Continuum

It is easy, too easy, to feel familiar with Clint Eastwood. However fully we realise that he is just another actor playing a role, part of us wants to believe that he speaks to colleagues in terse catchphrases and squints at friends and family with profound contempt. Almost invariably, his tough-guy image sets the terms for assessments of his work as a director – whether he’s seen as the Last Classicist or merely as a hardened old pro who gets the job done. To be sure, in conversation with journalists Eastwood has often been willing to play up to his laconic reputation. My favourite example came when he was asked how he approached the adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County: ‘I took all the drivel out.’

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Literary critics used to adopt a persona claiming disinterested separation from the text being analysed. Critical theory, in particular post-colonial and gender studies, eroded this stance, showing that criticism is always self-interested, concealing or inadvertently revealing tacit assumptions stemming from the critic’s biography, class, gender, and political persuasions. As a result, it is common nowadays for critics to be more self-aware about their own value systems. In some ways, this returns us to a Romantic understanding of interpretation reflected in Hazlitt’s ‘It is we who are Hamlet’, Coleridge’s ‘I have a smack of Hamlet myself, if I may say so’, and Keats’s ‘axioms in philosophy are not axioms until they are proved on the pulses ... you will know exactly my meaning when I say, that now I shall relish Hamlet more than I ever have done’.

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Christopher Booker is appalled that humanity has thrown its glimmering record of progress on the pagan bonfire of environmentalist superstition. He is shocked that the scientific community is helplessly in thrall to a cabal of corrupt hacks masquerading under theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s confected rubric. He is dumbfounded that ‘natural’ climatic fluctuations have been spun into some deranged ‘global warming’ conspiracy theory.

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In October 2010 Hugh Brady, president of University College Dublin, sent colleagues around the world a copy of The Idea of a University(1854)by Cardinal John Henry Newman. As Newman approached beatification, President Brady recalled that UCD is the successor institution to the Catholic University of Ireland, which welcomed Newman as its first rector in 1851. Not many university leaders can aspire to sainthood, but establishing a new university and writing a classic text about the purpose of higher learning were only brief episodes in the long life of the most famous church intellectual of the nineteenth century.

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One of the most disconcerting aspects of the 2010 election campaign was the intrusion of former prime ministers and aspirants to that post. Liberals had tired of Malcolm Fraser’s interventions long before he decided not to renew his membership of the party. Labor supporters did not welcome another round of bickering between Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. The interventions of Mark Latham were hardly edifying.

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