I went to see a talk on H.G Wells the other day. It was a book launch of some description, and the event was a sort of presentation spotlit between a well-meaning but entirely charismaless chap whose name escapes me, Michael Foot, and China Miéville - both of whom were fantastically entertaining, especially the latter, who took obvious pleasure in getting to say the immortal line "...and so, with this story about killer squid, H.G. Wells predicted the First World War". For those of you who don't know: Michael Foot is a thousand years old, was given the gift of eternal life by Karl Marx himself at the Beginning of Time, and has "British Socialist" printed all the way through him, a bit like a stick of rock. If that stick of rock had met Gorbachev (of which more later) and led the Labour Party, that is. China Miéville has written several existential-surrealist novels of affecting and tragic beauty (which he has cunningly disguised as a fantasy trilogy with giant whales and anthropomorphic cacti), a treatise on international law, and stood in the last general election as a far-left candidate somewhere in London. (He's also a frighteningly sharp literary analyst and a brilliant raconteur. And no doubt a gourmet chef too). And these peopel were talking about H.G Wells, a man who (re?)invented the science-fiction novel, hung about with Bertrand Russell, met Lenin, met and argued furiously with Stalin, and also wrote respectable novels for the upper middle classes to enjoy over tea.
The point being: these people are giants.
One thing that really struck me at the Wells presentation was the moment where Foot casually mentioned having met Gorbachev, and having forced a particular Wells political novel on him.
The point being: these "giants" have a spectacular, polymathic effect on the world - the impression you get is that they must never stop, but instead toil throughout the night, one hand scratching away at a smoking manuscript, the other holding a phone connected to at least one world leader.
The point being: Bertrand Russell.
Not only did this bloke make a really good stab at solving the major ontological and epistemological problems of his time, he also had the sheer batshit insanity to attempt to reduce mathematics to pure logic. (Which admittedly failed, but I suspect that's because it's impossible rather than because Russell wasn't smart enough.) Furthermore, he was imprisoned twice by the government, first as a conscientious objector to the First World War, and later for protesting against nuclear weapons in the '50s. At the age of 87.
The point being: we're poorer these days. Or so it seems, anyway; in the glorious past we had Russell, Ayer, Wells and the like, pushing the borders of just about everything while doing their damnedest to intimidate a corrupt and reactionary hierarchy into eventual submission with pure determination.
These days, we have Michael Moore.
This, of course, is unfair. The examples of Miéville and Foot alone clearly illustrate that all is not lost - we still have our giants. However, they seem to be fewer and further between.
This should not be the case.
I do not for one moment believe that the World and the Arts can't be changed, nor that there's a necessary distinction between the two. I don't believe that Art, or indeed Anything, can be separated from Sex or Politics or Religion, and I think that is a good and vital thing. I believe that if every time you were about to sit down in front of the television, you went out and made, or saw, or did, or wrote something instead, the world would be a better place, and maybe we could all be giants.
Enough of this. I go to put my money where my mouth is.