This is the website of Rob Mimpriss, the short-story writer. Read reviews and samples of my books, contact me to organise an event, or learn how my writing has been shaped by the intellectual heritage of Wales.
13th December 2019: According to the concentration camp survivor and philosopher, Viktor Frankl, those who went to the concentration camps are divided, not between those who survived the camps and those who died, but between those who allowed their suffering to make them meaner, more selfish, and more cruel, and those who forced their suffering to make them kinder and nobler. While some of the prisoners turned to thieving, taking other prisoners’ rations to eke out their own starvation for a few more days or weeks, or accepted the petty dignities of the kapoand the prison police, others comforted their fellow prisoners and gave away their own bread, and these are described by the humanist and existentialist Frankl in almost religious terms, as ‘martyrs.’ These martyrs, even those that died, possessed the true gift of life, because their fear of suffering and death could not destroy their hope.
For the existentialist theologian, Paul Tillich, our hope of pleasant times, of effortless social progress, of easy victories over nastiness and stupidity, of a life whose value and meaning are affirmed by external events, distract us from the courage to live and the faith that life is worth living. For Paul Tillich, like Viktor Frankl, those who affirm the value of life, even though it contains suffering and ends in death, possess ‘absolute faith,’ and this absolute faith is a better thing even than the religious faith that the self will be perpetuated beyond the grave. We are capable of fear, death and despair, says Tillich, but only because we exist, and this shows that being, and the courage to be, are more real than the things which erode them, or the death which will end them, and more meaningful.
I write this after the re-election of a government whose ‘punitive, mean-spirited and often callous‘ austerity policies have inflicted ‘great misery’ upon the poor, in the judgement of the United Nations, and have contributed to the deaths of 130,000 people. After such a defeat, and to such heartless and morally worthless opponents, it becomes vital that we take heart. Hope says ‘I am going to carry on living’ and ‘I am going to carry on fighting.’ It does not need any outcome but that.
And a Brexiteer trolling Plaid Cymru’s page on Facebook says that she ‘isn’t against the Welsh language’ but that she ‘doesn’t want anymore [sic] of it.’ Truly, our loyalty to this precious union inspires our noblest endeavours.
Had the Tory flyer through my door today. It went straight on the fire.
Pretty sure I heard unearthly screaming in the moment before it turned into ash. But that might just have been my imagination.
Radio Free Europe on 3rd October reports on the funeral in the Russian Federation of the seventy-nine year old Udmurt scholar and language campaigner, Albert Razin, who burned himself to death in protest at the Federation’s language policies.
The article also quotes an opinion piece published in Izvestia by Valery Tishkov, also a scholar, and an adviser to the Kremlin on Russia’s minorities. Although Russia is a signatory to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and has therefore committed itself to protecting Udmurtia’s community and culture, Tishkov expresses an assumption that the death of a minority language and the assimilation of its people is both inevitable and acceptable, resorting to the claim that indigenous minorities should ‘integrate’ in the same way that émigré minorities do, a false comparison which the philosopher Will Kamlycka calls a ‘misunderstanding of nationalism’ because it ignores the difference between the émigré, who wants to adapt to a new land, and the indigene, who wants to persist in his own.
If the experience of the Celtic nations is typical, then the means by which language death is pursued and justified falls into two phases, as the industrial state acquires greater power over the peoples it rules. In the first, the language must be made to die because its speakers are barbaric, ignorant, immoral, churlish, nationalistic, racist, criminal, and unwilling to work in the mines; and in the second, it must be allowed to die because nobody speaks it, because everyone speaks the state-sponsored language, because making one’s children learn it is a form of child abuse, because the state has moral duties only to one of the peoples it rules, and because writing government documents in it is a waste of money.
