Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Nature of freedom

I mentioned in a post at the weekend that in the unlikely event of me attending a demonstration I would advise on appropriate clothing. Watching the hundreds of students, Jewish and Muslim organisations demonstrating outside the Oxford Union on this bitterly cold November night, I can say that appropriate dress is a warm coat, jeans, and sturdy boots. Good for them.

Tonight, at the Oxford Union, the guest speakers will be David Irving, the discredited historian, liar, anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, and Nick Griffin, leader of the fringe British National Party (Britain's rough equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan.) There has been considerable debate about whether such a debate itself should be allowed to take place, with fundamental questions raised by others about freedom of speech.

As a writer,I assert that freedom of expression is the most basic principle of literature, without which there is nothing but propaganda. Nonetheless, as I have pointed out to creative writing students, publishers are not under a legal or commercial obligation to print their work. Norman Geras, as usual, sums up the issues forensically.

Norm says:

Fascists are entitled to free speech if we consider this to be a basic human right. Of course, that right is not absolute; there is a limit that prohibits incitement to violence. But within that limit fascists are - and they should be - free to say what they please. The question why they should be when they would deny the same right to others isn't to the point. You don't have to qualify to enjoy rights of free speech. That's the point of treating them as rights.
He then quotes Peter Tatchell:
'Support for free speech does not oblige the Oxford Union to reward these men with a prestigious public platform, which will give them an air of respectability, raise their public profile and allow them to espouse their intolerant views. It is helping them propagate their bigotry. Not offering hate-mongers a platform is not the same as banning them.'
Precisely so [Norm continues]. The same reasons that told against Columbia University's invitation to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad back in September apply in this case.

And that is my view on the matter. You can watch a video discussion on the issue here.

Brian Klug in the Guardian adds:
Either it is the case that Griffin and Irving do not have a right to speak at the Oxford Union, or the fact that I have not been invited constitutes an abrogation of my right to speak.

Unless, of course, a person's right to speak is in direct proportion to the obnoxiousness of their views. No one would consciously subscribe to such a principle, but sometimes it seems as if it has been smuggled in under cover of a noble line from the Enlightenment, usually attributed to Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." It is almost as if the more I disapprove of what you say, the greater your right to say it. Which we can all see is nonsense. Still, let's spell it out: despite their noxious views, neither Irving nor Griffin has a greater right to be invited to speak at the Oxford Union than countless people whose opinions are decent and humane.
(I could have illustrated this post with a picture of David Irving, I choose not to. That is my freedom.)


Because I work from home, and like to wear fairly simple comfortable clothes while I write, my basic, everyday uniform in winter is jeans and a cashmere sweater. The best quality and best priced cashmere sweaters I have found are from Pure, who do a very wide range of styles from classics to dresses and in exceptionally good colours, because they dye the yarn, not the garment, so you get true, intense pigment.

They have a 25 per cent off special at the moment and the code for that, which you enter at checkout would be PFH204 (at least I hope that is not just for returning customers).

Hadley is coming

British readers will of course will know Hadley Freeman's eccentrically original Monday style column in the Guardian, Ask Hadley. Here she is today:

Women love shoes: we all know and - for the purposes of making a highly generalised argument in a relatively truncated space - accept that. Having realised that they were on to a highway to wealth here, designers have been making increasingly crazy shoes for some time, with prices going up accordingly. For example, I know a young woman - a charming, delightful, sparkling, witty and, frankly, brilliant young woman - who has been so brainwashed by this whole shoe mania that she has found herself in possession of three pairs of ankle boots with all manner of ridiculous buckles and chunky heels and different-coloured piping details, and when I say "three", I obviously mean "four" and when I say "young woman", I quite possibly mean "me".
Visiting my publisher's last week I was pressed back against the wall by an a black-suited figure sweeping along the corridors with her considerable entourage behind her: it was none other than Cherie Blair, for whose autobiography Little,Brown has just signed the usual six figure sum. Bringing up the rear was her agent, who managed to shout out as she passed, 'Linda! Can I send you a proof of Hadley's new book?'

So it was that I spent the weekend enjoying such gems as:
. . .one should never look for style guidance from a French woman: it would be liking hoping to pick up some mental arithmetic tips from Stephen Hawking. . .

I can't begin to tell how many pleasures are contained in the pages of The Meaning of Sunglasses: A Guide to Almost All Things Fashionable and the only way you're going to find out is to wait patiently until February when it comes out, though obviously ordering your copy on Amazon right now, to avoid disappointment. Though I notice that her book and my book come out on the same day so you'll want to order mine first. You can do that right now, just by clicking here

Thought for the day

To wash one's hair, make one's toilet, and put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one, these preparations still produce an inner pleasure. Sei Shonagon c. 966-c1013