Friday, 9 January 2009

Enoch Powell

Talking of quos deus vult perdere... reminded me of Enoch Powell who used it in his Rivers of Blood speech. He is mostly remembered now as a ‘racist’ because of the inflammatory language in that speech. He predicted that it would fizz up like a rocket but stay up. It has stayed up as his epitaph and that is a great pity.
He remembered the inter-communal violence that troubled, and still troubles, India from his colonial service in the army. My father also remembered it from his own service there before the war – and made him deeply troubled about my conversion to Islam. What Powell was anxious about was to avoid importing the troubles of India into the UK.
I have been looking him up. He was an extraordinary man and he should be better remembered. I suspect that his linguistic ability might have stemmed from his Welsh background and possible bilingualism in that language.
I am convinced that fluency in multiple languages is almost necessary for intellectual development and is something we desperately need if humanity is to be rescued from stupidity. I would actually suggest that the classics are important – Latin and Ancient Greek – because they are now primarily literary languages and the texts were philosophical argument and oratory.
I was also interested to hear a discussion with the priest who was responsible for translating stuff into Latin for a succession of popes. He said that the point of Latin is that you have to make things simple. Bullshit (he didn't use that word) simply doesn't work in Latin.
There are two huge regrets in my life of which I am deeply ashamed: that I never learned to play the piano and that I never seriously learned a language. Now the clock is ticking ever faster and I have so much to do that I will not have serious time for language and music study. I am too lazy and too easily distracted. It is a burden of inferiority I have carried for a long time. It hurts.
I remember seeing Enoch Powell on the underground once. He stood out because he was wearing a three piece suit and a bowler hat which no one wears nowadays. He looked deeply unhappy – he radiated depression. I thought that he was the most unhappy man I had ever seen. Sometime later I heard an interview with him on Desert Island Discs. Sue Lawley asked him what his biggest regret was. He said not being killed in the war.