A somewhat atypical Kalgoorlie story

Kalgoorlie people may not be aware any more of the following story. There was once a nun in the Boulder Convent by the name of Sr. Ita. She had apparently studied piano in Germany and had returned to Australia to become a nun. Owing to a serious heart condition , she was only able to teach two piano students. Their names were: Eileen
Joyce and Olive Ruane.

Eileen Joyce went on to have an international career as a concert pianist and Olive Ruane set up a piano teaching studio in the centre of the town of Kalgoorlie. I was fortunate enough to have had her as a teacher and it was there I learnt a method which she called “shadowing” and which originated from Sr Ita. I have to say that I have used this method
all my performing life and wouldn’t have been able to survive without it.

Recently , I received a phone call at 5pm on a Friday evening asking me to give a concert between 9 and 10pm that same night. I had to return to the city and grabbed some music for this purpose. Admittedly I also did two improvisations but the rest was real organ literature. This was what is known here as “the long night of the Church”. The church
was full and the level of interest was enormous . A lot of young people came up as the concert was finishing and showed a great deal of fascination for the organ as an instrument. It was a very positive experience for me as an organist.

But I have to say that it was by virtue of having practiced these pieces using the “shadowing” technique over the course of the years that enabled me to give a concert at such short notice. And I have to thank Sr Ita from the Boulder Convent for that!

I now teach this method to my students at the Conservatorium in Teplice, Czech Republic, the only difference being that I have adapted it to the organ, which is of course now my main instrument.

I went to Vienna after finishing my studies at UWA and studied the organ there, to become the chief organist at St. Peter’s Church for 9 years. But when looking back , it was Miss Ruane who really stands out as perhaps my star teacher! And now the students in this country are also benefiting from her teaching as well as that from Sr Ita of the Boulder Convent, if only indirectly!

Hollywood Aesthetics and Socialist Realism

I would like to begin my paper by posing a rhetorical question. If, unaware of anything, you had just routinely flicked on your television on the afternoon of 11 September 2001, how many of you would have automatically assumed to have unwittingly tuned into a Hollywood movie? The answer is, unfortunately, that this would probably have been the case for most. In other words, there must be some conditioning of expectation in existence not dissimilar to that we experience when aurally exposed to a piece of music, the stylistic era of which we are then able to identify even if not the actual composition or composer. I would argue, by virtue of striking similarities in reactions I have heard from diverse parts of the world, that it must indeed render plausible the pursuit to attempt to pinpoint such an otherwise elusive phenomenon as Hollywood aesthetics. In fact the description above was the one which emanated from the 93-year-old Alistair Cooke in his weekly radio broadcast Letter from America immediately following the disaster.

The term Hollywood can be used in different ways. Sometimes it is used to refer to the entertainment industry as a whole, ultimately including virtual reality video games and at other times only to refer to the film industry or those films produced in Hollywood studios. Almost certainly all of contemporary entertainment possibilities can be regarded as stepchildren of Hollywood. In this paper both meanings will be implied, but that referring to the film industry will predominate. Whether or not the use of the term “aesthetics” is also appropriate in juxtaposition to Hollywood could raise some problematic issues. The use of the word aesthetics presupposes an art form and film hasn’t always been regarded as such by the leading theorists. Andre Bazin, an influential film theorist of the 1930s categorized film as pure mimesis of reality. The Russian film makers of the 1920s such as Eisenstein and Vertov argued that by the use of montage, the editing and altering of the time sequence, it was no longer purely a replica of reality and had to be regarded as art. This view has prevailed and at the beginning of the 21st century it is fair to say that it was not only unique to the past century, but also could quite plausibly contend for the position of the leading art form of that period.

The next question which arises is the effect of film on the spectator. André Malraux, in Le premier art mondial (1959), the very title of which alludes to the elevated role of film in the past century, refers to film as a dream factory, whose primary characteristic is the ability to elicit tears or laughter on a universal scale. However, he also warned of its inherent danger in facilitating regression and loss of humanity. Michelle Henning has updated this idea to assume relevance for the present technological era with the following powerful statement:

“It has often been claimed that the new digital imaging technologies will precipitate radical changes in perception, in consciousness, and ultimately in society. Not only will we never see the world in the same way again, it will never be the same again. Commentary on digital technology appears dominated by utopian and dystopian prophecy.” 1

We must almost all have experienced at some stage of our life the sensation of identification with a character in a film, together with the subsequent vicarious experience of whatever he or she happens to encounter. This may have been either in impressionable youth or, even more likely, in early childhood, where fantasy is not easily distinguished from reality, and cannot necessarily be considered negative so long as the return to reality is assured. We simply relinquish our own person temporarily in favour of another, but we are spared the necessity of experiencing bodily pain, suffering or even the joy our temporarily assumed identity would be experiencing under the conditions dictated by the film. In some instances, we become more than we really are, even superhuman. The degree of intensity can be quite considerable. The effect has not gone unnoticed by political leaders, or even artists, who have employed it in different periods of history in the dissemination of ideology. Even modern marketing utilizes this principle, by paying actors to drive a Mercedes-Benz, for example. The technological medium is new, but the principle of its utility in the hands of the chosen few goes back to the Ancient Greeks and has basically oscillated ever since between art which has to teach or art for art’s sake.

