Here's the piece on "commitment" that I wrote for The Spanner (see below).
It was 1964. I was fifteen and had just discovered commitment. It took the form of a black polo neck jersey, French cigarettes, and a copy of Camus’s L’homme révolté, which I found quite hard to read. Peace News was easier but less intellectually exciting, and whatever else commitment was, it was intellectually exciting. Even the word ‘intellectual’ was exciting, maybe even the most exciting thing. It was probably the word I was most committed to. And a commitment to words was what being an intellectual meant, committing things to words, committing writing, committing myself to paper, and committing myself to writing. It’s hard to disentangle the pose from the poesy at this distance. When Camus was replaced by Marcuse and Althusser, and Keats gave way to Pound and J.H. Prynne, commitment to writing came up against revolutionary commitment. So much of the modernist poetry I liked was engagé in quite the wrong way, or jauntily non-committal, and so much of the most politically committed poetry was bad, that I had to start thinking about the co-existence of commitments, a project to which I became completely committed for some years. But it led to boundary disputes. Radical politics and the political magazines I was editing or otherwise involved with didn’t mix with avant-garde poetry and the poetry magazines I was editing or otherwise involved with. I was completely committed to incompatible activities, and that put part of each commitment out of commission.
For ten years, some while later, I was a second-hand bookseller, with a commitment to left-wing commitment in literature and politics. The old trouble surfaced in a new guise when I found it hard to justify making a profit out of what I was doing. I mean, it was quite hard to make a profit out of it anyway, but putting a huge mark-up on out-of-print socialism and selling it to underpaid academics and down-at-heel ex-revolutionaries didn’t seem right. I was committed to too many unprofitable things to be successful in the book business. I did read a lot, though.
Despite my commitment to my customers and numerous commissions to find recondite books and pamphlets, I sold up and became an academic. I wanted to find out more about commitment and writing, but found that academics are so committed to so many other things, like students and teaching and administration and examining that it sometimes seemed that my commitment to commitment had been swallowed up by committees and commissions, and that half of those had been swallowed up in a commitment to defend education against philistine and destructive government interventions. I had vastly more commitments than ever before, and I had to make them all co-exist if I was to get anywhere. Yet underneath it all, I could feel the prickle of my black polo-neck, like a reminder that things weren’t impossibly complicated, even if they seemed to be, intellectually. Taking sides still works. And it still involves committing that process to paper, committing myself in actual words.