Michael Ignatieff listening to Isaiah Berlin tell a story about Ludwig Wittgenstein, from his 1995 interview broadcast on BBC in 1998. (YouTube)
Taking the Go Train home on Saturday 26 February 2005 (I had been at that afternoon’s panel discussion put on by the Canadian Art Foundation which I reviewed for BlogTo) I picked up that day’s National Post lying on the seat in front of me. I came across Peter C. Newman’s article on Michael Ignatieff regarding his keynote speech at the upcoming Liberal convention. The article suggested that Ignatieff’s long-term goal was to become the party’s leader and by extension a potential Prime Minister.
The following Thursday (3 March 2005) I saw Darren O’Donnell’s A Suicide-Site Guide to the City , and afterward went to a C Magazine launch on College St. That afternoon, four RCMP had been killed in Mayerthorpe Alberta. The day was already full of Canadian content, and so perhaps I was already primed to appreciate Ignatieff’s speech & vision for the country. I had a midnight snack with CPAC on and the speech mid-way through, I later shifted to the couch to finish watching it. Before retiring I put a tape in the VCR to let it run overnight, to catch the repeat.
With that in hand, I ripped the audio and made the transcription that I posted on Goodreads. Ignatieff had first come prominently to my attention in 2000 when he delivered that year’s Massey Lectures (I remember listening to one as I drove in the November rain) but even at that time I was already vaguely aware of him, having read the Globe & Mail review of his 1998 biography on Isaiah Berlin. Through the speech and the background I thought Prime Minister Ignatieff would be a good thing.
As I’ve written previously, part of this was the idea that ‘Canada deserves to have a Massey Lecturer as Prime Minister’. But that’s just my bias for intellectual public figures asserting itself. Privately, I share the reservations of many: that he’s an expat who left only to return when it suited his ambition. That he advocated for the Iraq war (writing in The New York Times using the ‘we’ implying he was an American citizen) and that he’s been an Imperial apologist through his ‘lesser evil‘ arguments. However, it would still be nice to have a Prime Minister who thinks out loud, rather than those who do not seem to think at all, yes?
So, at some point in early 2006, I went on the Ignatieff website and sent them a note, offering to volunteer toward his campaign. I got no response whatsoever, not even a email list auto-responder message. However, on 5 September 2006, while I was browsing in Ten Editions bookstore on Spadina, my cell phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. My hesitant hello was matched with a female voice asking me to be a delegate for Ignatieff in Montreal’s November convention. I was like, uh, ok. What does that mean?
I was told that it wouldn’t cost me a dime, and at that point they merely wanted to put my name on the ballot in my riding. The Liberals would be voting for delegates, and elected delegates would then go on to Montreal. There was some paperwork. I was like, ok, cool, whatever.
My walk to the train station that evening was filled with thoughts of destiny by way of the weirdness of out of the blue phone calls that can change your life. I had literally be called to join to Liberal party and have politics become part of my experience. I kind of wanted that happen. I had thought about joining the party the previous June in order to vote for Iggy. I’d decided against it, but now it was back as a request.
Because I had a September 13th deadline, I joined the party via the Liberal website on Monday 11 September. (What I has always seemed odd to me was that I never received any form of official documentation stating that I was a member of the Liberal party. I think my membership expired the following year, but I’m not sure). There were forms I was asked to fax. I told my contact that I could easily drop them off at the headquarters.
I did the paperwork and dropped off the forms on Wednesday the 13th at the Ignatieff campaign headquarters on Bloor St. While walking down the street I saw the poster for The Fountain against a building, put there for the film festival, and sparking my interest in seeing it when it was released later that November.
At the headquarters, the girl who I’d dealt with over the phone was pretty and polished and this further gave me thoughts that maybe my life was changing for the better – I’d start to meet really interesting people who are involved with politics rather than the cultural scene. The prospect of going to the convention seemed exciting; I’d have a chance to participate in a small moment of the country’s history, like being at the convention which elected Trudeau.
The delegate election was set for September 30th. I’d emailed my contact at the campaign headquarters asking if I needed to attend, because I had a scheduling conflict – this being that weekend’s Copy Camp at the Ryerson University Campus. I was told it wasn’t necessary.
Personal monetary issues where also on my mind. At the end of September I began what would turn out to be a year-long temp-assignment with TD Bank. With my email-list background, and with a list of Liberals in my riding provided by the campaign, I drafted a letter to them on a notepad during my first day at the bank, while waiting to get settled. I set up the email list on my server but never sent the message, realizing that it really wasn’t worth my time.
