The story so far. We are told that a vote to leave the EU – and this is the only time I shall use the odious term ‘Brexit’ – should not have happened. It transpires – who’d have thought it? – that neither Remain nor Leave had a coherent plan for what might happen next, which suggests, at the very least, they were taken by surprise. The people did not want what they were supposed to want. As Brecht said, let’s dissolve the people and elect another one … while Gove said, Gosh, I suppose I’d better get up. Leave voters, we are told, were conned by a pack of lies, which means (a) they are stupid and (b) the referendum vote can be safely ignored (many have said, apparently, although it is increasingly difficult to believe anything in the mainstream media, they made a mistake, can we go back and start over; it’s all a bad dream). Meanwhile, the right‑wing PLP, having undermined Corbyn at every opportunity since he emerged as a serious leadership candidate a year ago, have blamed him for the result: there is no justification for this attack, of course, but who cares … and, at the time of writing, they are still trying to force him to resign, (a) to avoid the inconvenience of an election, in the process destroying – as they hope – the left in and outside the party; and (b) to stop him saying/doing anything when the Chilcot Report is published.


Labour’s current (‘existential’?) crisis is rooted in competing conceptions of ‘party’ or ‘membership’ or ‘electorate’, terms freely used as though the meaning is unproblematic. One useful way to understand the contradictions involved is to describe a dominant paradigm based on imagined communities; differences between parties are acceptable on the grounds that, in the final analysis, all pull in the same direction. Occupation of the so‑called ‘centre ground’ – whatever that is, wherever it might be found; it does, after all, have a tendency to move – confirms that political debate is necessarily based on some kind of consensus, a shared vision that requires only tweaking to bear fruit, all in ‘the national interest’; and such tweaking is what parliamentary debate (‘will the honourable member give way?’) and the role played, for example, by committees with cross-party membership is all about. When people talk about adversarial politics they overlook the possibility that the day-to-day business of Parliament is, in fact, based on the careful avoidance of ideology if that means differences cannot be reconciled, eventually, by sensible men and women, all working in the national interest.

This being so, democracy – which, after all, has something to do with ‘the people’ – must be performed to show that adversarial politics is not for real: this can be seen from parliamentary ritual and staged events such as the Queen’s Speech or Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph – here, party leaders act out a role that means they ‘put aside differences’ that cannot amount to much and present a united front. When Corbyn became Labour leader last year a lot of the early criticism was aimed at his inability or refusal to play the game and perform as expected. His appearance and behaviour, supposedly, made him an outsider; when he then went on speaking of ‘a different kind of politics’ – and, worse, seemed to mean it – he broke with so many different kinds of consensus. The idea that Labour should be a movement, for example, is one many people cannot understand; and simply describing Corbyn as ‘anti-establishment’, often grouping him with both Sanders and Trump, shows a lack of joined-up thinking within the so-called commentariat, for whom extra-parliamentary translates as ‘no good can come of it’.


Generally, what has been described above is a functionalist view of politics in society, very different from the idea that all in daily life is political. Here, differences are never so profound they cannot be resolved to maintain the all‑important value consensus. Further, this view also insists that the serious individual should attempt to integrate, another way of saying ‘become part of the establishment’. To refuse to do so is to be irresponsible. For example, before the Syria vote in December, Labour MPs were offered private briefings with government ministers. This was not just about passing on information, ‘sharing intelligence’ that, it would have been argued, could not be passed on openly, in public; more importantly, it was about using access to such briefings to seduce those MPs, all the while promoting the fiction that such discussions were above mere party politics.

There is always, then, pressure on MPs to gravitate towards, as they think, power and influence. To break now with the fiction of a value consensus, this is plainly how hegemony is maintained; or, put another way, how soft power is exercised, people encouraged to compromise because that is how they demonstrate how serious they are, how committed they are to the national interest. Cameron’s supposedly throwaway (not really; all is carefully scripted) gibes at PMQs serve a similar purpose. Corbyn is to be punished, for example, not because of his arguments (Cameron, after all, refuses, time and again, to answer questions), but because of his failure to conform. This is what ‘do your tie up’ meant; while last week’s ‘for God’s sake go!’ became a heartfelt expression of the national interest.


