The personal is political has been a rallying cry for nearly half a century. Born of the women’s liberation movement, it has moved from the radical fringes of debate to become perhaps the defining philosophy of Western liberal democracies. Our political beliefs are increasingly forged from our personal experience and sense of identity, a trend that has accelerated markedly in the internet age. In doing so, and in becoming so mainstream, there is a danger that something aimed to liberate could end up having the precise opposite effect.This is not to denigrate all that has been accomplished. Various schools of liberation politics arose from the conflation of the personal and political; they were desperately needed and have achieved monumental gains. Perhaps the most startling have been in the fields of gender and sex, in which the political bedrock of today is almost unrecognisable from that of even twenty-five years ago. More specifically, the understanding that human gender and sexuality are wide spectra, not immutable points nor perverse choices, has taken root profoundly in mainstream discourse; few want to turn the clock back.
It’s a Saturday afternoon in May and it’s Penrallt Gallery Bookshop’s third birthday. I’m lingering by the wine and cake because it’s safer than browsing the shelves – I’ve already spent this month’s book allowance and can’t afford to be tempted. But if, as Walter Benjamin suggested, Proust’s seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time indicated the effort needed to restore the figure of the story-teller to the modern age, then Diane Bailey and Geoff Young are living examples of the ingenuity, energy and enthusiasm required to keep a bookshop on the high street in the Age of Amazon. I know I’m in trouble the minute my hand touches the blue-glass doorknob. I won’t get out without a book.This birthday celebration coincides with the opening of an exhibition of photographs by Nick Peplow of Llanberis, so the three small rooms are packed.
In case you hadn’t noticed, a significant centennial birthday is celebrated this year – the birthday of the most famous Welshman of his generation. Furthermore, this individual manifested a cluster of characteristics that are still perceived by the English as definitive of the Welsh genius. He was an archetype – uniquely talented but erratic, given to emotional excess, addicted to alcohol, and ultimately tragic. Born into the middle class, he went to London where he moved among the English cultural elite. Nevertheless, he remained most at home in the pub, drinking with his cronies. He became world-famous, and his career had a lasting influence on the way that world now imagines his country. But he wasn’t born in Swansea. This Welshman was born in a tiny village near Machynlleth and probably spent much of his childhood in Flintshire. Yet he was indeed the prototype of the alcohol-afflicted Welsh genius, the mythic character perfected in the person of Dylan Thomas.
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