Also, I had gotten a phone call from another Ignatieff candidate in my riding who seemed a social-austic. We had a nice chat, and I told him why I was supporting Ignatieff, and when I asked him for his last name, he asked me why I wanted to know. Uh, I don’t know, because it’s polite? (This is what Ignatieff’s is attracting?!) In the end, Gerrard Kennedy’s delegates won, but I didn’t find this out for two weeks. (Professional communication, FTW).
On October 18th, I wrote a friend:
And did I mention before that I was running in the Ignatieff Liberal Leadership campaign as a delegate? The process was the Liberal party members elect delegates to go to Montreal for the convention – the election was Sept 30 and I only found out on Monday [October 16th] that I lost. I was hoping to get 0 votes but I don’t know the tally. I’m just glad I can sort of ignore the Liberal email stuff from now on. My taste of it was not impressive. I thought going to Montreal would be awesome, and was led to believe the whole thing could have been subsidized, but it turns out that wasn’t entirely true. Attending the convention alone cost $1000, and to ’subsidize it’ they suggested hosting a fundraising dinner, where you could get ‘family & friends’ to donate $500 to $25 and have Mr. Ignatieff talk to them afterward. Like any of my family & friends care! And I’d hate to hit them up that way. I got a good impression of how disorganized and unprofessional they were, which was at the same time, not a good impression.
Here it becomes easy to acknowledge the inherent corruption within the democratic process that party politics represents. It is very much a pay-to-play system than in the end cannot truly represent the citizens who do not want or cannot pay to be a part of it.
At some point between mid-October and late-November, I got another phone call from the campaign, asking if I’d still like to go to the convention. I returned the call in the lobby of my building at the TD Centre. Biopic: the scene consists of I pacing while framed by Mies Van Der Rohe’s windows with my Nokia at my right ear; my dialogue: ‘I cannot make the time nor can I afford it, so no, I am not interested in being a delegate in Montreal’. Sound of regret, (and I must say, the evident desperation that I was even being asked) on their end.
Skip now to the first days of December 2006: I watched the convention on CBC that weekend. I remember seeing Bob Rae look amazed when one of the drop-outs came over to his side. I remember seeing the two-channel shot of Ignatieff vs Dion while they awaited the final count, this shot also projected in the convention centre, and thus keeping both men pinned to their chairs while the count was being officiated; the voice-over commentary saying it was cruel. The cruelty being that Stephane Dion had won but they were awaiting the count to be formalized and the announcement prepared. It was known because it word-of-mouthed on the convention floor during the interim. I believe it was Susan Bonar who reported that Jean Chriten was seen checking his Blackberry and showing his wife, who mouthed ‘Stephane!?’
From my Journal, 2 December 2006:
5.17pm, awaiting the announcement of the fourth ballot results. The feeling seems to be that Stephane Dion has won the leadership, but we have to wait and see. I’ve had an underlying anxiety all day, I want Ignatieff to win, but at the same time recognize that he’s too much of a rookie. Dion as Liberal Leader? As a Prime Minister? I’m looking forward to this being over so that I can relax. In September I had such a sense of certainty that Ignatieff would become leader.
Back in September, after I dropped off my papers on Bloor St, I met with a friend and we had lunch. During our talk, I said to him, ‘Ignatieff is going to be the leader. I’ve seen it in my crystal ball’. My crystal ball was off by two years, but it’s evident to me that a hundred years of movies have embedded scripts into our thinking to such an extant that once you get the narrative going, it takes on a life of its own. Michael Ignatieff will be Prime Minister of Canada one day. That was decided in 2004, and the media was seeded with this idea by Peter C. Newman’s National Post piece, and an interview in April 2006 in MacLeans (also by Newman), and a profile in the Globe & Mail (which was reprinted last December).
Gerrard Kennedy and his supporters threw sand into the gears of the story when they backed Stephane Dion. Theirs was an attempt to say that democracy should work on merit and occasionally on surprise, not through elites and backroom deals. I, as a newly minted Liberal under dubious circumstances shrugged. Whatever. We have to live with it, not so bad.
6:32pm – Stephane Dion did win. They dragged out the process so that it was announced at about 6pm; Dion is giving his speech but I have the TV on mute and the left-ear bud in since I’m back to working on the transcription. I’m disappointed that the Liberals didn’t see the potential of Ignatieff but there’s nothing one can do.
Maybe it did turn out so bad. So be it, bygones being what they are. However, my crystal ball did not anticipate a Parliamentary insurrection due to the bastard-politicking of Mr. Harper. Stephane Dion, having “lost” (he did not lose, his party simply didn’t get as many members elected to Parliament as the Conservatives) the election, and bungled a coalition attempt, was forced out, and Ignatieff appointed in his place. Thus, my 2006 vision became a reality. Through a back room deal.
