"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Friday, 11 March 2011

A Time for Outrage: Stéphane Hessel

The surprise best-seller in France last year was a pamphlet from the Montpellier-based Indigène éditions, who specialise in giving a voice to third world and other "natives" closer to home, those who challenge the consensus, or as their slogan has it: "Ceux qui marchent contre le vent."  This little publishing house suddenly found itself with a success on its hands that sold over 600,000 copies in the run-up to Christmas where people seemed to be giving it to each other as a stocking filler.  The author, Stéphane Hessel, 93, a survivor of Buchenwald, a member of the French Resistance, and one of the drafters of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and an international diplomat, issued this passionate call to arms (I would translate it as: Get Angry!) particularly addressed to the young, to resist once more the negative political forces of our time.  He is the polar opposite of crass right wing media stars like Niall Fergusson and he seems to have struck a chord in France.

Now he is published in Britain as A Time for Outrage and it will be very interesting to see how he fares in a politically comatose country where even the Governor of the Bank of England is baffled at our failure to be more angry at what the bankers have done to us.   Already there have been sneers against Hessel to the effect that it is all words and no programme.  But this is to miss the point.  He is not a policy wonk, he is a man who is enraged, and wants us to be enraged.  He is trying to inspire.  He is invoking a spirit of resistance, of nay-saying, of dissent.  This doesn't play well in Britain where, slumped in front of our computer screens, we have got out of the habit of fighting back – though it's good news that a majority of people, according to a recent poll, are already bored to death with the idea of the fatuous Royal Wedding.

A personal footnote: I used a quotation from Indignez-vous! as the epigraph to my new verse broadside against the coalition government, Get Real!  

Get both!

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