In the past, political consensus (in the 1950s, Butskellism; more recently, Blatcherism) rested on the assumption that serious politicians accepted that their role was that of technician, tweaking, polishing the small print. At the level of Parliament, party politics is not about ideology; it is about, to quote the master opportunist Blair, ‘what works’. One can easily see, then, how differences within parties become disruptive and threaten consensus, that is, parliamentary collaboration to realise a – never the – national interest. For representative democracy, to function adequately, requires those representatives to distance themselves from party and membership, imagined communities that are exposed as partial, incomplete. In appealing to the electorate (an imagined community made synonymous with the national interest, until the electorate does something stupid against the national interest) they – one might say almost magically – rise above sectional interests that, based on a limited perspective, cannot see the big picture, the greater good. This is why MPs, having used the party membership to get elected, will insist they have to represent the interests of all constituents. Is this a betrayal of the party and those hard-working foot-soldiers who put leaflets through doors? Of course not. And it follows there is something sinister about mandatory reselection, or even – God forbid! – deselection: this is when mob rule takes over and party becomes dysfunctional.

This version of party – top-down, prioritising the right of representatives to exercise judgement – fits into what Becker called a hierarchy of credibility. The ‘Westminster bubble’ separates those who have the right to speak from those who have been silenced (they must now speak, if at all, a foreign language). The mainstream media, of course, play a vital role; and the people who call themselves journalists also seek to integrate themselves by showing they can be trusted with access (denied if said not-journalist harms his or her career by being untrustworthy). Obviously the Labour right-wing (who showed they could be a responsible Opposition when they refused, after last year’s general election, to vote against the welfare bill) has greater credibility than the great unwashed, the many-headed monster that makes up Momentum.

The assumption that MPs know best, that politics is, and should always be, ‘the art of the possible’ and MPs should be allowed to get on with the hard work of negotiation is rooted in the very idea of representative democracy, one based on paternalism and requiring deference. If MPs are representatives or, put another way, representations of people-as-voters, their individual constituents are quickly rendered both invisible and silent, specifically, not-here. So people are always allowed to participate as voters on the understanding that they then withdraw; while paternalism insists they must avoid bothering the grown-ups whose job it is to do the hard work of thinking that only serious grown-ups are qualified to do. So voters‑as‑children do withdraw because they understand that the grown-ups have their best interests at heart. Go to bed, it’s our job to burn the midnight oil. Sweet dreams.


For anyone who has not yet seen Inherent Vice, what follows will include spoilers.

A first viewing of Inherent Vice (2014, hereafter IV14) brings one up against the differences between Anderson’s film and Pynchon’s novel (2009, hereafter IV09). The two narratives share characters and some locations, and plots do coincide. Dialogue has often been taken from the novel, although Pynchon’s text is frequently modified in some way. In short, the film is perhaps most interesting for being different; and the inherent vice in question is that which attends any adaptation/translation/representation, the impossibility of ‘keeping it the same’. There is, and should be, a sense of loss.

Despite this, some reviewers have considered the film a faithful adaptation, although they might not be agreed that this is a virtue. What is interesting here is the way fidelity is judged. For example, William Tucker thinks the film ‘impressively loyal to its source material’; ‘[it] does a superb job of capturing Pynchon’s paranoid tone throughout its convoluted and disjointed narrative’, while ‘[t]he seemingly endless number of characters also reinforces the complex, interconnected network of a Pynchon novel’. That ‘impressively loyal’ suggests that adaptation was a major challenge, one that Anderson has survived, even if what follows is an odd juxtaposition of ‘convoluted’ and ‘disjointed’. Tucker does seem to suggest that Anderson has found a filmic equivalent to Pynchon’s novel. Elsewhere, by way of contrast, Lee Weston Sabo is less enthusiastic. That the film is ‘more or less a faithful adaptation of Pynchon’s novel’ counts against Anderson; his decision ‘to adhere so closely to the novel indicates a lack of desire to transform or elevate the work’. Again, it might be thought odd that Anderson has ‘adhere[d] so closely …’ etc, if the film is only ‘more or less a faithful adaptation’.

At this stage it might be worth noting the omissions that render IV14 less than faithful, if ‘being faithful’ means simply ‘what happens’, reducing both film and novel to the most superficial elements of plot and dialogue. Joanna Freer goes into some detail; to her list of omissions might be added anything to do with Doc’s family, as well as much of the novel’s discussion of family discourse, not to mention the ARPAnet. Having jettisoned most of the novel’s discussion of family, Anderson must therefore find a new way of dealing with the narrative significance of Coy’s return, of which more later. Further, given that much has been made of Pynchon’s references to film and television, it might also be said that, in IV09, a central theme is television as a source of information about the world, specifically coverage of the Manson trial and basketball play-offs that run through the novel (this combination is not accidental). None of this is retained. Generally, these omissions help bring to the fore Doc’s relations with Shasta and Bigfoot: that these characters are juxtaposed  is evident in the novel but features more prominently in the film.

