Exploring ‘Austerity Nostalgia’

Seven years or so since it first appeared it seems ‘that bloody sign’ is still with us. Some time around 2009, soon after the banking crisis, a stark poster featuring the words ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ set in a Gill Sans-ish typeface, topped by the Royal crest, began to appear here and there.

The poster’s revival, which was first published in 1939 by the Ministry of Information to stiffen resolve in the event of a Nazi invasion, was intended as a gentle visual gag, a semi-ironic invocation of the wartime ‘Blitz Spirit’ in response to troubled economic times. But as the severity of the recession became clear, the joke spread, everywhere. A year or so later the ‘Keep Calm’ design and related wartime iconography was a gift shop staple, adorning mugs, stationery, tea towels – the list is exhaustive – and had helped kick-start a full blown revival of the early modernist aesthetic of the 1930s and 40s.

Owen Hatherley’s The Ministry of Nostalgia is a witty, exasperated and ferociously well-read exploration of the ‘Austerity Nostalgia’ phenomenon and its politicisation, with parties of both the left and right drawing upon competing mythologies of wartime Britain to support their respective positions towards today’s austerity.

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The Romantic poets in Rome

Every so often you visit a place with high expectations, and those expectations are exceeded. So it was for me when I visited the Protestant Cemetery in Rome a couple of days ago.

The cemetery is a relatively small plot adjacent to the ancient Pyramid of Cestius, an Egyptian-style tomb built in 30BC that is now incorporated into a corner of the Aurelian Walls that border the site. It is best known perhaps as the location of the graves of the English poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, though many other artists and writers are buried there, including the political theorist Antonio Gramsci, the Russian painter Alexander Ivanov, Goethe’s son, and several friends of the novelist Henry James.

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Mount Herzl and Yad Vashem

I was able to visit Mount Herzl in Jerusalem a couple of days ago. The Mount’s best known feature is the Holocaust History Museum, usually referred to as Yad Vashem, but that is just a part of an extensive complex of museums, memorials and parks.

The Mount is named after Theodore Herzl, the principal pioneer of the Zionist movement. Herzl’s tomb is placed on a large plaza at the summit, which was being visited by groups of soldiers when I was there. The plaza is surrounded by a network of cemeteries and memorials to other prominent Zionists and Israeli Prime Ministers and Presidents. A series of winding paths lead to the Yad Vashem complex.

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On the Mount of Beatitudes

I finally took a trip to the Mount of Beatitudes on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee a couple of days ago, on a quite beautiful February afternoon.

It isn’t known where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, or indeed even if he did so: the passages that constitute the long address presented in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke may have been delivered on different occasions and retrospectively combined by the Gospel writers as a narrative device to gather together a set of related teachings.

I don’t know. But I don’t see any reason to doubt that Jesus may well have preached here. The Mount is a hill close to Capernaum – where he spent much of his Galilean ministry – that forms a natural ampitheatre. The tradition that Jesus addressed crowds here goes back at least 1700 years, when a Byzantine church was built on the summit.

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