For the purposes of this discussion, a short glance at the history of Hollywood will be divided into three eras. The first of these will be from its infancy in the late nineteenth century until the 1920s, the second from the 1930s until the 1950s, and the third from the 1960s to the end of the twentieth century. Only the last two of these periods are relevant to this discussion. Michael Medved, an American film critic, argues that from the 1930s to the fifties, Hollywood films reflected the values of what is commonly referred to as “Middle America”. 2 Fredric Jameson calls this the pre-political era of Hollywood. 3 What is meant by Middle America? I would argue that it is that to which Marxist thinkers refer as the bourgeoisie. During these years, films basically dealt with wholesome themes; happy outcomes were almost always demanded, and the unspoiled, fresh and somewhat naive, but very courageous, American was the stereotype of hero people expected for the price of their tickets. Bourgeois values were reaffirmed in the form of a type of varnished reality. During the Depression, Hollywood was one of the few industries which never experienced hard times, as people were only too willing to spend money for temporary distraction from their economic woes.

As part of the war effort during the Second World War, the government recognized as well as utilized the potential of the film industry as a propaganda tool, as did both Hitler and Stalin. Although the 1950s was the time of the so-called McCarthy witch hunts, films still reflected Middle American values, which were enshrined in a set of self-imposed guidelines by which Hollywood had always abided, regarding the level of foul language, violence and sex acceptable in their films. These could almost be referred to as the Apollinian elements, or Kant’s discipline of good taste, that was tacitly demanded by Middle America.

Exactly when this changed is difficult to say. Some see the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 as the point at which America was rattled out of its naivety. Others point to the coming of age of the post-war generation of “baby-boomers”, who had been over—indulged by their Depression-era parents, determined that they were not to suffer the deprivations they had had to. These were raised in an anti-authoritarian mode, with psychological counselling replacing parental guidance. In fact many different factors probably contributed, but this Woodstock generation started rebelling, in anti-Vietnam war protests and in drug-taking among other things. 4 Hollywood eliminated self-imposed rules of conduct, and with this came the gradual infiltration of Dionysian abandonment. In all fairness to Hollywood, the ever—increasing competition from television was forcing it to find increasingly effective forms of titillation in order to entice people into the cinemas. Thus Middle America changed its lifestyle, in which the cinema had formed an integral part, by slowly but surely parting company with Hollywood. I would argue that it was from this point onwards that the aesthetics of Hollywood films started to move towards those of Socialist Realism, particularly in one respect.

Kirill Razlogov in his introduction to the 23rd Moscow Film Festival, with the theme “Socialist Realism Yesterday and Today”, made the following statement:

“Socialist Realism is being referred to as the forerunner if not the first phenomenon of the post-modernism, the father if not the grandfather of social cinema, that experiences a true renaissance at the turn of the millennium. The very different but truly notable films of recent years — Steven Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich and Lars Von Treir’s Dancing in the Dark — are without a doubt the children of Socialist Realism.” 5

A very good definition of what is meant by the postmodern influence of Socialist Realism can be found in the following citations. The first of these comes from the Czech film director, Milos Forman, in a CNN interview relating to his experience behind the Iron Curtain, in which he stated: “You know, the censorship itself — that’s not the worst evil. The worst evil and that’s the product of censorship — is the self-censorship, because that twists minds. That destroys my character, because I have to think something else and say something else. I have to always control myself. I stop being honest. I become a hypocrite. And that’s what they wanted. They wanted everybody to feel guilty.” 6

William Harkins, in the Encyclopaedia of Aesthetics, says the following:

“ln linking literary (and artistic) quality to a political base, Socialist Realism may be viewed as one (though not of course the only) source for the present widespread notion of the ‘politically correct’.” 7

Both statements are essentially saying the same, but are referring to different political systems. In the West, a similar form of being made to feel guilty at an individual level has crept into almost everything, but particularly into the humanities and creative art forms, with films an all too obvious venue of its manifestation.