A lifetime of Star Trek (and this is written also in light of the release of the latest movie, which was supposed to be released last December) makes me want to speak of alternative time lines here. The Kennedy-Dion alliance in November 2006 seems to have altered history, postponing Ignatieff’s Prime Ministership by a number of years. And so, as part of this fucked-up time line, we have another election won by Conservatives (which wasn’t supposed to happen in 2008), the attempt at coalition (which is never supposed to happen because politics is so cut-throat to forgo cooperation), and the shut-down of Parliament ahead of schedule last December. That whole ‘crisis’ was a series of avoiding should-have-beens.
Which is to say: had Ignatieff become leader in 2006, I doubt Harper would have ‘won’ another election. But Harper did so in October 2008, and then played the scene wrong and brought down the wrath of Parliamentary procedure. Dion is disgraced, and Ignatieff (who should have been just another candidate this weekend, a replay of the Montreal game) is appointed by the party hierarchy. Dion was supposed to remain leader during this time. Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc were supposed to be candidates for the leadership. All this is swept aside. The scripts of a year ago are now trivia in light of the extensive rewrites.
And so, one evening last January while I walked down Yonge St, on my way to catch the streetcar after work, my phone rang with an unrecognized number. It was the Ignateiff campaign calling asking if I’d like to stand as a delegate in Vancouver. By this time I’d already ignored three messages left by them, calling to see if I would be interested (messages which had begun in late December). So, on this call, I told them no. When asked why, I said, because I can’t afford it, I can’t make the time, and it’s just going to be a coronation anyway, so I didn’t see the point.
(From My Blog)
All eyes on Ignatieff
Peter C. Newman
Saturday, February 26, 2005
Now that Paul Martin has recognized there exists a middle ground between shooting from the hip and rigor mortis, and has finally begun to act like a prime minister, the review of his leadership at next week’s Liberal convention is a predictable formality.
The real star at the gathering will be Michael Ignatieff, who has been asked to deliver the keynote address. Given the pivotal role he may eventually come to play within the party, the attention will be richly deserved.
The Toronto-born academic has taught at Cambridge University, l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris, as well as St. Anthony’s College at Oxford, and is currently a tenured professor at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He has written half a dozen defining books on ethnic nationalism and the moral imagination. But unlike most intellectuals, he has also ventured into fiction. His book Scar Tissue was nominated for the Booker Prize, while Charlie Johnson in the Flames has been compared to thrillers by Graham Greene and Len Deighton. His current projects include a book on Canada, which will follow the trail blazed by his great-grandfather George Munro Grant, the great principal of Queen’s University.
Ignatieff’s speech will be of interest not only because of the insights he is expected to offer on the prospects for a world in turmoil. Some senior party strategists have convinced themselves he might be persuaded to run for the leadership once Paul Martin decides to seek calmer pastures.
Significantly, it was Martin himself who recommended that Prof. Ignatieff address the convention on the theme of “Liberalism in the 21st Century.”
So far, switching careers is not part of Prof. Ignatieff’s life plan, but he doesn’t recoil in horror when the same idea is mentioned, as Pierre Trudeau did when the subject was first broached in 1967. Certainly, the aura of great things hangs about the man: A far-sighted TV crew is following his footsteps as he researches a new book, modelled on Alexis de Tocqueville’s epic journey across the United States 150 years ago.
If this still hypothetical but entirely plausible manoeuvre succeeds, it would be very much in keeping with the masterful strategy that has kept the Liberal party in power longer than any other democratic political movement in history. Unlike Conservatives, who seem to choose leaders by drawing straws, the Liberals take a more systematic approach. The eight candidates who have assumed command of the Governing Party since the 1919 leadership convention demonstrate a pattern: Liberal kingmakers often ignore the clamouring of ambitious Cabinet members and opt instead to pluck from obscurity an untried but inspiring outsider.
That’s political sorcery of the highest order. Instead of having to defend the corruption and patronage of the ancien regime, the freshly-minted leader can innocently declare: “Who me? What Sponsorship Scandal? This is moi, a new guy with new ideas.”
Thus does discontinuity rule.
