “Shut up.”


Needless to say, this ‘cancel culture’

existed long before Richard Wagner,

nor reached its true nadir with Hitler –

sure, he wanted to cancel an entire race,

along with those he found objectionable –

but his was not an uncommon prejudice.


To say so renders all those who trouble

us inhuman, a sub-species, viral, animal,

and tars and mars us with the same brush:

there’s not a law for them, another for us.

Dumping dictators, beheaded, into the sea

teaches the future nothing of their history;


nor defacing monuments or statuary

because we get offended oh-so-easily –

didn’t the Rabbi Jesus say, “If thine eye

offendeth thee, pluck it out?” Maybe He

should have said, ‘if thy self-righteous

tongue is loose, remove it?’ Unless,


of course, your bloated eloquence

has some super-human significance,

in which case, assert the right sort of truth –

by which I mean, your opinion or assertion

gleaned from Twitter’s indefatigable proof –

provided you don’t offend a single person.


Which is not to say freedom of speech

is a licence for misinformation and hate:

language has power, as I’ve said, so to preach

to people devoid of reason demonstrates

how social media is society’s toilet wall:

piss all you like, Humpty-Trumpty won’t fall.


He will, however, be hoist by his own petard.

So why do we fear to call him out by name?

Making him some kind of ‘Voldemort’ (it’s hard

to use that name without giving the same

credit to an author we now fear to mention)

makes his own ‘fakery’ stronger than fiction.


Writers, saddled with this adjuration,

fear to use mimicry (or, ‘appropriation’)

and no-platform themselves, nor dare let

their severed heads rise above the parapet.

They only write what people want to hear –

God forbid we lop off the listeners’ ear.


Yet here is theology’s stumbling-block:

we pluck out not our own but others’ eyes.

Surely the Good Shepherd said to his flock,

‘If your eye causes you to stumble, it’s wise

to shut it off to evil, trials, or temptation’ – 

this doesn’t require a literal interpretation!


Some women had to take this literally

to avoid the advances of men obsessed

with their eyes, hair, or the way they dressed,

like Rapunzel, Saint Triduana, or Saint Lucy,

who put out their own eyes to spite their face –

a thorny solution served up on a plate –


or another seductress, to cite a volte face,

lent John-the-Baptist’s head the same fate:

a lesson well-learned for those outspoken

to hold their tongues, like tomorrow’s ‘woke.’

Hands also, the Rabbi said: ‘Chop them off’ –

although this did not deter Prokofiev


nor Shostakovich from composing – albeit

in notation encoded, its message, illicit.

Art isn’t a gift; it’s a compulsion: we’re driven

to express something from the deepest prison

of our existence, to convey a true message

through some prophetic, mysterious presage.    


Beware, therefore, of cultural vandalism:

the petty watch-committee McCarthyism

mires us still with communism, fascism,

the colonised or occupied by other nations.

Sure, this wasn’t a year for optimism:

none of us was blessed with 2020 vision.


But was this annus horribilis really so bad?

Was the fear of so many ending up dead

politicised; a pandemic of misinformation?

To some, endless months of nothingness

were torture, to others the restoration

of nature and stopping of clocks was bliss.


The abrupt cessation of carbon emissions

and mass-consumption was joy to behold

– at least, until capitalism’s resumption –

and, clapping for carers, society finally told

‘key-workers’ their jobs were essential:

this was an experience truly existential!


Unless, of course, you didn’t see

2020 CE with optimism or clarity;

saw Thursday Clapping as hypocrisy,

or bought into the tricky conspiracy

that conflated the language of fascism

with programmes of mass vaccination.     


With jobs, education, relationships lost,

this year realised a multitude of costs:

depression, anxiety, panic or worse –

no wonder we suffered with Weltschmerz.

That’s if we interpreted the global pandemic

without Schopenhauer’s eudemonic


stance: life is shit, but it can be worth living

if love, work, art, even death give it meaning.

Why bother if life is only for suffering?