Freer suggests that the Las Vegas sequence, omitted from the film, is a ‘fairly lengthy excursion [that] does little in the novel to move the plot forward’. However, this omission means that Trillium’s relationship with Puck is necessarily abandoned, and this one example can be used to briefly illustrate the complexity of Pynchon’s narrative; in turn this gives an indication of the challenge to Anderson as screenwriter. In IV09 Doc’s response to the Trillium-Puck marriage (246-248) is echoed by his response when Coy eventually returns to his family (362-363), but a couple of pages later he finds out that Trillium is in hospital (366). These passages take their place in Pynchon’s detailed discussion of family; and it is apt that Doc finds out about Trillium from the ARPAnet (Sparky’s computer recognising hospitals as family members). Doc’s reunion with Puck (‘You look like somebody I ran across once’, 317) now has entirely different narrative connotations.

None of the above is meant as a criticism of IV14. Anyone who wants to read Pynchon should do so without expecting a film version that does the job for them. Further, as Albert Rolls points out, neither IV09 nor IV14 offers the kind of closure associated with a conventional text and the film ‘is about something other than its plot’. Any interest in the adaptation should be to work out its purpose. Rolls suggests that the film might be considered ‘a piece of Pynchon criticism’ and so, instead of bemoaning the absence of some aspect of the novel’s narrative, one might consider Anderson’s selections as a commentary.

Unfortunately, reviewers have likely spent more time reading each other and/or press releases, and the following comments can be taken as typical of the way film and (by extension) novel have been presented to audiences and possible new readers. Doc is ‘a stoner Philip Marlowe’ (here); or a ‘stoner beach-bum PI’ (here); and he ‘stumbles in a narcotic haze through LA at the fag-end of the 1960s’ (here). As a ‘lackadaisical detective’, he ‘smokes pot like it’s going out of fashion and rarely knows what day of the week it is never mind what case he’s working on’ (here). Anyone who bothers paying attention to film or novel might question such sloppy judgements, of course. No matter, character and narrative become fused, and it is ‘a frustratingly hazy movie which never quite makes sense’ (here). Perhaps ‘you can tease out noodles of story line here and there’, but it remains ‘chewed-over Chandler’ (here). Anderson can be charged with failing to produce a realist narrative (the same can be said for Pynchon before him, of course).

Lee Weston Sabo’s review is more substantial than most but still follows the script: the film is ‘a gumshoe comedy where a pot-smoking beach bum of a private investigator tries to unravel a bizarre conspiracy’. For now it is worth commenting further on Sabo’s review, given the discussion of another point made frequently, IV14’s relationship to The Big Lebowski, ‘an obvious and direct source’; both Doc and BL’s the Dude are ‘burned-out pothead version[s] of Philip Marlowe who can hardly keep [their] thoughts straight’. However, this is where one can be misled by an obsession with the dramatised use of recreational drugs. In BL the Dude has more in common with the Hitchcockian figure (Roger O Thornhill in North By Northwest, say; or Richard Hannay in The Thirty-Nine Steps) who inadvertently finds himself involved in a plot that will dislocate him and challenge his sense of self. In the Hitchcock plot, as in BL, solving a mystery is essential if they are to get back their identity.

The stoner/pothead motif has proven to be something of a distraction when discussing both IV14 and IV09 before it: Kathryn Hume has commented on the narrative function of Doc’s drug-taking in the novel (12-13) and it is clear that he is not ‘just another pothead’ who (joke alert!) happens to be a detective. That Doc, like Marlowe but unlike the Dude, is a licensed private eye is a key point too readily overlooked; he might spend a lot of time stoned or getting there, but both novel and film contain many references to professionalism, or professional ethics, too many to be overlooked. The descriptions above, and many others that are similar, fail to do justice to Doc’s resilience and, in particular, the encouragement he receives (in IV14) from Sortilège when, following the return of both Mickey Wolfmann and Shasta, any mystery regarding their respective disappearances has been apparently resolved.