At the collective level, other phenomena are discernible, primarily in the academic disciplines in the form of theories, the end effect of which is similar to that of a Socialist Realist litmus test. One may contend that theories are reactive rather than prescriptive and are therefore irrelevant, but those responsible for such theories have a not to be underestimated influence at a very impressionable age on those for whose education they are responsible, who in turn may go on to become film directors, script-writers and authors. Some light can be shed on this aspect by a closer look at the fluctuating nature of the understanding of the term aesthetics since it was originally coined by Alexander Baumgarten at the end of the eighteenth century. Baumgarten saw it as the sensory perception of beauty. For Kant it was “disinterested interest”, with no necessity to teach. The Empiricists regarded it as being part of the world, not as an autonomous entity, but this amounted to a materialist aesthetics, with an added obligation to teach. The Romantic reaction to the scientific revolution was to reinstate a metaphysical aspect with some elements of social criticism added.

A most poignant and compelling assessment of the path of philosophy and therefore of aesthetics in the nineteenth century in general can be found in Oswald Spengler’s much maligned Decline of the West:

“Strict metaphysics had exhausted its possibilities […] With a certain degree of accuracy one refers from now on to the b r a i n instead of the s o u 1 [emphasis mine] […] The intensity of observation with which the Stoics regarded their own bodies was now devoted by Western thinkers to the body of society […] Once philosophy came to mean the same as ethics, […] it formed the basis of world thought.” 8

Hence aesthetics, freed from the shackles of metaphysics and epistemology, became a free agent to be wielded as a measuring stick, not for the abstract nature of the beauty of an object (as with Baumgarten), but rather to assess quality by pure subjectivity, or, as in Socialist Realism, by the degree of correlation of the object to a particular ideology.

With this in mind l would like to look at some of the theories which have dominated the past thirty years. In the 1970s the most important theory was that of semiotics, adapted from linguistics. Basically this amounted to a structuralist materialism based on linguistics, which becomes part of signs and language. Indeed critical semiology has even been described as “the understanding of film as demystifying those signs that maintained capitalist economic relations.” 9

The most influential of these theorists for film theory were Julia Kristeva and the film semiologist, Christian Metz. The aim was to endow humanities with a quasi-scientific veneer. The 1980s saw some collapsing of further disciplinary boundaries by the introduction of some psychoanalytical aspects to the humanities. Leading the charge here was Jacques Lacan, a psychoanalyst, with his “apparatus theory”. The concern for the film theorist was the changing nature of the spectator, the position of which swung from that of a conscious observer, well aware of his status as a spectator, and that of one completely absorbed in the action. Later Feminism appeared on the scene, also with Kristeva a strong advocate. Adorno and the Frankfurt school never had much impact on the American scene, except in the general Marxist sense of being critical of the capitalist system. His thought is probably too rooted in a subject and object dichotomy unpalatable for Americans, and is also very difficult to read. Following these trends came theories of deconstructionism and postmodernism, which are basically modifications of semiotics and structuralism to provide a measuring stick for information extractable from the work of art. These have governed virtually all theory relating to humanities for the past thirty years.

Recently a challenge to the reign of these theorists was delivered and it remains to be seen as to how much (or if any at all) wind has been taken out of their sails. Two resourceful scientists, Alar1 Sokal and Jean Bricmont, wrote an article intended as a hoax for the American cultural studies journal Social Text. The title of the article alone suggests the nature of the experiment: Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity. It was actually a parody of postmodernist, semiotic poststructuralism, using nonsensical highfaluting terminology derived from physics and mathematics along with, to the dismay of the authors, genuine quotations from intellectuals, including the above-mentioned Kristeva and Jacques Lacan both of whom use such terminology prolifically.

To their surprise it was accepted for publication, not only in the normal but in a special issue devoted to the rebuttal of criticisms of such theories. Later they explained the background to their hoax, understandably causing consternation in various quarters, in a book in which they demonstrated with the aid of physics and mathematics how erroneous the usage of such terminology had been and in most cases they were even able to show a complete lack of understanding of the scientific principles involved on the part of the users. 10

By way of practical demonstration I would now like to talk about some concrete examples of films from the time period just discussed. The first film is one from the year 1970, an adaptation of Eric Segal’s Love Story. It is the story of a young law student at Harvard, from a rich family, who falls in love with a poor Italian-American girl, a student at Radcliffe. The wealthy father is portrayed as being of a horrible disposition in contrast to the girl from the poorer family. The film was made at a time when restraint was still perceivable, but there was a clear sociopolitical message if one were to look for it. By the 1980s, by contrast, most of the old restraints had been removed and Dionysian elements of abandonment were beginning to reign supreme, although this is not to suggest that all films of this time are to be described in this way. One very interesting Hollywood film Of the 80s was Peter Weir’s Dead Poets’ Society. It is the story of an exclusive boys’ private church school, in the old English tradition but situated in the USA. Here there were no elements of abandonment of traditional behaviour as such, but the well-to-do were unsympathetic characters, and the hero of the film, an English teacher, had all the virtues to which one should aspire. This is not to suggest that the scenario is impossible — the story was indeed very plausible, but would still pass the sociopolitical measuring stick test if that were applied. Peter Weir’s films all have a political message, even his most famous film, Gallipoli, with Mel Gibson, but they are wonderful films in which classical music always plays a prominent role.

