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literature / moviesCrime novelist Gunnar Staalesen is one of few Norwegian authors who have managed to establish a viable movie franchise based on a fictional gumshoe. He has even ventured into comic books. Varg Veum, the hard-boiled P.I., is now a household name in Norway, and Staalesen’s books have been translated into twenty languages. Staalesen joins us at to reflect on his long career, his movies and that strange and fashionable term «nordic noir». According to Wikipedia you introduced social realism in Norwegian crime fiction, but how realisic is your hero, Varg Veum, really? Gunnar Staalesen: I was one of many who followed the lead of the Swedish writers Sjöwall & Wahlöö and began writing crime novels that were more «realist» than previous publications which placed more emphasis on entertainment. Writers like Jon Michelet and I described realistic milieus and conflicts from Norwegian every day life in the 1970s. We zoomed in on individuals and settings in order to make them come alive and appear as vivid and believable to the readers as possible. Varg Veum’s profession, that of a PI, is of course not very realistic, at least not in Norway of the 1970s, and he solves puzzles that never would have occurred in real life. This is the entertainment part of the novels. But the conflicts that form the backdrop of the books, the environments and the people I describe, are all very realistic. In this way, I suppose there is some truth to wikipedia’s claim. How important is the city of Bergen in your books?  Gunnar Staalesen: Almost all crime fiction has an attachment to particular cities or settings. Sherlock Holmes and London. Maigret and Paris. Philip Marlowe and LA. When I began writing my series, it seemed natural to place Verg Veum in Bergen, which after all is my home town, and which I know by heart. Bergen is also a spectacular and visual city, surrounded by mountains 400-600 meters tall on several sides, as well as a fjord that leads to an ancient port with buildings that date back to the 11’th century. The weather is perfect for a noir city, lots of rain, dark winter evenings, narrow alleyways and streets, cobblestones- in short, a city with plenty of atmosphere. Bergen has been essential as the backdrop for the entire series of 19 books published in Norway. That is, book number 19 will be published in September! Your books have been translated into many languages and almost all the Veum novels been filmed? Are you a visual writer, do you think? Gunnar Staalesen: Yes, I have always regarded myself as a visual writer. I try to portray settings and people the way they would appear to readers, as clearly as if they were facing them or visited the places I describe. I do hope the translations do justice to this. The movies that have been based on my books only loosely follow the original stories. Some only share the title with the original novel. But the cinematography offers stunning views of Bergen, at least in most of the films. Which of the Veum films is your favorite? Gunnar Staalesen: I don’t know if I have a favorite among them. They are pretty uneven and quite different, depending on various script writers and directors. But most of them have worked well as movies, and have been popular both here in Norway and abroad. You started out as a so-called «serious» writer. What made you change to genre fiction? Gunnar Staalesen: I guess it was fate. After my first two books, there was a period when none of my works would be accepted by a publisher, neither my novel nor my collection of short stories. It was at this time that the opportunities offered by crime fiction became apparent to me, especially after I had read Sjöwall & Wahlöö, Hammett, Chandler and Ross Macdonald. My Norwegian publisher, Gyldendal, organized novel writing competition in 1974. I wrote a script which I submitted, and it won second prize. But already during the writing of that text I thought: I have finally found my place in the Norwegian literary scene. A crime novelist I am, for god or bad. Since then there has been no looking back. Are you a meticulous plotter or do you write on instinct? Veum seems to stumble upon the solution sometimes, like Philip Marlowe? Gunnar Staalesen: I am not a thorough plotter, but I sketch out the main storyline quite clearly, what the puzzle should be and who is guilty. But then all sorts of things happen during the writing process. Characters you thought you had pinned down change, new ideas emerge, you notice connections between different aspects of the plot and new dimensions to the story. But usually, I end up where I originally intended. Veum applies his intuition, of course, like all detectives, with the assistance of the writer. Sherlock Holmes may not have solved a single crime if it were not for Conan Doyle. The most flattering thing for a writer is to have his characters and fictional universe outgrow their creator. Will you kill off Veum in the end, or will you allow him to grow, perhaps into a franchise without you? Gunnar Staalesen: I will write about Varg Veum as long as I live. I don’t care much for writers who adopt the literary creations of others and write new stories about old characters. You can never beat the original. As a matter of principle, I feel that authors should have the imagination to create their own characters. In other words, I suppose Varg Veum will follow me to my grave, at least his fictional incarnation. Yet, he might still find a life beyond death in films and on TV, and hopefully in new editions of my novels. What is your take on the phenomenon «Nordic Noir» ? Why do you think Scandinavian crime novels for a while enjoyed such immense popularity? Gunnar Staalesen: It is difficult for some one who is himself a part of the «nordic noir» craze to answer this question. We must assume- or at least hope- that some of the popularity is simply due to the high quality of the works produced. Sjöwall & Wahlöö initiated a a golden age of Nordic Crime fiction, and here I will include all my