Hello. My name’s Alex and I’m a topophile.
That’s to say, I’m a lover of place, and my writing is an attempt to capture what places are like, how it feels to be in them and to explore the reasons why they are the way they are.
Put differently, I’m interested in the human relationship with the planet on which we live and how we build on geography and circumstance to create society and culture. While I love the natural world, I’m particularly interested in cities, where this mysterious socio-cultural process occurs most intensely.
Maybe this is why I chose travel writing as the genre for my hybrid form of non-fiction. But I’m a bad traveller, anxious about journeys and eager to settle, to begin making some kind of a home in a new place. I want to get under its skin, to witness and experience the different way of living it brings into being.
I’m fascinated by what the philosopher Charles Taylor called ‘forms of life’ - the diversity of human societies and communities, allied to the different ways in which people create meaning, whether under the banner of ‘values’ or spirituality, and the different ways they organise their societies (aka politics). So, constitutionally unable to accept there’s only one way of living, I guess you could call me a pluralist. I love that there are different ways of seeing and I try to capture some of them in writing.
Since early 2020, I’ve become concerned about a kind of forgetting that seems to have overtaken much of western society and a sense of there being powerful, possibly unconscious, forces at work is now taking my writing in a new direction. It confirms what I’ve long suspected: the workings of the human psyche have a greater impact on the way we live than we generally accept and that they extend way beyond the personal, shaping our societies and our politics.
In the pieces that come via this newsletter, you’ll find a blend of reflections on the ways in which western society is changing and the choices we, as twenty-first century people, are making. There’ll be an opportunity in the comments section for conversations about where we’re going away from the quick-fire world of social media.
You’ll also get lighter pieces on the joys and quirks of place, particularly my current home of Lisbon: Portuguese and cosmopolitan, chaotic and calm, the city is an amateur anthropologist’s dream. And while I’ve written a lot for the mainstream press I’m increasingly aware there are many stories which, for a variety of reasons, don’t get covered. So if any of these come my way there'll appear here too. There’ll be a piece of one kind or another roughly once a month.
So please do subscribe. All ‘content’, as we call writing in the digital age, is free. But if you happen to win the lottery or marry into money, there’s also an option to support independent writing.
It – the stuff that makes me write - started with literature and place – my head in a book, my hands in the village stream, my eyes on the city on the horizon. At different times of the day, obviously!
In time, the reading led to an English degree. Later, a PhD in philosophy trained me to think in terms of questions, while a subsequent career in journalism gave me the licence to bother actual people with them.
As a journalist specialising in public policy and social affairs, I got to explore the workings of many of the areas that make up modern society: health and housing, education and regeneration. It was an age of expansion in public services and I interviewed the decision-makers at the top, the professionals running the services and the people using them.
Along the way, time in the Palestinian Territories revealed a love of the Arab world. My first book, Paradise Divided, was an attempt to get behind the headlines about the conflict-ridden Middle East and tell the human stories of modern-day Lebanon, with its rainbow of religious and political communities. My second book, The Secret Life of God, brought some of these concerns home in a kind of spiritual investigation into communities and individuals across three religious traditions attempting to find new ways of believing and belonging in contemporary Britain.
The writing of my third, a book about Europe seen through the lens of its lesser-known cities, was interrupted by the pandemic. Then I accidentally moved to Lisbon and the book is now sitting somewhere at the back of my head, quietly evolving along with life on the continent.
The material here is from September 2021. You can find my past blogs and links to work published by a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past twenty years at my website www.alexklaushofer.com.