With the advent of the eighties, the demonization of traditional values by Hollywood had become firmly entrenched. This aspect does not correspond to the Socialist Realist films of Soviet Russia, but, as has already been pointed out, Hollywood films of the 1930s did not follow this pattern either. By the 1990s Hollywood was showing huge losses, and was kept afloat only by a few blockbusters and success in foreign countries. In spite of this they kept turning out more of the same which led the film critic Michael Medved to reach the conclusion that the whole of Hollywood was agenda-driven.

However another possible explanation may be found in the fact that without the constraints of what the Middle American bourgeoisie regarded as good taste, as Roger Scruton has put it, no doubt very controversially, aesthetics became an essentially democratic and thus culture-less mass aesthetics. 11

In the mid-nineties Hollywood spent 200 million dollars on a re-filming of Titanic. For this film the yardsticks can again be applied without difficulty. The well-to-do, travelling first class, are featured as cold, calculating people, in direct contrast to those in steerage. The arch-villain has an upper-class English accent and the mores have more relevance to the 90s than to 1911. Fortunately for Hollywood they made money with this film.

In 1996 there was released an obscure film which cost only three million dollars to make, lacked any substantial advertising campaign, but had an enormous success on the American market. It was Shine, the true story of a Western Australian pianist, David Helfgott, pushed by an over-ambitious father until he suffered a nervous breakdown while studying the piano in England. He returned to Australia a broken man, but was taken in by church people and rehabilitated sufficiently to be able to appear in a nightclub in Perth and perform classical music there. This alone provided an exotic departure from the usual setting in a concert hall for such performances. His disability became his forte and local fame was assured. Ultimately the idea was conceived to make a film about him, but no money could be raised. In approaching Hollywood studios for money, one studio agreed to provide the necessary finances on condition that Tom Cruise play the main role. This was unacceptable to the director Scott Hicks as he had already envisaged the actor he deemed ideal for the part — Geoffrey Rush, an unknown Australian actor. Eventually Time Warner produced the money, and the film project was realized. But an advertising onslaught in the style of Hollywood was not conceivable on a shoestring budget, so the film had to be taken from film festival to film festival, slowly but surely making its mark. Finally it reached the American cinemas, and word-of-mouth recommendation brought alienated Middle America flocking back into the cinemas, some having not seen the inside of a cinema for as long as twenty years. The Classical music soundtrack of this film held the top position on the American pop charts for ten consecutive weeks. The film played to packed cinemas of all age groups for weeks on end. Not one of the measuring sticks discussed above can be applied to this film. Even though there were scenes in the film of meetings of the Communist Party of Australia of which his father had been a member, it was neutrally presented. There were no sex scenes, no foul language and no bloodthirsty violence. Likewise there was no arch-villain with an upperclass English accent, and no portrayal of the well-to-do as evil bourgeoisie: none of the Socialist Realist topoi are discernible. It could be argued that this film harks back to a pre-political era as characterized by both Jameson and Michael Medved. A film such as this would however have been deplored by Theodor Adorno not only because he would have considered it to be “Amiisierbetrieb” (amusement industry) but because the music as performed on film cannot be rated at the concert level. Apart from the questionable performance capability of David Helfgott himself, it represents only snippets of compositions, thereby eliminating the possibility of the comprehension of any formal development. In fact some of the works are even depicted as arrangements, an example being Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, arranged by David Hirschfelder.

This is anathema to the traditional veneration of the written score as the unequivocal intention of the composer to be followed at all costs. Arrangements are more relevant to jazz or the Baroque era than to classical music in this day and age. But it raises several significant issues. is it possible that the technological age has blurred the boundaries we conventionally recognize, and that this has made possible the blending of high culture with popular culture in a new genre? Is the concert as we know it no longer relevant in the computer age? Also is it not better for the youth, whose definition of reality has been shaped in part by Hollywood that they come into contact with Classical music in this form rather than not at all?

I submit that this low budget Australian film which ended up as a blockbuster with seven Oscar nominations, defied Hollywood and succeeded.

Having said that I would now venture to add that absolutely nothing, no David and Goliath film, no deconstructionist deconstructionism, could have defied Hollywood more comprehensively than the cataclysmic events of 11 September 2001 in New York, and that in all of the previously discussed ways. Following the events, one BBC announcer in reference to a statement President Bush had made wanting to have Bin Laden, dead or alive said:

“That sounds like something out of a Hollywood film, but since 11 September, reality seems to be imitating Hollywood more and more.”