In individual discussions with those who oppose us, we find that this order of argument is reversed. If we point to the vitality and practicality of our languages, if we point to the neurological advantages of bilingualism, if we point to the money that is spent on exalting the state-sponsored culture, and suggest that we would be content with a little of that, then our opponents become more openly racist as the pretexts they use to conceal their hostility to us collapse. Moreover, they reveal their double standards, since the duty they place on us to abandon our national identity and assume theirs is never matched by any obligations on their part to submit or conform or pay homage to their more powerful neighbours. Yet the self-immolation of a peaceful and civilised man, like hunger strikes, like crimes of protest and submission to imprisonment, and like the withholding of taxes, refutes both types of argument, demonstrating that the pain of hunger, or the hopelessness of imprisonment, or even the agony of burning to death, is still less than the spiritual torment — the assault on our ability to speak, to remember, to relate, to evaluate — caused by the death of our culture about us when we need it to make sense of ourselves and our world.
According to a Brexiteer trolling Plaid Cymru’s Facebook page, I should read about the Lisbon Treaty, and then I won’t feel so clever. I already don’t feel so clever. I have a splitting headache, for one thing.
From my introduction to A Book of Three Birds, reflecting on existentialism, Welsh literature, and the British nationalism that is Brexit, to understand and translate this famous Cromwellian tract, and to predict our future. Sadly, nothing that has happened since it was published has reduced the relevance of my introduction, or of the text:
An eagle, a raven and a dove meet and debate in Morgan Llwyd’s seminal masterpiece of Welsh prose style, A Book of Three Birds. The year is 1653 A.D., the year in which A Book of Three Birds was published, and on whose events the three birds reflect: the civil war which brought Oliver Cromwell to power; more recent, demoralising wars in Ireland and Scotland; and the abolition of Parliament. The book is written in expectation of the year 1656, an omen of the Second Coming, for the world waits in suspense between two disasters: the fires of the Day of Judgement, which is imminent, and of which the Civil War is a foretaste, and the waters of the flood which drowned the world in the time of Noah, and which symbolically have not yet receded. The reality of this coming judgement underlies all human politics, all industry and learning, just as the reality of the coming flood underlay the eating and drinking, courtship and marriage of the antedeluvian world. These two judgements, and the uneasy rest between them, are symbolised in the shape of the rainbow, and in the red and blue with which it is fringed.
The location was chosen as a town which has suffered greatly as a result of Britain’s industrial and post-industrial policies, and might therefore benefit greatly from an economy redesigned to serve the people of Wales; as a town rich in industrial heritage and surrounded by walking country, which if it were close to a capital city of Europe might be expected to flourish; as the where the Red Flag was first flown, as one speaker reminded us, and near where the NHS was conceived, yet where the Dic Penderyn, named after a martyr of the Merthyr Rising of 1831, is now a Wetherspoons; and also as a town still enmeshed in the mental habits of unionism: predominantly a Brexit town, as one marcher with local roots told me, where Brexit parties might seek to foment resentment against Welsh speakers and against Wales’s emerging political profession. Among the writers, singers, politicians and sportsmen who addressed us, the Scottish academic and independist, Iain Black, presented research showing confidence as a predictor of voters’ behaviour in the Scottish independence referendum: pro-independence voters demonstrated greater faith in their own abilities and those of the Scottish people as a whole, and a greater acceptance of risk. As it becomes ever clearer that Brexit expresses nothing more than defiance and despair that will leave poorest parts of the UK even poorer, it seems that the independence debate asks us whether we are willing to assume the power to address our dissatisfactions. Incidentally, counters reported 5,200 marchers and 31 dogs.
The contact form on my website does not produce much traffic, and what traffic it produces normally falls foul of my email account’s spam rules. But a little while ago, a stranger sent me the message which I quote in part below:
On my way to Bangor station I impulse-bought a copy of Reasoning in a charity shop, just for something to read on the train home. It turned out to be an astonishing bargain.
I'm sorry to say I'd never heard of you before, which is no surprise as I know little of literature and am, sorry to say, English to boot, but I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed and appreciated these remarkable stories. ‘His Thoughts’ particularly resonated as I'd just walked 320 miles to Bangor from my home in North Norfolk and am indeed having trouble processing my thoughts about this experience. Thank you for the stories and all good wishes.
Reasoning normally costs a little more than 50p. But it, and the two collections with which it forms a triad, are available to the left.
7th August: This image was taken near Llangollen yesterday, and shows a graffito of Welsh cultural and political significance vandalised with swastikas.
