October 13, 2004

There will always be an England

At least, as long as government ministers talk like this:

The core of Derrida's thinking is that every text contains multiple meanings. To read is neither to know nor to understand, but to begin a process of exploration that is essential to comprehend oneself and society. This is, however, the sort of pretentious bullshit language a minister for Europe can only use when speaking French.

[Denis MacShane, Minister for Europe]

I suppose that "MacShane" is a Scottish name, so make that "U.K." rather than "England". From across the Atlantic, these differences don't look as large as they should. Anyhow, I haven't seen a quote like this recently from a U.S. government official of similar rank. But maybe there's something equally British about this reaction:

Who? I don't know who you are talking about? I'm in a meeting with a group of City luminaries and none of them has heard of him. I can Google him for you if you are having difficulties.

[Ivan Massow, former chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Arts]

Stereotypes in action...

[Update: Des von Bladet emails invaluable context:

MacShane is one of my favourite politicians, and (not-coincidentally) a stalwart enthusiast of the Yoorpean Onion who speaks (by his own account) good French, German, Spanish and Italian, but he wasn't especially born MacShane:


His father was a Polish officer who fought the Germans in 1939, was wounded and then got to England where he became a commando. Denis MacShane was actually born Denis Matyjaszek and kept that name "without problems" through school and Oxford University.

"It was the BBC which gently but firmly suggested that such a name might not be 'readily pronounced' in the Midlands when I joined as a trainee in Birmingham," he said.

The BBC was like that then. "I chose my mother's maiden name instead. Her family is originally from Donegal in north-east Ireland and settled in Glasgow where I was born."

UKish is a better bet than English, for sure, (English is a folk-category with no standing in law that I'm aware of, so I would not even put these in the same category given that there's an 'R' in the month) but to claim that there will always be a UK implies some claims about the future of Northern Ireland, in particular, that would raise eyebrows in some circles.


folk-classifies himself as European

Aha. As our president said, "You forgot Poland!" (Here by "you" I mean "me".) ]

[More musings on Derrida here and here. ]

Posted by Mark Liberman at October 13, 2004 09:08 AM