Author: Leo Nicolletto

Against Cultural Protectionism

Like most of my generation, I was introduced to Leonard Cohen’s hymn to heartbreak, ‘Hallelujah,’ via its perfected version by Jeff Buckley. Buckley’s incredible voice echoed and shone through the haunting atmospherics of his sparse guitar, like a lonely angel fallen from the heavenly choir. It was the kind of song that would stop a conversation, stop your train of thought—something sacred. Its meditation on the beautiful melancholy of human life was only accentuated by Buckley’s untimely death, and passing into legend, soon after its release. Like Buckley, the song sat in the subcultural collective consciousness, something those of us at the tail end of Generation X would add to mix-tapes for our crushes, or learn to sing around the fire. Perhaps it was one of us who, having grown up and gone into film, suggested Rufus Wainwright’s version of the song for the soundtrack to Shrek. But however it happened, the song soon exploded into mainstream millennial consciousness. It became a fixture of talent shows and reality TV—not to mention the buskers. Oh, the …

John Glubb and Avoiding the Fate of Empires

Empires rise, and empires fall. This fact of history—so obvious looking backwards—is all but inconceivable to those living through an empire’s peak. Human life is so short in the scheme of civilisations that we tend to overemphasise the importance and length of our own era, while past ages blur together. We live closer in time to Cleopatra than she did to the builders of the pyramids, but Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome all blend in the popular imagination into a shadowy and distant past. Culture biases us as much as our sense of time. The Arabic-speaking Moors ruled large parts of what is now Spain for nearly eight centuries—that is, for a third as long again as the 600 years that have passed since they (or at least, their leaders) were driven out by the newly-united Catholic monarchs of Aragon and Castile. Yet through contemporary European eyes, Moorish rule is typically viewed as an “interlude” in the history of the Spanish nation—a nation that, in reality, didn’t come into political being until the late 15th …