colleagues, both Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Finnish, who all form part of this new wave. We have seen a period with a lot of great novels, and, in all modesty, I hope I have made a small contribution. The term “nordic noir” is somewhat deceptive as it includes a wide range of books, anything from classic who-done-its to police procedurals, espionage thrillers and PI novels. But they originate in the Nordic countries, and are indebted to both the ancient Icelandic Sagas, as well as Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Simenon and all the other great names from foreign countries. Is there a particular Norwegian way of writing crime fiction? Gunnar Staalesen: No, I don’t believe there is. But there is much more scenery in Nordic literature, since we live so close to it, and politically most of us are social democrats. But apart from this, I don’t think we are much different. That is the great thing about crime fiction. As a genre, it is international, and easily recognizable, whether it is written in Japan, Brazil, England or Norway. You were once rejected by Norwegian publishing legend Brikt Jensen. Do your editors still give you a hard time, even now that you are a veteran, so to speak? Gunnar Staalesen: Well, it wasn’t Brikt Jensen who rejected me. He was head of the publisher, and it was probably his consultants that rejected some of my early work. Actually, I have never argued with my editors. We have had a great partnership all these years. They offer sound advice and input, and I benefit greatly from this, even now as a veteran writer. What is the best crime novel you have read? Gunnar Staalesen: How Like An Angel av Margaret Millar. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literature / travelWhen Somalis appear in western media it is often as victims or perpetrators. “It is to be expected. They come from a country in anarchy”, we’re told. Yet, even among the ruins of Somalia, books are being read and written, and problems are being discussed in fictional form.  Ali Jimale Ahmed is a professor of comparative African literature, and he draws a nuanced picture of the cultural life of his native country. Somalia has long been considered a failed state, but are there still significant authors who write about daily life in the country? Professor Ahmed: By all accounts Somalia is a failed state–governmental structures and the ideologies that sustained them have collapsed. But that does not mean that a semblance of pseudo-state organizations are absent. The international community–the U.N., the EU, the AU, and a host of other organizations are in the country to shore up the internationally recognized government. That said, when we speak about Somali writing and writers, it is much better to differentiate between two forms of discourses, namely, discourses of the state and discourses of the nation. Seen from that perspective, there are significant authors who write about daily life–the trials and tribulations, as well as the accomplishments of people trying to eke out a living under difficult circumstances–in all parts of Somalia. These writers publish articles and books inside the country. One need only read the many books published in the “country.” What sort of education do the normal citizen of Somalia get these days? Professor Ahmed: Education is one of the sectors severally impacted by the collapse of the state. There is no uniform or harmonized curriculum. The various state entities do not have a coherent educational policy in place. Private institutions and civil society groups run the educational sector. Depending on their affiliation or from where they get their financial or moral/intellectual support from these institutions replicate the kind of curriculum found in Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, and the UK, and so on. That said, graduates from those schools and universities are found to be well prepared to undertake undergraduate and graduate studies in European and North American universities.  Some such students are now studying at Princeton, for example. Like many African countries Somalia has a proud and ancient history, to what extent do Somali today writers revive this tradition of stories in their work? Professor Ahmed: This is one of the reasons that Somali society has still a viable and resilient culture. Since the collapse of the state, there has been a concerted effort on the part of intellectuals to publish on Somali history and literature. There are Somali websites like Hoyga Suugaanta and Laashin that specialize in literature, and Somali presses, such as Scansom, Laashin and Iftiinka Aqoonta in Sweden, Looh press in England, Redsea-online publishing Group in Italy/UK/Somaliland, that publish the findings and collections of both aspiring and established authors. Literature, in all its forms, is held in high esteem. Indeed, the etymology of suugaan, Somali word for literature, means the sap or fluid of certain plants like the geesariyood. These plants are evergreen, and are associated with life and the sustaining of life under precarious situations or conditions. When all else is gone as a result of a drought, for example, the sap from this plant will sustain a modicum of existence, of life. Thus for the Somali, literature is sustenance that nourishes both the body and mind. When we hear news from Somalia, they often involve Al Shabab and Islamic extremism. What sort of attitude do the major Somali writers take to religion? Professor Ahmed: With the exception of Nuruddin Farah, whose novels have internationalized the Somali case, other major writers rarely discuss religious issues in their fiction. In Maps and Secrets, for example, Farah is at times critical of what he perceives to be excesses and transgressions by those who claim to be religious. In his Past Imperfect Trilogy (2004-2011), In Links, the narrative limns the contours of the post-Siad Barre Somalia–warlords, U.s. intervention, the successes of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), and the eventual arrival on the scene by the better