The pattern began with Mackenzie King, the Party’s patron saint, still worshipped for turning Liberalism into Canada’s state religion. At the 1919 leadership convention, his main opponent was William Stevens Fielding, who had been a successful minister of finance in Wilfrid Laurier’s 1896 cabinet and was considered Laurier’s natural successor. Instead, delegates voted for King, then deputy minister of labour, who had briefly sat as a Liberal backbencher 10 years earlier, but left to become a consultant. A spooky bachelor who was so fastidious that he travelled with six spare shoe laces, he led the Liberals into office two years later, and kept them there for most of the next three (eternal) decades.
In 1948, when it came time for Mr. King to prepare his departure, Jimmy Gardiner and Chubby Power were the party regulars in line to grab the brass ring. Instead, Mr. King went outside his circle to recruit Louis St. Laurent, a Quebec City corporate lawyer, and manoeuvred the 1948 Liberal leadership convention to assure his victory. Ten years later, Paul Martin Sr., father of the current PM, was the obvious insiders’ choice. But the delegates selected Lester Bowles Pearson, a political neophyte who’d been a life-long public servant.
The transition that followed tested the outsider pattern with a vengeance. In 1968, when Mike Pearson felt ready to retire, nine candidates ran to succeed him, including Robert Winters, a handsome M.I.T. graduate who had served with distinction in the St. Laurent Cabinet before becoming one of Canada’s most powerful corporate bigwigs. Instead, the Liberals opted for Monsieur Trudeau, the ultimate party outsider, a man who only a few years earlier had been a member of the NDP, attacking the government for its nuclear-friendly defence policies. The convention delegates recognized in Trudeau the philosopher-king who could salvage their party, and he did.
Former Justice Minister John Turner was next up in 1984, having turned himself into an outsider a decade earlier, when he suddenly resigned from the Trudeau Cabinet to practise law in Toronto. Jean Chretien’s succession in 1990 similarly followed his resignation from the Commons in 1986 to follow Turner into the hedonistic hollows of Bay Street. Likewise, Paul Martin, Jr. became a nominal and temporary outsider when he was fired from his finance portfolio by Chretien. (In truth, though, he is the exception that proves the rule.)
Given his lack of expressed interest in the job — and the fact he has put down strong roots in the United States — Ignatieff has as great a claim to outsider status as any of these men. He follows closely in the Trudeau mould: a charming and distinguished academic who would endow the crumbling Liberal party with a sense of purpose and the excitement that comes with fresh ideas. Even those untutored Liberal apparatchiks who think charisma is a brand of French perfume will recognize his magnetism, and feel it when he evokes his vision of Canada’s Liberal future.
Ignatieff could be just the man for our time. Canada’s most serious dilemma is not the calamitous state of our health-care system, nor the dithering of our PM, or our growing irrelevance on the world stage. It is the belief among ordinary citizens that they can no longer change things through the political process.
Because democratic activism forms the core of Prof. Ignatieff’s writing and thinking, he might –once he has served his political apprenticeship — turn out to be the ideal successor to Mr. Martin.
During the decade-long Chretien-Martin feud, Canada’s public life became legalized mayhem. Michael Ignatieff’s divine mission, should he choose to accept it, will be to restore the civility, trust and vitality that give birth to creative politics. Next week’s convention will be his proving ground. (National Post 2005)
The speech Ignatieff gave is transcribed in Goodreads Special Content. – Timothy
We were together, she and I, in my bedchamber, she but newly arrived in a sort of hunting costume with feathered hat, than who should enter by H, whom I have but heard of these many weeks and hardly seen for any length of time since my few minutes of slobbering gratitude over the £1000. She drinks him in, I see that, this striding-about-the-chamber lord with his ringflashing hands beating time to his loudly elegant eloquence of t hat and this and what Lady Such-and-such said and what His Grace observeth of the evil times and the approach of HM’s grand climacteric. He is full of French – bon and quelquechose and jenesaisquoi – so that she listens to him in wonder. He then, as she were a Bart Fair show like a pig-headed child, praises her strangeness, her colour, her littleness. Oh bring her over, he says, we must exhibit her, my friends will be much taken. And all the time she quaffs him and, when he is gone, will not do what she is rightly come to do (or have done) but talks of his clothes and his deadgold swordhilt and his quicksilver words, Mercurio. He is gone now for his plump prostitute boy, I roughly tell her. Oh, dat believe I not, she answers, he is much a gentleman for de ladies; dat see I bwery clear.
(Anthony Burgess, Nothing Like The Sun, p.153)
Sir Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesy is out at last as a printed book. Well, we have done better than Gorboduc in the years since he penned it. He would have right tragedies and right comedies and delightful teaching &c. Yet if we are to hold a mirror to nature (I thank thee, nasty Chapman, for that phrase) we must see all in one. Thus, gibbering in my nakedness and approaching her with my cock-crowing yard, I see I am a clown, I see I am also a great king that will possess a golden kingdom. Tragedy is a goat and comedy a village Priapus and dying is the word that links both. Cut your great king’s head off and thrust him in the earth that new life may spring.