The text means ‘Remember Tryweryn’, and refers to the village in the Tryweryn valley which was drowned by vote of parliament in 1960, the support of a majority of English MPs over-riding the unanimous opposition of MPs from Wales. Wales and Scotland, in the British union, lack the veto which Britain has in the European union, although the British parliament can veto any and every law passed in Edinburgh or Cardiff. Even if the UK is a voluntary association, that does not make it a fair one, and those who defend the internationalism of the EU are under no rational obligation to defend the UK also.
The defacement is apparently the latest of a string of hate crimes against Tryweryn memorials throughout Wales, against Welsh national politicians, and against those who speak the Welsh language in public places, which have become very common since the Brexit vote: the enemies of Welsh nationalists are the enemies of pro-Europeans also. And while pro-Europeans in the UK understandably fear the Celtic separatist movements, as ‘nationalistic’ and as a threat to good order, they should consider Gwynfor Evans’s argument in his book, Land of My Fathers, that the pacifists and scholars, those ‘warm, immortal men’, who seek to preserve persecuted cultures and build the tools of state for stateless nations, are among the most heroic opponents of fascism that we have.
Tryweryn, incidentally, was a turning point in Welsh politics. It led to the establishment of the Welsh Office in 1965, which eventually paved the way for devolution, while Gwynfor Evans, who most vociferously opposed the dam, became Plaid Cymru’s first MP in 1966.
The march followed declarations in favour of independence by community councils throughout Wales, and by Gwynedd County Council, by an admission from the First Minister of Wales that Welsh commitment to the UK may need to be reconsidered, by the resignation of Welsh MP, Guto Bebb, from the government, in response to its English nationalism, and by growing public support for independence as a necessary response to the threat of Brexit. It was followed by a new opinion poll showing Plaid Cymru in the lead in Welsh parliamentary elections, and by the acknowledgement from a Labour member of the Senedd that the desire for independence is a valid expression of self-determination and democracy, and from Mark Drakeford, First Minister of Wales, that Wales is economically viable as an independent state. The Welsh language movement and the Welsh independence movement express neither a hatred of England nor a Brexit-style supremacism, but a desire for the statehood which is necessary to preserve our heritage and present it to the world.
Tucked between the pages of my copy of Diane Williams’s selected stories, and in the handwriting of a previous owner, a reading list containing stories by Chekhov, Maupassant, Daudet, Turgenev, Leonid Andreyev and Elizabeth Bowen, partly pictured above. One of the joys of writing short stories, along with the formal rewards and challenges, is the dedication and learning of a very small body of readers, who have tapped the roots of the form, and are aware of its global reach.
9th June: Today, I present two retellings of the fables of Iolo Morgannwg:
Those who flee from danger are quick to run into greater danger, and those who seek advancement are seldom aware of its cost. Hence two trout who saw the fisherman's net closing in took counsel with each other how to escape. One said, ‘I will dive down to the bottom of the river, and there I will hide in the filth and the gloom until the danger is passed.’ But the other said, ‘Your cowardice is not for me. I will make the leap onto dry land, and there I will live proud and free, without fear of the fisherman or his net.’ But as soon as he was on the riverbank he began to gasp for breath. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘that I had been content to hide in the sheltering cool like my friend: and I might have evaded the fisherman’s net forever.’ And so, flapping helplessly on the river bank, exposed to the light and air, the proud trout choked his last.
And the second:
A magpie saw how clumsily a wood pigeon was building her nest, and tried to help her by giving instructions, saying, ‘Put a twig here and a twig there, one twig this way and one twig that, and so your nest will be comfortable and strong.’
‘I know, oh! I know, oh! I know, oh!’ said the wood pigeon, but for all that he patiently tried to teach her, she ignored his advice, building as clumsily as before. Finally the magpie grew impatient with her. ‘You know,’ he told her in disgust, ‘but you don’t do.’ And away he went about his own affairs, while still the wood pigeon called out, ‘I know, oh! I know, oh! I know, oh!’ behind him.
