Life as an English professor is exhausting, says Frances Wilson in The Oldie. Students are consumed by wokeness. The students of one of my academic friends demanded a “trigger warning” on WB Yeats’s poem Leda and the Swan because it contains a rape scene. It’s true that Zeus, in the form of a swan, rapes Leda. She then gives birth to the woman behind the Trojan war, Helen – “whose face will launch a thousand ships”. It’s a chilling piece of violence, but it’s also “the birth of the classical era”. After all, the Trojan war inspired The Iliad and The Odyssey. A trigger warning belittles this. It “is tantamount to the death of western literature”.
My own students are no better. Several turn their noses up at novels in which the writer describes the lives of people other than themselves. They’re committing “cultural appropriation”, apparently. But isn’t the whole purpose of fiction imagining the lives of others? “What they call cultural appropriation, I call imagination. What they demand from a novel, I expect from an autobiography.” Soon there will be no fiction left, especially since publishers now hire “sensitivity readers” to vet books for the slightest woke misstep. “In the interests of my mental health, I hope these books come with a trigger warning.”
Boring? Belgium is brilliantly bizarre
From the outside Belgium is a “grey country”, famous for frites and bureaucrats, says Charlemagne in The Economist. Karl Marx dismissed it as “the snug, well-hedged, little paradise of the landlord”. But it’s full of chaos. Trains have been delayed because of a fire at a waffle factory and the blueprints for Brussels’s tunnel system were eaten by mice. In May a 46-year-old army sharpshooter went rogue with stolen machineguns and rocket launchers, pledging to kill the country’s top virologist. When groups supporting the defector sprang up on social media, Marc Van Ranst, the virologist in question, joined one. “I thought I’d come… to see what creativity bubbles up here,” he wrote. This exemplifies “Belgian zen” – the ability to take comfort in absurd situations.
Disorder also dominates daily life, with bollards in the middle of bike paths and a urinal on the side of a Brussels church. The country has so many parliaments that “ultimately no one is in charge”. But this makes it remarkably durable: it has happily survived without a national government for up to two years at a time. The French- and Dutch-speaking communities barely overlap – the country could break up tomorrow without a hitch. Belgians are better off than Britons or the French, with excellent healthcare and cheap property. “It is the world’s most successful failed state.”