For those of a certain age, this is an important question. One which should always but ALWAYS be followed by: “Did he know everything?”
It was and is a book, a film and for all I know a play too. I’d go and see it if it was. Because there is something of me in it and something of it in me. Apart from the fact that I went to a university and read Sociology (well ok, I read some Sociology, not very often and not very thoroughly or well) just like the anti-hero (who firmly believes he is the hero) Howard Kirk. For quite some time I wanted to be like him; a university lecturer, a social scientist, a man free from the fascistic oppression of owning property. I failed at that quite soon after, but I’ve somehow managed to put that right, almost without trying.
Howard Kirk was a Sociology lecturer who believed that conflict was always good. That right would triumph. That right was historic inevitability and Right was wrong. I didn’t share that view then, but I was young and fairly stupid. As a friend told me the other night, I was far too self-absorbed in my twenties.
“But you didn’t know me in my twenties. And you mean I’ve changed a lot, yes?”
She said no. Which was ok. Ish. But Howard Kirk, he was the man. Those were the times. There was this thing called social progress and another thing called class mobility. So quaint!! And free education all the way through university. Ludicrous, isn’t it? Almost anybody would have gone. In fact, they didn’t. Only about 5% of the school population ended up at uni in those days. The rest got jobs, for the most part, when unemployment was an un-massaged one million and you could get a job driving a lorry in the holidays on a car licence.
It was a time when there were student demos, when Labour voted not to join in with American wars and when squatting meant taking over a derelict Georgian house and making it livable again. This was too, a time when councils gleefully pulled down Georgian terraces instead of selling the houses off for a million each. They did it, unbelievably, in Bath, which is now a World Heritage Site thanks to its Georgian houses.
Hegel’s identity was asked about by one of Howard Kirk’s newer students. Whether he knew everything as asked by her friend, both of them keen to impress Howard with their enquiring minds, in much the same way that I overheard an equally keen student once at a Sociology lecturer’s party, thumbing through the pile of LPs and hesitating to chose one because as she said, she didn’t ‘know the Sociological significance of Genesis.’ As if she couldn’t not.
Times change. The past is another country. They do things differently there. And as Conrad would have had to have written it now, Mr Kirk, he dead.