I have just heard Eric Hobsbawm, amongst the first of the speakers at this year’s festival, talking at length about the issues raised in his new book, Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism: a polemic against the powerful democracies of the world and the barbarisation of our times. In this controversial discussion with Christopher Cook, the Marxist historian urged us to slow down our lives and stop seeking short-term solutions to long-term problems, warning that there are “no shortcuts in history”. Howbsbawm’s fierce critique of Western democracy, surveillence (which, despite its constant intrusion, provides the state with very little information about the actual lives of its inhabitants) and globalisation went deep into the internal contradictions of nations, which have both international and national interests that meet in a peculiar conflict of interests.
Despite the strong-minded political stance of this examination of twenty-first century living and the dangers of inflicting Western values on other nations, Hobsbawn punctuated his speech with amusing comments, saying as he came on stage, “It’s good to see that Cheltenham Literature Festival is more punctual than British Rail”, and provided an interesting insight into why writers come to literary festivals. He says it’s not really do to with book sales but to do with coming eye-to-eye with your reader in an attempt to “cross the void” from the truly closed act of writing to the open communication of reading. An honest comment, and no doubt true in sentiment, but the cynic in me can’t help but think of the huge book tent that is fixed to the back of Cheltenham’s Town Hall.
Posted by Jen Tomkins