Even in dark days, there will be singing,

to the lines of Heine and others prophetic

enough to illuminate, warn, mirror, mimic.


And who am I to understand or validate

an experience that isn’t mine; appropriate

a comfort to disturb another’s, or be able

or willing to dare disturb the comfortable?

That’s your interpretation: I am not here

to be or say the words you want to hear.


The 18th Century zeitgeist of world-weariness

influenced many thinkers – Wagner, no less –

and created debate among the Literary Salons.

History doesn’t repeat. It just goes on and on.

I was made aware of this terrible year

when my companion pulled back her hair…






Of the considerable amount of material looked at for this long poem I should mention the following:

Persecuted Composers– Persecuted Music – an essay On Thomas Hampson’s 2005 Salzburg Recital, by Jens Malte Fischer

‘Forbidden music:the Jewish composers banned by the nazis’. Author article by Michael Haas

Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900, Frederick C. Beiser (OUP, 2016)

Studies in Pessimism,Arthur Schopenhauer, translated by Thomas Bailey Saunders

Ernst Barlach, sculpture and the "terrible year" 1937. Deborah Lewer, National Galleries of Scotland, 2016; London Art History Society Review, 2020

A urinal in aScottish pub reveals why toilets matter in international politics, The Conversation, June, 2019

What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men? Claire Dederer, The Paris Review, 2017

How do we solve a problem like James Levine? Music Matters, BBC Radio 3, broadcast 27 March 2021

Anatomy of a hounding: fear & factionalism in Scottish poetry, Jenny Lindsay, Dark Horse, 2020

The Age of Infantilism, Howard Jacobson, ‘A Point of View,’ BBC Radio 4, broadcast 23 Apr 2021

Image: A TerribleYear, Ernst Barlach, National Galleries of Scotland, Modern One.

and for the second poem which I wrote to be performed but haven't yet found a platform; a paraphrase of this poem


If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.



It seemed from some poetry battle I escaped

Down a deeply vacuous funnel that telescoped

A sympathetic fallacy of wisdom once distilled.


Yet also there un-numbered poets stalled,

Too fast in rhyme or chime or time to give pause.

Then, as I applauded them, one proceeded to pars

A piteous recognition in a long, long line,

His plodding feet, iambic, told another discipline.

And by his simile, I knew this was some kind of slum — 

By his volta this was, I knew, a different kind of slam.


His face fixed fast, jaw set, though teeth were grinding

To offset, or disguise, the anatomy of a hounding  —

And yet, no guns dared shoot him down in public.


“Poet,” I said, “Your loss is just bad luck.” 


“Not so,” he said, “you’d empathise with my stance,

If you only knew the true length of my sentence.

The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,

Is never mine. I had my fingers scorched

By truths stumbled upon, not searched,

But truth lies not in the distorted, broken click

Of fingers, rather in the honesty of human clock:

Mine ticks on, anapaestic, heedless of your clack.


For by my loss might many be relieved,

While of my allies, sure I have been loved,

Without condition… ah, I see you demur  — 

This poem is meant to be about the pity of war.

Competition results, always, in monopoly;

The antonym of love isn’t hate, but apathy.

This poem’s about those who cannot compute

The collateral damage of those who compete;

The judges’ decision is final, the jurors’, firm:

Seems your peers want you off the platform.


I missed a beat, though I had mastery,

Call it a lacuna, or ne’er to be spoken mystery.

You’ll miss the march of my retreating world,

Stuck in your wide-awake village, high-walled

Against reality, reason, forever trigger-warning

in open-eyed dreamless fear of self-harming.

With truths that lie too deep for your analysis

I would have poured my poetry without digress.

But, now, not through my words; nor this poetry battle.

Other poets, and thinkers, might bleed without rebuttal.


“I am the poem you silenced, my friend.

I knew you in this dark: for though you punned

Your way through me as you extolled my vice,

I conjugated; but my verbs are now without voice.

Let us sleep now. . .”