Monday, 8 October 2012

"Distilling the frenzy"

Peter Hennessy has recently started writing in The Tablet. Though I have admired various contributions he's made on Radio 4 over the years, I don't find his column quite so must-go-to as (for example) Clifford Longley's.

Hennessy was much in evidence during our thronged literary festival's opening weekend. I liked his self-effacing touch as interviewer with John Cruddas and Tessa Jowell, which produced a worthwhile hour: less successful, however, was his earlier appearance, solo, to promote his latest book: its title as above (referencing Keynes). Never at any festival event have I heard such a litany of quotations by others, or, to put it another way, so many names dropped! If each quote deserves a footnote, then Hennessy has to be right when he confesses, "I'm a footnote person."

He jokingly threatens an autobiography entitled, I've never been one for gossip but... On this evidence, there would be plenty to fill the space after that "but..." - not much scope, though, for substantiating the opening statement. Concentrating on post-War history, he seems obsessed by rumour and the personalities who purvey it. Now that he is a member of the House of Lords - a place for "weapons-grade gossip" - "I have lunch," he boasts, "with my exhibits".

Hennessy sees the role of historians to be that of "natural stay-behinds." They need to look for the "malign combinations" - yet it seemed he sees nothing to which we should be alerted in our leaders of recent decades neglecting to husband resources or tackle long-term environmental threats: "climate change" rates just one brief mention in Distilling the frenzy, according to its index.

"I'm a media tart," he said: at least he's honest enough to admit it.

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