The role of Sortilège as narrator/guardian angel will be discussed later. For now it is worth noting that Ali Chetwynd has written on the importance of duty in Pynchon’s recent fiction, a significant development in his writing; and so, for example, ‘Doc becomes less preoccupied with uncovering the Golden Fang than with what he can do for those of its victims, like Coy, that he has encountered in his search for information’ (932). According to Chetwynd, then, a quest for the truth has become less important than doing what is right. This is one way of addressing the narrative function of family relations since Vineland; and also points the way to a useful comparison of IV09 and IV14, given the way Pynchon’s narrative has been edited for the film. However, reference to Chandler’s Marlowe novels is unavoidable, so Chetwynd’s article might also suggest an approach to IV09’s relationship to Chandler’s novels. In particular, one might consider a distinction drawn between the earlier novels, in which the narrative is confined to a short period of time (hours/days) and those that follow, where the narrative unfolds at a rather more leisurely pace. In the latter, Marlowe’s agency is less likely compromised by a quest for truth (‘following leads’). A dope haze might affect one’s perceptions of the world; it should not be used as an excuse to abandon morality.

In an afterword to Simenon’s Dirty Snow William T Vollmann refers to Marlowe’s ethics: ‘… with each passing decade, Marlowe’s corpse decomposes evermore rapidly into a skeleton of outright sentimentality’. And so, ‘[t]o some readers he already seems as quaint as Fenimore Cooper’s Deerslayer’ (247). Given the reference here to nineteenth-century historical romance, one might end, then, with a nod in the direction of James J Donahue’s Failed Frontiersmen, which includes a chapter on Pynchon, albeit with no more than passing reference to IV09. Possibly, IV14 should be seen as, in part, a commentary on IV09’s commentary on the political values of the counterculture that Doc inhabits, if awkwardly.

To be continued.

In 2010, speaking to the Conservative Party Conference, Michael Gove gave an early indication of plans for a new national curriculum. Since then, one can say his attempts to reshape school curricula have been, to put it mildly, controversial. Most recently, there have been responses reported here and here, and Gove’s own response to those criticisms, and then this response to Govian name-calling. It is clear that, in Bernstein’s terms, both classification and framing are contested. In my last post (starting with Bernstein’s1970 article, ‘Education Cannot Compensate For Society’) I discussed a relationship between Bernstein’s rejection of cultural deprivation/compensatory education and the way Gove has constructed current government policy as, specifically, an attack on low expectations on the part of schools and teachers. However, to better understand the class forces that underpin education policy, we might consider the way Bernstein’s writing evolved from the late-1960s.[1]

In ‘School Cannot Compensate For Society’, Bernstein (1976) deconstructed compensatory education as the necessary response of social democracy, one that depended on the notion of cultural deprivation. Further, he suggested that research might have contributed to the stigmatisation of working-class culture, and acknowledged that his own research, by ‘focusing on the subculture and forms of family socialisation’, might be culpable in this respect, ‘distract[ing] attention from the conditions and contexts of learning in school’ (Bernstein, 1976: 172).He noted that ‘[t]he concept, “restricted code”, to describe working-class speech, has been equated with “linguistic deprivation” or even with the “non-verbal” child’ (ibid). Then, following his account of two groups of five-year-old children telling a story differently, he concluded that, rather than a working-class lack, ‘what we have here are differences in the use of language arising out of a specific context’ (173).

Hence, Bernstein related the elaborated code to universalistic meanings and the restricted code to particularistic meanings: the latter are context-bound. By the time of Bernstein (1999) this discussion of context had seen, firstly, a distinction between vertical and horizontal discourse; and then, secondly, a distinction between hierarchical and horizontal knowledge structures that illuminates the current contrast between ‘knowledge’ and ‘skills’. In the work I discuss here Bernstein first addressed the implicit, class-based assumptions of school curricula; and then developed a better understanding of context. For example, in the1975 version of his paper on visible and invisible pedagogies there is a clear expression of the perceived relationship between school and family, given that ‘[t]he weak classification and the weak framing of the invisible pedagogy potentially makes possible the inclusion of the culture of the family and the community’ (Bernstein, 2003a:127). There is nonetheless a difference between class-cultures of middle-class and working-class families, with continuity from the former to the classroom, discontinuity from the later. In 1975 Bernstein referred to old and new middle classes; the immediate context here was the emergence of social democracy’s mixed economy and, as a consequence, a significant public sector. Subsequently, in a revised account, he discussed the significance of an emergent education market (Bernstein, 2003b: 86‑89).