To just mention some of the reactions which have been coming from the entertainment industry as a whole and Hollywood in particular: actors have begun soul searching, cinemas are reporting even larger losses than usual and an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, due for release, in which he is seen climbing the Twin Towers, was withdrawn from circulation. The film director Robert Altman was blamed directly for having trained the perpetrators for their deed. 12 As yet it is difficult to predict what lasting effects the events will have, but when fantasy world becomes reality, reality has to reinvent itself.

This could signal the end of the sophistic era in which we find ourselves and thus the demise of Socialist Realist elements in Hollywood films. A new philosophical dawn may be imminent for all art forms, including music. Wynton Marsalis, the jazz trumpeter, once observed in a radio interview that the reason that Bach and Mozart were so great was that they were praising God with their music. In non-Habermasian terms, this means none other than the strict separation of the signifier and the signified.


AMERIKS, KARL, “New Views on Kant’s Judgement of Taste”, in PARRET, Kant’s Aesthetics, pp. 431-47.

BORDWELL, DAVID, “Film Theory”, in KELLY, ed., vol. 2, pp. 198-201. ed., Handbvuclh der Muéikdsthetik (Leipzig: Deutscher Verlag fiir Musik, 1979).

CARLETON, GREG, “Genre in Socialist Realism”, Slavic Review, 53/4 (Winter 1994), pp. 9921009. CARROLL, NOEL, Philosophical Problems of Classical Film Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).

CAVELL, STANLEY, “Aus: Die Welt betrachtet’.’, in LUDWIG NAGL, ed., Stanley Cavell: Nach der Philosophie, Essays (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2001), p. 84.

DESMOND, WILLIAM, “Kant and the Terror of Genius: Between Enlightenment and Romanticism,” in PARRET, Kant’sAesthetics, pp. 594-614.

ELSNER, J URGEN ORDZHONIKIDZE, GIVI, eds., Sozialistische Musikkultur: Traditionen, Probleme, Perspektiven (Berlin: Verlag Neue Musik — Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Muzika, 1977). HARKINS, WILLIAM, “Russian Aesthetics, Socialist Realism”, in KELLY, ed., vol. 4, pp. 202-7. HELFGOTT, GILLIAN, Love You to Bits and Pieces: Life with David Helfgott (Ringwood, Australia — New York: Penguin, 1997).

JAMESON, FREDRIC, “Verdinglichung und Utopie in der Massenkultur”, in NAGL, ed., Filmdsthetik, pp. 103-39.

KELLY, MICHAEL, ed., Encyclopaedia ofAesthetics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 4 vols. LARSON, NEIL, “Marxism and Materialism”, in KELLY, ed., vol. 3, pp. 188-91.

LEBEL, JEAN-PATRiCK, Cinéma et idéologie (Paris: Editions Sociales, 1971).

L.1sTER, MARTIN, ed., T he Photographic Image in Digital Culture (London: Routledge, 1995). NAGL, LUDWIG, ed.,Film(1’sthetik (Vienna: R. Oldenbourg — Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1999). PARRET, HERMAN, ed., Kants Asthetik / Kant’s Aesthetics (Berlin — New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1998).

PRINCE, STEPHEN, “Film and Ideology”, in KELLY, ed., vol. 2, pp. 204-6.

RECKI, BIRGIT, “Am Anfang ist das Licht”, in NAGL, ed., Filmiisthetik, p. 35.

SAINT-ANDRE, PETER, “Artist Shrugged”, in Monadrzock Review [an e-journal that is not likely to survive long on the Web] for February 1999, and at httpz//www.saint-andre.com/thoughts/shruggedhtml.

SARDI, JAN, Shine: Screenplay (New York: Grove Press, 1997).

SCRUTON, ROGER, T he Aesthetics of Music (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999).

SOKAL, ALAN BRICMONT, JEAN, Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’Abuse Of Science (New York: Picador USA, 1998). SPENGLER, OSWALD, Der Untergang des Abendlandes: Umrisse einer Morphologie der Weltgeschichte (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1923; 8th edition, Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1986, and later reprintings).

SUMMERS, ANNE, “Solace of a Last Goodbye with your Life on the Line,” in The Sydney Moming Herald, 17 September 2001.

