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July 30, 2004



'Demogorgon' is not a Shelley neologism. See, for example

Spenser Faerie Queen.IV.22: "O thou (Night) most auncient Grandmother of all... Which wast begot in Daemogorgon's hall."

Milton P.L.Paradise Lost.II.965, 966: "And by them stood Orcus and Ades, and the dreaded name of Demogorgon."

Surely Foot knew this?


You seem to spend a great deal of time reading - and writing long, detailed reviews of - 'tracts' you regard as 'worthless'. Perhaps you need to rethink your criteria for selecting reading material, so as to avoid having to trawl through such unenjoyable stuff and then feeling duty bound to inform the reading public in rigorous detail how and why they should avoid repeating your pleasureless experience.

David Duff

At least Oliver finishes those 'worthless tracts', unlike the rest of us who would toss them in the bin after two chapters, or throw them at the dog, or even volunteer to paint the mother-in-law's kitchen rather than grind our way through such turgid crap. Thus, he is able to educate us all with admirable brevity at second-hand, and I for one am deeply grateful. In fact, I feel his dedication to duty should be brought to the attention of Her Majesty!

(WAKE UP, e.a, your Communist Manifesto just fell in the bath!)

James M

The "gorgon" reference carries more weight than you give credit: "The Gorgon" newspaper was established by John Wade, a London woolsorter, with financial assistance from Jeremy Bentham. It was specifically set up to push a strongly "rationalist", utilitarian line in a working class movement still heavily imbibed with irrationalist practices: secret rites, cowls and mummeries of all sorts. It soon attracted contributors like Francis Place and other Westminster reformers. (See Iorwerth Prothero, "Artisans and Politics", 1979: p.173-174) The Gorgon, then, was engaged in presenting sophisticated liberal philosophy as devised by "great men" to a resolutely "unsophisticated" audience; it mirrored the tensions evident in Shelley's own positions on reform and democracy.

It also true enough, as Paul claimed, that gorgons, Medusas, "Philanthropic Hercules" and others occur frequently in radical politics at the time, as part of what seems to have been a well-understood cultural matrix: see Cole and Filson, "British Working Class Movements: select documents 1789-1875" for numerous examples.

Joe Geoghegan

e.a., do you think Oliver is in the business of reviewing summer novels for the casual reader? He's not subjecting himself to sloppy thinking for the "pleasure" of it. His self-appointed task (if I may presume to have sussed it out) is to disassemble and expose the shoddy and potentially harmful political philosophy of some of our more prized intellectuals, as well as that of high-profile fringe characters, in hopes that the democratic argument will not be waylaid by proposals that a meticulous analysis and faithful memory can show to be wanting. He's not warning his readers away from unrewarding written works; rather, he's engaging those works seriously and critically, and pointing out the shortcomings of the ideas contained therein. I trust you now see the difference.

Phil Jackson

"Shelley depicts the masses as having exactly the opposite effect on the reforming zeal of the poets, 'the unacknowledged legislators of mankind'. As he wrote to the novelist Thomas Love Peacock in August 1819, political reform should be driven by those in the higher orders…"

The Telegraph gave Foot a pretty good send off, portraying him as a likable eccentric who remained socially most at home with his original peers. And WF Deedes said: ‘He might have been a socialist revolutionary, but I never met a man with whom I so disagreed politically and found it easier to get on with’.

The upper class socialist is an interesting type. I’ve recently read ‘The Lost Literature of Socialism’ by George Watson, who makes a case that socialism’s origin is to be found in a conservative reaction to capitalism. I am not quite convinced (being myself a Thatcherite conservative - with anarchist roots), but if we view the gentry traditions of the Right in isolation, then it’s feasible to see some strong parallels with socialism. Both types:

- believe in the authority principle that governs through hierarchy; one through traditional class structures, the other via the mechanisms of state planning and central control;

- abhor what they perceive to be the chaos of the market;

- hold in contempt the middle class ideals of self-help and individualism, preferring a kind of dependent collectivism as the ideal of true community (so long, of course, as it is under their guiding spirit);

- profess to be champions of the weak against the strong and thus make the moral case for their own ascendancy.

Despite the last above, neither type sees fit to transfer power, responsibility or political leverage into the hands of the underdog, though, to be fair, we must assume that at least some Marxists truly believe that their state will one day wither away.

The relative ease with which some upper class people take to socialism is well illustrated by the pre WW1 Bolsheviks: although the gentry made up only 1.7 % of the Russian Empire’s population, no less than 22% of the Bolsheviks had been born into this elevated class (Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution). As Watson comments: ‘socialism naturally attracted the patrician mind’.

So, politically speaking, Foot may not have been so out of kilter with his origins after all, but: ‘the essential condition’, said Al Ghazali, ‘in the holder of a traditional faith is that he should not know he is a traditionalist’.


James -

Point taken. I think you're right that Shelley may well be cleverly investing an old symbol with more contemporary significance. I do think, though, that Demogorgon is an interestingly 'overdetermined' signifier. A couple of articles you might find useful:





re: 'I trust you now see the difference.' I saw it before auld fella, I was just being a tad facetious. And thank you for explicating Mr Kamm's 'self-appointed task' [tres bon mot] in prose that the meister himself would have been proud of - almost uncannily so.

Joe Geoghegan

e.a., I'm certain your comparison is as irritating to Oliver as it is pleasing to me; I can practically hear him muttering about my uninspired vocabulary choices. Believe me, I don't write that way on Yahoo message boards. Anyway, sorry for missing the joke. Thanks for responding to my error graciously.

Ben Ramm

'The Liberal' - a periodical devoted to poetry, politics and culture.
'The Liberal' was originally formed by Lord Byron and Leigh Hunt in 1822 to challenge the consensus of conservative publications with a selection of original poetry, prose fiction and reviews. In the short time the periodical was alive (four issues), contributors included Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, William Hazlitt, Horace Smith and Thomas Jefferson Hogg, as well as Byron and Hunt themselves.

The re-founded 'Liberal' will continue to publish poetry and short prose fiction, but will also act as an organ for the political, social and cultural debates within modern liberalism.

For info. about how to contribute, subscribe or to find out more, please visit www.theliberal.co.uk.


Only this blog could be spammed by a little magazine called "The Liberal". Where's the usual US penis enlargers, pirated Microsoft XP, incest pics, promises by Third World crooks to share $50m, etc?


'Characteristically, Foot can't believe there is a genuine issue of literary criticism here. He says of the critic F.R. Leavis:

'His objection to Shelley was not, as he pretended, purely literary. It was political. And because his criticism refuses, in the name of literary objectivity, to engage Shelley in the real argument which Leavis had with him, it is criticism by subterfuge.'

This is a nice illustration of what makes Red Shelley such a bad book'

It is no such thing. Anyone who believes that F.R. Leavis's criticism was apolitical is just being plain ignorant. See Francis Mulhern's book 'The Moment of Scrutiny' among numerous others. If ever there was a critic with an agenda, quite explicitely so as it happens, it was F.R. Leavis.

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