The CLR takes its lit. crit. seriously. Too seriously? Perhaps. But that puts it in good company, and, as the man once said:
An interpreter has to have a certain civilian courage. Also in society, you have to sometimes step forward and say that ‘this is what I feel, maybe you agree with me, you don’t agree with me’.
This is both our task and the critic’s. So in issue 2 we printed Justin Katko’s meticulous tirade fired by Keston Sutherland’s ‘Song of the Wanking Iraqi’. To be sure, that title and the poem itself make us profoundly uncomfortable, but, as Katko says in his conclusion:
It is the desire for the most intensely anti-imperialist culture to be maintained with vigilance that requires ‘Song of the Wanking Iraqi’ to be widely known. The poem is a mourning song for the civilians who were tortured, raped, and killed at Abu Ghraib, and it is a protest against that more formidable atrocity, the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.
In line with this we speculated in CLR2’s editorial that criticism like Katko’s might offer a corrective to the government’s demented academic land-grab, to the perversity of its business-speak “impact” proposals.
Sometimes, however, that looks like desperate or perhaps even counterproductive optimism. Such negativity was recently occasioned when—in the process of hunting out business-speak—we stumbled into the extraordinary world of the Public Private Initiative. To be precise, we hit upon the website of Serco, who provide, amongst other things, the facilities and staff at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. We know. Bear with us…
While Serco’s name has not exactly become household, Yarl’s Wood is shorthand for the cruel and violent excesses of the government’s largely privatized immigration and deportation “services”. Briefly, Yarl’s Wood’s inmates—exclusively women, children and families who are not charged with any crime, merely being held until decisions are made about their case—were alleged to have received substandard (private) healthcare, and suffered racial and physical abuse. This is the upshot of a 2009 HMIP report which can be read here.
Now, Serco’s website is a fascinating place. First, it’s hard to work out what they actually do. “Our work ranges from the management of programmes and entire services to the outsourcing of operations and even the creation of entirely new businesses.” To be accurate, it’s hard to work out what they don’t [won't] do. Self-promotion seems important to them. And of course, the language is all business-speak, all interconnected knowledge processes, process-orientated innovation partners.
But, returning and warming to our theme, Serco also has an “institute” (i.e. it offers “thought leadership in the development of sustainable public service markets”. Really.) And here, at last, Mandelson’s roving mitts can find gainful employment. The purpose of criticism? How can such lofty questions be posed at all when at least one valid answer, brought to you by the Third Way, is:
Gary Sturgess, ‘Shakespeare on Military Contracting: Lessons from History About Private Contracting‘, Journal of International Peace Operations (March, 2010).
“He may be a figure of fun, but Falstaff reminds us that incentives matter.”