Socialist Realism and Music [colloquia Musicologica Brunensia, 36 (2001)], Praha: KLP, 2004, pp. 97-100


  1. Quoted from MARTIN LISTER, ed., The Photographic Image in Digital Culture (London: Routledge, 1995), p. 219, in GEOFF BROADWAY, Digital RealistM0ntage (M.Phil. Diss., University of Derby, 1997, also for the time being at http://www.intentional.co.uk/glass/thesis/), pt. 3.1.
  2. MICHAEL MEDVED, Hollywood versus America: Popular Culiure and thelwar on Traditional Values (New York: Harper & Collins, 1992).
  3. FREDRIC JAMESON, “Verdinglichung und Utopie in der Massenkultur”, in LUDWIG NAGL, ed., Filméisthetik (Vienna: R. Oldenbourg Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1999), p. 121.
  4. Woodstock was the venue of a famous rock festival in the USA in 1969.
  5. KIRILL RAZLOGOV, 23rd Moscow International Film Festival, formerly at www.miff.ru/en/program/socialist_realism.html.
  6. Quoted from “Cold War”, CNN, 17 January 1999, with some modifications, by PETER SAINT ANDRE in “Artist Shrugged”, pp. 1-2.
  7. WILLIAM HARKINS, “Russian Aesthetics, Socialist Realism”, in MICHAEL KELLY, ed., Erzcyclopaedia of Aesthetics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), vol. 4, pp. 202-7.
  8. Der Untergang des AbendlandesfUmrisse einer Morphologie der Weltgeschichte (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1923), quoted here from the Deutscher Taschenbuch edition (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1986), p. 471 (my translation).
  9. DAVID BORDWELL, “Film Theory”, in MICHAEL KELLY, ed., Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, vol. 2, p. 198.
  10. ALAN SOKAL JEAN BRICMONT, Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern 1ntellectuals’Abuse of Science (New York: Picador USA, 1998).
  11. ROGER SCRUTON, The Aesthetics of Music (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), p. 497.
  12. ROBERT ALTMAN, “Hollywood Inspired US Attacks”, in BBC News, 17 October 2001.

Is China Executing a Cunning Sun Tzu Strategy to Destroy the Dollar and Cause an Upward Price Explosion in Gold?

Could China be coveting the role of the next economic superpower, thereby supplanting the USA? If so, is China planning to do this by design or is it simply awaiting this result by default as a result of the total collapse of the American economic system?

Whether we like it or not, China has already become the 800 lb Gorilla in the dining room, economically speaking. We ignore this fact at our peril. Thus it may be advisable to reorientate our thinking from that of the rationalist, pragmatic thought processes which arose out of the Enlightenment and complement our thinking with something more akin to that of the Chinese.

In order to accomplish this, it is constructive to take a closer look at the ancient Chinese philosopher Master Sun. In an earlier article, based on a book by Harro von Senger on this theme1, I have attempted to do this in the context of the Special Drawing Rights2, as advocated by the Chinese earlier this year. However, I will now examine this idea in the context of the the Chinese possession of US Bonds, a subject not only of relevance to these two countries, but also for the stability of the entire international economic system.

At a superficial level, it may appear to the onlooker that China has been sucked into a giant mainvestment by purchasing these bonds, but a closer look at Master Sun’s stratagems may reveal a well conceived and even cunning plan.

At the outset, according to the US Treasury website, China stopped purchasing US bonds in May, 20093. With that, our attention must turn toward the possibility of a massive sale of these bonds on the part of the Chinese and the consequences this would have for the international economic system. This scenario is not new; it was the subject of a very interesting book published at the beginning of the 1990’s by James Dale Davidson and Lord Rees Mogg4. At that time it was Japan who held the most US bonds and the principle, as expounded by these two thinkers, still applies today.

Could this ever happen? To the Western thinker, the massive sale of US Bonds would amount to the self infliction of wounds on the part of the Chinese and thus would be deemed inconceivable. But perhaps Master Sun can provide a different perspective into this matter.

Master Sun Tzu was born in 544 BC and died in 495BC (whereby it must be pointed out that there is no proof that this was a real person at all). His most famous work was The Art of War, which laid out 36 stratagems, originally conceived for application in war, but which have since penetrated other fields as well, particularly that of the business sphere. Even in the West, business conjures up overtones of a battle field. The question now becomes which stratagems could be applicable to this case and here it becomes relevant to divide the discussion into two broad categories; acts of commission and acts of omission.

First of all, those which can be described as acts of commission.

In this case, at least four stratagems could be applicable:

Stratagem Nr. 15

To entice the tiger down from the mountain

Here the humiliation of the debtor, the USA, towards the creditor, China, forces the economic superpower to descend from its throne to a level playing field with the so called lesser power.

Stratagem Nr. 19

To withdraw the wood from under the boiling pot

Ceasing to purchase US bonds, must eventually have an impact on the debt driven economic growth of the borrower.

Stratagem Nr. 28

To entice onto the roof and then pull away the ladder

The easy sale of US bonds to the naive purchaser must automatically lull the debtor into complacency until the ladder (bond sales) is then removed.

Stratagem Nr. 30

The reversal of roles in which the guest becomes the host.