Evident here is one of the key developments in Bernstein’s work. In the 1970s both visible and invisible pedagogies were seen to express middle‑class concerns, and ‘the conflict between visible and invisible pedagogies, … between strong and weak classification and frames, [wa]s an ideological conflict within the middle class’(Bernstein, 2003a: 121). A few pages later in this latter paper, there is a distinction between the middle-class child, for whom there is ‘socialisation into the textbook’; and a working-class child, for whom ‘[t]he weakening of classification and frames reduces the significance of the textbook and transforms the impersonal past into a personalized present’ (127). By the time of Bernstein (2003b), the invisible pedagogy had been associated with the slow learner and/or working-class low achiever, for whom such an approach would not be abandoned by the end of primary school. In particular, in secondary school, the importance of ‘strong pacing [that] will tend to reduce pupils’ speech and privilege teachers’ talk’ (77-78) brings to mind the emphasis that Gove has put on content and rote-learning. Moreover, there is a distinction between autonomous (‘justified by the intrinsic possibilities of knowledge itself’) and dependent (‘justified by their market relevance’) visible pedagogies (86): this certainly underpins the current obsession with both a core curriculum, as constructed by English baccalaureate and facilitating subjects, and also the restructuring of an academic/vocational divide. Thus far, we have seen illustrated Gove’s preference for strong classification and framing. Subsequently, in the discussion of different kinds of knowledge structure, Bernstein (1999), shows how school curricula confused vertical and horizontal discourses; and one might conclude that this paper echoes Bernstein’s earlier (1976) concern with the limits of reformism.

Proposals for the history curriculum are illustrative. In his 2010 conference speech Gove claimed that, currently, school history ‘denies children the opportunity to hear our island story’. Here, the unproblematic construction of ‘one of the most inspiring stories I know’ is inseparable from its presentation as an ‘opportunity’. Since then, discussion of the new history curriculum has addressed both content (classification) and pacing (framing), echoing arguments over a contested history that were rehearsed in the late-1980s.[2] It is apparent that Gove objects to both non-academic discourse, what Bernstein (1999) calls ‘local knowledge’, and also some aspects of academic discourse, for example, the content of the history curriculum. In the terms outlined in Bernstein (1999) the academic discourse that meets with Gove’s approval is defined by a hierarchical knowledge structure, one that cannot acknowledge the contested nature of knowledge. That history might be seen to be a construct (even if, in practice, methodological issues have been reduced to ‘skills’ designed to detect something called ‘bias’) would give the discipline a horizontal knowledge structure and align it to the non-academic or vocational knowledge that has been associated with a lowering of standards. Local knowledge is made up of ‘competences [that] are segmentally related’, juxtaposed by Bernstein to the generalising tendencies of vertical discourses (160); and it is segmentation that draws attention to the contested nature of knowledge, the controversy that attends any claim to know what is and is not important. This is where a distinction between hierarchical and horizontal knowledge structures is important (162ff), for it is the generalisation made possible by hierarchical knowledge structures (166-168) that allows Gove to effectively render history invisible, replacing it with ‘our island story’.

[1] One can identify a narrative here, and Bernstein’s (1999) late paper begins with his own summary of this process (157-158); while Arnot & Reay (The framing of pedagogic encounters: Regulating the social order in classroom learning, in Reading Bernstein, Researching Bernstein, Muller, Davis & Morais eds, RoutledgeFalmer, 2004, 137-150) offer a similar account by way of introduction to their research report (137-138). Here I shall use ‘Class and Pedagogies: Visible and Invisible’ from Class, Codes and Control: Volume 3 (first published 1975; references here to the 2003 edition, as Bernstein, 2003a); and a revised version, ‘Social Class and Pedagogic Practice’ (in The Structuring of Pedagogic Discourse, Class, Codes and Control: Volume 4, first published 1990; references here to the 2003 edition, as Bernstein, 2003b). The first version follows on from the early association of home‑&‑school and in-school research issues as developed by Bernstein in ‘On the Classification and Framing of Educational Knowledge’ (in Young ed, Knowledge and Control: New Directions for the Sociology of Education, 1971; reprinted in Class, Codes and Control: Volume 3).

[2] For contemporary responses to post-1988 changes see Husbands, What is History Teaching? Language, Ideas, and Meaning in Learning about the Past,1996; or Lowe, Schooling and Social Change, 1964-1990, 1997, in particular Chapter 3 on ‘Contested Pedagogies’; or Raphael Samuel’s 1990 account in History Workshop Journal 29/30 for more detail.