(Anthony Burgess, Nothing Like The Sun, p.152-153)
(Image from Time.com)
Portrait of Shakespeare Unveiled, 399 Years Late | Robert Mackey
Is This What Shakespeare Looked Like? | Richard Lacayo
Is this a Shakespeare I see before me? | Independent.ie
A new view: is this the real Shakespeare? | Mark Brown
Why is this the definitive image of Shakespeare? | BBC
Newly Identified Portrait Of William Shakespeare Is Unveiled
LONDON – MARCH 09: A painting of William Shakespeare which is believed to be the only authentic image of Shakespeare made during his life is unveiled by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust on March 9, 2009 in London, England. The recently discovered painting, which is believed to date from around 1610, depicts Shakespeare in his mid-forties. The portrait is due to go on display at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 23, 2009.
A reminder: “Shakespeare was a respected poet and playwright in his own day, but his reputation did not rise to its present heights until the nineteenth century. The Romantics, in particular, acclaimed Shakespeare’s genius, and the Victorians hero-worshipped Shakespeare with a reverence that George Bernard Shaw called ‘bardolatry’.” [from Wikipedia]
Mr. Da Vinci
Da Vinci’s Self-Portrait, Discovered two Years Before Piero Angela’s Television Show
‘Early Leonardo portrait’ found | BBC
[there’s an embedded video on this page but the audio doesn’t work for me]
Da Vinci’s Self-Portrait, Discovered two Years Before Piero Angela’s Television Show
“MILAN, March 5 /CNW/ – During the television program Ulysses, aired in Italy on Saturday, the 28th of February, the well-known scientific divulgator Piero Angela stated that a secret drawing, a youthful self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, had just been discovered. Actually, the Leonardo3 (http://www.leonardo3.net) research center in Milan, Italy, had published its own edition of the Codex of Flight (book & interactive software) in the October of 2007: this work included the digital restoration of page 10, revealing the underlying portrait. The same center had also created a 3D reconstruction of the image.”
A reminder: ” The 19th century brought a particular admiration for Leonardo’s genius, causing Henry Fuseli to write in 1801: “Such was the dawn of modern art, when Leonardo da Vinci broke forth with a splendour that distanced former excellence: made up of all the elements that constitute the essence of genius …” This is echoed by A. E. Rio who wrote in 1861: “He towered above all other artists through the strength and the nobility of his talents.” By the 19th century, the scope of Leonardo’s notebooks was known, as well as his paintings. Hippolyte Taine wrote in 1866: “There may not be in the world an example of another genius so universal, so incapable of fulfilment, so full of yearning for the infinite, so naturally refined, so far ahead of his own century and the following centuries.”” [from Wikipedia]
I hear news from Court that H plays no longer about amoung the Queen’s flowers, that he, in his great man’s new-found maturity, himself now tweaks the pink peach-cheeks of a lovely boy. Ah, how love, in all herhis manifold guises, doth take hold on us and squeeze us of our pride and lustihead. I am besotted with her, would eat her like a butter lamb. I tell her of my near friend’s pederastia, thinking it may make her mirth, but she says men go only so an they lack a powerful woman to keep them to the proper way God ordained. She tells me Tales of the Wise Parrot, which she writes down in her language Hikayat Bayan Budiman, wherein serpents bite the toes of great princesses and are left as dead till some magical prince cometh to kiss them alive again. And then she asks a piece of gold for telling of the stories.
(Anthony Burgess, Nothing Like The Sun, p.152)
Lying on, in, under her, I pore with squinnying eyes on a mole on that browngold rivercolour riverripple skin with its smell of sun, or else a tiny unsqueezed comedo by the flat and splaying nose. Her breath was sour today, too many squares of powdered marchpane. She did not want but, chewing the honey almond stuff still, all careless of my madness, she careless let me do. That I hate, then I would strike her down to grovel like a bitch on her belly. She poutsays I must take her to fine places, go to feast as others do. But I am jealous; not even to the Theatre am I willing that she come, though masked and curtained from men’s viewing. I question the wisdom of her coming now to my lodgings, though mobled up in her coach, her coach to return for her in two hours. Shall we set up house together, this lodging being small? She will keep her own house, she says, she would be free. I have not talked of my wife and children, nor she ever of marriage.
(Anthony Burgess, Nothing Like The Sun, p.151-152)