In thought experiments in Physics, a Boltzmann Brain is a brain-like structure complex enough to be self-aware, which could come into being through the random interactions of quantum particles in a universe vastly older than our own.
By the time a universe was old enough to have an even chance of giving rise to a Boltzmann Brain, its stars would have died, its average temperature would dropped to near absolute zero, and this single mind would find itself inhabiting a featureless and unchanging void. Such a quantum brain would lose no heat to the surrounding vacuum, and in a highly stable universe, could live for ever. It is far more likely that it would have the time to formulate one coherent thought before the quantum particles of which it was composed ceased to exist again.
According to a rather apologetic conductor, the reason there are not enough seats on the train is that the train does not have enough carriages. The ability to inspire ongoing enquiry is the mark of a truly great mind.
A passage from Alphonse Daudet’s Letters from my Windmill describes a visit to the poet, Frederic Mistral, who reads to him from his poem, Calendal, describing the mythical adventures of a Provençal fisherman, and written in ‘that beautiful Provençal language, more than three-fourths Latin, the language that queens once spoke and none but shepherds can now understand’:
That is the tale of Calendal; but Calendal matters but little. What there is above all in the poem is Provence; Provence of the sea, Provence of the mountain; with its history, legends, manners, customs, landscapes — a whole people, naïve and free, who have found their great poet before he dies. And now, line out your railways, plant those telegraph poles, drive the Provençal tongue from the schools! Provence will live eternally in Mireille and in Calendal.
The short story is available in its entirety, along with my favourite of his short stories, here. By the time of his death in 1897, Daudet’s novels, plays and short stories had made him one of France’s most highly regarded writers, while Mistral was awarded the Nobel Prize for his poetry in Provençal in 1904.
I quote a tweet by Tim Walker, journalist as Mandrake for The Daily Telegraph, The Mail on Sunday and The New European: ‘One Tory MP to me: “We have no provision for an ageing population and Brexit is a device to help people accept that they’ll be left to die.”’
I quote Sean O’Faolain, in his book, The Short Story (1951), on the nature and the popularity of the form:
Yet, surely, the obvious distinctive element in the short story — distinguishing it from every other art — is its shortness: i.e., the fact that the writer has deliberately selected some special incident or character; and that there can, or should be, only one reason for this — because it is (to quote Maupassant again) ‘in good concordance with all the tendencies of his thought.’ In other words the short story is an emphatically personal exposition. What one searches for and what one enjoys in a short story is a special distillation of personality, a unique sensibility which has recognised and selected at once a subject that, above all other subjects, is of value to the writer’s temperament and to his alone — his counterpart, his perfect opportunity to project himself.
I read O’Faolain nearly twenty years ago, among a stack of similar books, while studying the short story. I remembered the impression it made on me, even while forgetting its content, and now I read the book again with the same surprised delight.
Following the destruction of the Tryweryn mural, which the police are treating as a hate crime, the poet and editor Brett Evans’s poem, Graffiti, reflects on its restoration, on the sudden appearance of fifty similar murals across Wales, and on the determination of the people of Wales to remember and pass on their heritage.
16th April: If, yesterday evening, a linguist had announced that Breton, or Basque, or Provençal, would become extinct in France unless concerted action were taken to honour its speakers and nurture its use, would the French government take the view that these languages are a vital part of French heritage, and immediately move to protect them? Would private donors contribute a billion euros, and would the airways in the UK be filled with expressions of shock and grief? The nature of buildings is, first, that they can be destroyed, and second, that they can be rebuilt; but languages and cultures, once gone, are almost invariably gone forever. And the nature of people is that we seem more awed by our physical handiwork than by the things that lie closest to us, or that we carry within ourselves.
I awoke from uneasy dreams, in which a rather slick Head of Department explained to me that while all my current students had met the academic requirements for enrolment at the time, they were no longer needed by the forward-looking and successful institution that my university considered itself to be. Moreover, in my dream, my Head of Department explained to me that to save on the cost of additional assessments, it would lie with my students themselves to decide by weekly vote which of them was to be ejected from the course. In my dream I explained to my class that I was standing firm by my principles, and would never permit such barbarity in my classroom, even though my employers were preparing to dismiss me. It was then that I awoke, and after brief misgivings, felt profoundly grateful to live in a society which values human flourishing above all else, and would never be so cynical, or so naive, as to marketise its education system.
