Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday, 3 September 2010

Blood and sand in Aldeburgh

Events in Suffolk took a somewhat bizarre turn last week when Seamus Heaney was uncomfortably caught by his metaphors in a literary tussle; retired teacher and anti-bullfighting activist Paul Hurt travelled 414 miles in order to protest at an appearance by the poet.

Hurt had seized on references to bullfighting in Heaney's work as proof that the Irish poet is a supporter of the practice, going so far as to label him 'Hemingway Heaney' on the internet. A personal appearance was obviously too good a chance to miss:

'He printed off a number of leaflets and headed off on Wednesday in the pouring rain to make his point at the sell out event the following day. After a rough night's sleeping in the back of the van in a farmer's field he arrived at the hall and set up his one man protest.

He spent two hours outside handing out leaflets and even managed to persuade two guests to tear up their tickets. The organisers tried to persuade him his protest was a folly and the police intervened at one point but he carried on regardless. The organisers even offered him a free ticket but he refused on the ground it would compromise his position.

Eventually he packed up and went home.'

Mr Hurt is, by all accounts, a busy man. As well as pestering poets, he's a member of Compassion in World Farming and an anti-fur protester. The retired science teacher is obviously a dedicated man prepared to make considerable personal sacrifices for the principles he holds.

What he is not, however, is a literary expert. The concept of metaphor, or of extended imagery, seems to have passed him by, suggesting a certain lack of imagination - or sense of humour. This is, of course, borne out by his refusal to accept a ticket for the reading; Mr Hurt's mind is made up, so why would he want to find out more?

It's a useful illustration of the mindset of a certain type of activist; despite denials all round, Hurt maintains that Heaney must support bullfighting since he wrote about it. All literary niceties are wasted here; as Orwell put it, 'Four legs good. Two legs bad', and that's an end to it.

I leave it to my readers to decide whether the brilliant Tom Lehrer is a supporter of bullfighting.

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