This week we are publishing a selection of articles by AUP Creative Writing students who attended literary events in the city.  The second piece is by James Farrell who went to the ‘Philosophers in the Library: Launch of Salvage’ event at Shakespeare and Company on the 8th of October.

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Salvage by James Farrell

Follow the creaking, coiled staircase at the back of the bookstore up to the second floor. There, under low ceilings between walls of books, find an open chair. Listen to the held silence of the people packed in: floorboards creak, chairs squeak, someone coughs, there is a whispered exchange in a corner. The room is hot from all the bodies. Outside the rain has slowed to a drizzle and the early October day is coming to an end. The reading is about to begin.

The five people behind the microphone do not look like philosophers, though the evening’s event is part of a series dubbed Philosophers In The Library. There are no pipes being puffed or venerable white beards being stroked, there are no monocles or half-moon spectacles being peered through. They’re an ordinary looking bunch. From right to left: a bleached blonde wearing all black in her late twenties, a serious thirty-something with a turquoise blouse, a grinning man with a band T-shirt, a middle-aged woman with a dress bought from a Tibetan store, and a blonde in a black dress with an open, if combative, face. These are the founding editors and contributors of a “new quarterly of revolutionary arts and letters, which commits to publishing essays, poems, art, and fiction without sectarian, stylistic, or formal constraint”.

Their audience is varied. From students in their early twenties, to middle-aged parents, to more aged veterans of the literary world, Salvage has attracted a diverse congregation. A tattooed man with serpent earrings leans against a bookshelf in the hall. A pale young woman with a binder leans forward in her seat, pen at the ready.

The readers introduce themselves. Two are sex-workers, one is a political philosopher, one is a poet, one is a social worker, and all are British left-wing activists. The topics range from the problems with “mainstream Oprah feminism”, to workers’ rights, to Marxism and being an “ex-Trot”, to the state of the British far-left, to way in which governments address or fail to address the issue of prostitution. Look: heads are nodding assent, mouths are grunting agreement, people of all ages clap. A poem is read that reimagines motherhood in the totalitarian machinery of the future. Women defend the humanity of selling their bodies, and the right to do so. The concept of cynicism as a political and philosophical outlook is explained as one that acknowledges the problems, the seemingly insurmountable odds, and is then brave enough to begin the work necessary to overcome them. Communication and learning across political groups, not just within one’s own paradigmatic frame of thought, is urged.

After a vigorous Q&A in which the audience grapples with and adds to the concepts presented, the reading comes to an end. People are reluctant to rise, stretch, and make their way slowly out the door. Many will stay and continue the debate with the readers. There are glasses of wine and copies of the publication. Its title is Salvage. It speaks of striving to return meaning to our political structures, yearning to restore people’s involvement in their governments, reappropriating old systems of thought to solve contemporary issues, and willingness to use whatever tools we can, flawed though they may be, to consciously try and make the world better.

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