It is a truth universally acknowledged among science fiction filmmakers that faster-than-light travel is a more common invention than the nail clippers.
30th March: Pictured above are some of the million or more good-natured moaners and remarkably patriotic traitors converging on London on 23rd March in an attempt to stop Brexit and precipitate a People’s Vote, free from corruption and foreign interference, and with an electorate better informed on the benefits of remaining in the EU. Protesters from every nation in the UK, and camera crews from the UK and beyond: in the picture I am asked by a Dutch TV crew what I believe the EU has done for Wales, and why Wales should remain European. Image kindly supplied by a friend.
By contrast, I quote Barts on Twitter concerning the much smaller but more violent pro-Brexit rally last night: ‘Just got back from Parliament Square after being there about 20 minutes. It was horrible, a chanting football crowd, with an air of drunken menace, mostly unsmiling, tattooed men, Tommy Robinson ranting about Muslims. I didn’t belong there. At this precise moment I’d vote Remain.’
I also quote tweets by Rachel Wearmouth, a journalist for Huffington Post: ‘Now I’m home safe, I can tell you about the Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (Tommy Robinson) rally earlier. Guy behind says, “Hold a flag.” I politely declined. He then asked who I was and why I was there. I said, “Someone watching the speeches,” and reminded him it was a public place. Normally I’d say I was a journalist but was scared. He said, “You look left wing to me,” got his phone out and started filming my face from barely a metre away, repeatedly saying, “I’m going to find out who you are,” and “Just you watch.” ...Genuinely felt that if I’d admitted to being a journalist or somehow drew any more attention to myself someone would have hurt me.’
I was pondering the importance of blood in Christian iconography, even though, from what I have read, crucifixion does not cause much blood loss, and that if bleeding is what one is after, it would make more sense to deify someone who had died on the guillotine. I remembered the claim that Jesus instituted the Eucharist by telling his disciples to drink the bread of his flesh and the wine of his blood, before recalling what Geza Vermes tells us, that no first-century Galilean Jew would have tolerated, let alone uttered, such an obscene impiety, and that our earliest description of the Last Supper comes from Paul, who admits that he was not present at the meal, and only knows what happened there because God told him. I recalled those nonconformist chapels whose moral timidity is such that instead of serving the Wine that represents the Blood, they serve the Blackcurrant Juice that represents the Wine, and then I realised that I was standing alone in a muddy field, muttering.
Fill in the captcha and click ‘I’m a human’? Why, certainly I’m a human. Sarah Connor, darling, I’m your mother.
‘It is no coincidence that the return of a fascist movement is accompanied by the call to make country x, y or z “great again.” It is the greatness of force, power, and the false promise of the return to an unattainable past. That greatness is the opposite of... the human capacity to transcend ourselves, to have imagination and empathy, to live in truth, create beauty, and do justice. This is the true greatness of honouring the dignity of every human being. This is what a democratic civilisation is all about.’
Rob Riemen, To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism (London: W.W. Norton, 2018).
28th January:The Sunday Times reports that the UK government is considering the declaration of martial law after Brexit, with the power to impose curfews, travel bans, and confiscations, and with the use of soldiers to quell the food riots. Many of the Brexiteers I have attempted to reason with over the last few years would find the prospect of martial law rather gratifying.
Meanwhile, The Mirror and The Daily Mail describe a report compiled by national intelligence services and shown to EU leaders, including Theresa May, predicting that Brexit will leave the UK politically unstable for decades to come, with a resurgent far right and civil unrest, and with independence referendums in Scotland and Northern Ireland within eighteen months of departure.
Offended by the claim that Brexit is an English nationalist movement, and challenged to explain why else the Celtic nations have rejected it, my correspondent tells me that this is because the English are naturally more capable of leadership than the Scots and Welsh.
The logical end of Brexit: The Sun reports that leading Brexiteer and former UKIP leader, Diane James, has called for England to secede from the UK as the only way to ensure a hard Brexit.