This stratagem must be considered to be the most important for the purposes of this article whereby the once economic superpower, is forced to assume a role of subservience to the newly emerging power of the creditor, China.

What about default on the part of the USA? How can the 36 stratagems be applicable in this situation?

Stratagem Nr. 4

Awaiting at one’s ease the exhausted enemy

If Amerca defaults the answer should be self explanatory. But the question arises, how do we account for the self affliction of damage onto the creditor? A look at the recent ascent of the gold price may offer a possible explanation.

From an article written on the 23rd September, 20095, we learn that China has been purchasing gold and has raised its level to nearly 1050 tons from a meagre 400 in previous times. It is reasonable to assume that this trend will continue unabated and it might be of interest to take a short look at the the history of paper money in China6.

The Chinese were the first to use paper money , between the years 1050 to 1450 , during the S’ung, Yuan (Mongol) and Ming dynasties. The first use of paper money resulted in abuses but the most successful period was that during the early Yuan dynasty. These currencies were redeemable in some form, and were therefore not fiat money as we have experienced since President Nixon cut the last tie to gold redeemability in 1971.

In the opinion of this author, present day China may well be heading in the direction of pegging its currency in some form to something else and that that something else, is very likely to be gold.

Assuming this to be feasible , then these purchases by China must slowly but surely raise the price of gold to such an extent that it would offset some of the losses in US bonds. Not only would it give China the only trustworthy currency in the world, but it would simultaneously and conveniently constitute the knock-out blow to the USA as the economic superpower. In other words, stratagem 4, the awaiting at ease of the exhausted enemy, may offer an explanation for an otherwise seemingly sensless act of ommission on the part of the Chinese.

In conclusion, when approached from the perspective adapted from Master Sun’s 36 stratagems, it is indeed highly likely that China is aiming to supplant the USA as the next economic superpower and may very well succeed in doing so in due course.


1 Senger, Harro von “the 36 Stratagems for Business“, Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Business, 2006
2 Brinsden Elizabeth. “China/USA Special Drawing Rights and Master Sun’s 36 stratagems“, April 3rd, 2009
4 James Dale Davidson and William Rees Mogg “The Great Reckoning” Touchstone, 1994
6 Ramsden, Dave. “A very short history of Chinese paper Money“, June 17th 2004


A WASP’s* defence of the Irish Catholic

When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood”

These compelling words come from the author Frank McCourt describing his own childhood which was the subject of his best selling novel Angel’s Ashes.

Let it be said from the outset that this article doesn’t intend to trivialize the havoc wreaked on families by the Irish propensity towards the abuse of alcohol throughout the ages, or to sanitize the enormity of such a harrowing childhood in any way, but rather just hopes to point to another possible way of interpreting the phenomenon Irish Catholic per se.

Throughout the novel some of the trappings of the prevailing Zeitgeist of the Anglo-Saxon world, whether intended or otherwise by the author, inevitably surface, in particular the Catholic-bashing with which one is constantly confronted. This author would merely like to throw a different perspective on the matter.

I would argue that it is this very Irish Catholic background which not only Frank McCourt but countless other such people exhibit that endows them with their refreshing individuality, coupled with the talent to express this so well, which results in the creativity that others find so fascinating.

It is possible to extend this line of thought with the prediction that the same blandness of being which afflicts the rest of the technologically advanced and thereby affluent world will eventually affect Ireland as a result of the inevitable outcome of a definition of reality forged vicariously through the prism of virtual reality and/or media outlets in general. In an interview, and also in the book itself, Mr McCourt says with tacit approbation that the 1930’s opened a window in Ireland to the influences of Hollywood. The metaphor of the window is indeed an appropriate one, the implication being that the cultural structure of the remainder of the building was at this time still standing and by definition this implies – the Catholic Church. Since that time however, this very cultural edifice has been increasingly under relentless erosion permeating the Irish culture by way of osmosis originating from that dominating the technologically innovating country – the USA. Thus all aspects surrounding the identity of the Irish Catholic must ultimately succumb to the pressures of uniformity.

My own particular slant on this arises from having grown up in central Western Australia in the gold mining town of Kalgoorlie as a result of which I am only too aware of how much we are indebted to this very group – that of the Irish Catholic.

Although I had the good fortune of having been able to study music under some fine teachers in both Vienna and Paris, by far the most outstanding one I ever had was an Irish Catholic from the godforsaken town of Boulder. Her name was Olive Ruane and she lived in a run-down, makeshift house which at some stage had served as a local store . At the other end of this same street was St. Joseph’s Convent where she herself had received her music training from a mysterious nun who had purportedly studied in Germany and been a concert pianist before ending up in Boulder – one could well ask how such a person ends up in a place like that.

What seems to have been a characteristic feature of the Irish Catholics is that they would venture into these extremely inhospitable areas located in the middle of nowhere – a charitable description of these towns in the first half of the 20th century – bringing with them their considerable accomplishments and then set out to impart their knowledge to the otherwise geographically disadvantaged youth of the areas.

Perhaps a more poignant case in point could be that of Ray Hartley who grew up in the West australian farming town equivalent of the godforsaken Boulder by the name of Kellerberrin and who subsequently went on to have a remarkable career as a jazz pianist in New York. WASP as he also is, Ray would be the first to acknowledge his indebtedness to the primarily ethnic Irish nuns of a local convent where he received most of his education; at this institution he had the good fortune to have also had an extraordinary music teacher.

Lest these be perfunctorily dismissed as anecdotal evidence, the phenomenon has been the subject of some extensive historical research, for example by Norma King in her book “ The Daughters of Midas”.

Such stories could be repeated in the rest of Australia, the USA and Canada..

Ireland is now riding on the crest of a wave of success the like of which hasn’t been experienced since the Middle Ages. Irish culture has gained international recognition and the economy has been soaring ahead for some time now. Frank McCourt can look to these developments with pleasure but deep down he must be aware of how much he owes to his Irish heritage and thus to his being in the position to describe himself as “ blessed among men”.

Many of us non-Irish would do well to join ranks and deliver a resounding three cheers for the Irish Catholic.



* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant







Western Civilization and the Titanic

Some thirty years ago a commentator used the analogy of the course of Western Civilization hitting an iceberg, suffering thereby the same fate as the Titanic at the beginning of the 20th century. In other words, in its immense pride and folly, believing itself to be impervious to any danger from without, it pursues a reckless course. Life determined by reason alone is “unsinkable”, an inheritance from the Enlightenment era taken to an extreme. The last survivor of the Titanic died just a few days ago. She survived the sinking of the Titanic because her father, sensing that something was wrong, went on deck to investigate the situation. Thanks to his accurate assessment of the danger at hand, the lives of this lady, who was only two months old at the time, and her mother were saved. It is reasonable to assume that there was an inclination on the part of the father not to trust the overconfidence of the crew and fellow passengers.

So just when did the collision of Western Civilization with the iceberg take place? This is not as easy as easy to answer as it is to ask but I will point to 1968 as possibly one of the most pertinent and defining moments. It was the point in time at which the over-indulged baby boomers were coming of age. That this youth was so pampered arose partly from the fact that their parents had witnessed the depression and wanted their children not to suffer any such deprivations. It seems in retrospect that they may have gone to the other extreme.

It is quite natural that young people revolt against something and in this case, propelled unconsciously or otherwise by the Frankfurter School of thought, at that time very much the dominant Zeitgeist, found themselves revolting against the so called traditional values of all the generations which had preceded them. That is, they revolted against Western Civilization per se. Many of us recall only too well the slogan of the era “Fee fi fo, Western Civ has to go”, a slogan which could be heard accompanying demonstrations on the streets etc, thus enabling an era of moral relativity to be ushered in. Faint protests from disenfranchised traditionalists were brushed off summarily and abandoned to their drowning fate accompanied mostly by ridicule in addition.

Now that we have an international economic crisis, it may well be relevant to look at history in this respect. Moral decline has always been followed by economic decline. In this case, moral relativity has crept into the financial markets, thus rendering their demise inevitable. Capitalism doesn’t function without very strict adherence to a code of ethics which is based on those much derided traditional values.

But there is a certain irony which may arise from the possibility of the sinking of the ship of Western Civilization. It is perhaps not impossible to compare the actions of that very astute father on the Titanic, with those members of Western Civilization who have indeed noticed that the ship may have struck an iceberg and have acted accordingly to at least salvage something by so doing. As the father of the last, recently deceased passenger on the Titanic nearly one hundred years ago, they have become aware of the collision and have tried to take appropriate counter steps. One such step could be the abandonment of fiat paper money in favor of tangible assets and finances in the form of gold and silver or other such measures.

The ultimate irony may well be though that those who were completely submerged in the mores of the sixties and so proud of the ability of man’s reason alone to control his political and economic destiny could well be doomed to go under with the sinking ship and those who were ridiculed may just have a chance of survival (be it financial, physical or psychological)

Finally, the last irony of all may well be that were any of the thinkers of the Frankfurter School able to see how Western Civilization has become engulfed in a deluge of decadence, hubris, pride and a tsunami of DEBT and thus probably on its way under. Although they were all ardent Marxists, one wonders whether they, well known lovers of Western Culture in general and music in particular (Theodor Adorno), would also not feel a tinge of sadness, chiming in thereby with many of us who do not otherwise share their Weltanschauung.

Elizabeth Brinsden