equipped Ethiopian soldiers that denied the ICU what seemed to be a total victory against the warlords. In Crossbones, farah’s narrative reveals a misreading of Somali pirates who were perceived to be Al Shabab members or surrogates. The diaspora is central to the Somali experience, and thus also the racism and prejudices that its citizens face abroad. Are there novels in the Somali language which tell the story of refugees? A recent novel that touches on this topic is Ismaaciil C. Ubax’s Gaax (“Deferment or Postponement”), . It is a novel that describes or trails the lives of three main characters who, even though they live in different climes and times, share certain uncanny characteristics. Equally important are books written for Somali children who are born in the Diaspora. Musa M. Isse’s bilingual tales written in Somali and Swedish help kids born in the Diaspora to develop strong identities. Isse is also the Editor-in-Chief of the first Somali Children’s Magazine in the Europe. The subject of racism is discussed in Igiaba Scego’s Italian-language short stories, and Yasmeen Mohamed’s novel Nomad Diaries, written in English. The topic is also taken up in the novels of two seasoned and award-winning novelists in the Diaspora: Nadifa Mohamed who writes in English and Abdourahman Waberi who writes in French. Somali is a non-european language. Do writers leave their native tongue in favor of English, French or some other European language? To what extent is the Somali language under threat? Professor Ahmed: Somali writers who write in European languages are small compared to those who write in Somali. I do not perceive any threat per se. Rather, the absence of a strong state to nurture and promote the language is perhaps more of a threat to the flourishing of Somali language. Are there big differences between the literary schools of Europe and Somali literature? Is there a Somali modernist school, for instance? Will the intellectual thoughts of urban Europe even make sense in a Somali context? Professor Ahmed: We live in a globalizing/globalized world. The kind of Somalis who could read novels in Somali are, more often than not, the ones who are able to traverse borders. The hundreds of thousands of Somalis who live in Europe travel constantly between Somalia and Europe. That said, we must distinguish between modernization (the process) and modernity (the consciousness). Some parts of Somalia have experienced peace for some time. What sort of literature have been produced in these areas? Professor Ahmed: There are several writers who have written books on their experiences (or those of others) as refugees. But a great deal of literature is coming out of the parts of Somalia that have experienced peace. One need only catalog the plethora of novels published in the country and exhibited at the Hargeysa International Book Fair in Somaliland. The last few years have witnessed the growth of Book Fairs in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, and Garoowe in Puntland. We hear a lot about “the great American novel”. Is there such a thing as “the great Somali novel”? Is there a book or a novel that all Somalis love? Professor Ahmed: The novel has not been fully domesticated in Somalia. Of course, the novel genre is such that it is in its protean form; it has yet to crystallize and assume a definite form. That said, two novels would contend or vie for the distinction. Maxamed Daahir Afrax’s (Mohamed Dahir Afrah) Maana Faay (1981;1993) ushers in a new form of storytelling, as it exhibits ingenious and conscious ways of using language to reflect the quotidian life of its characters. With Maana Faay the novel genre in the Somali language comes of age, both in terms of content and structure. The other novel is Yuusuf Axmed Ibraahin-Hawd’s Aanadii Negeeye, a riveting story that recounts the gory details of murder and revenge. The narrative unfolds as the eponymous protagonist, Negeeye, whose father was murdered shortly after Negeeye’s birth, remembers his mother’s account of the brutal killing of his father. Negeeye, then, plots to avenge his father’s death. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyA controversial row is dividing Norwegian and European historians and researchers these days: decolonization of academia. What does it actually mean? Some seem to think that it is a matter of giving credit where credit is due; to all the unsung heroes of non-western background who have been suppressed or banned from official accounts. Others see it as an attempt to introduce non-scientific methodology in areas where it cannot possibly do good, in medicine or the natural sciences. We talked with an outspoken proponent of decolonization, the historian of ideas Dag Herbjørnsrud, and asked him to specify what the movement is trying to do.  When did this movement of decolonization start, and why has it become an issue now? Dag Herbjørnsrud: The event that sparked much of the current decolonial debates was the removal of the Cecil Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town, on April 9th, 2015. One student, Chumani Mawele, started the protest exactly one month earlier, arguing that the “The Thinker”-looking statue of the colonizer, one of the founders of the apartheid ideology, does not represent him nor the students of today’s South Africa. The students started the peaceful civil disobedience campaign #RhodesMustFall – and after a month of discussion, the Council of the university conceded. Later, the students expanded the campaign to include the right to affordable education. The decolonize campaign spread to Europe as well: At the University of Cambridge, a group of scholars began discussing how one could “decolonize” its English literature syllabus last year – not only focusing on the texts of white males. Academics around the world are now asking: Is the Canon we teach really a selection of the best texts available? And: Is the history of the different disciplines presented in a neutral, scientific way, or how much of the colonial and biased legacy from the last couple of hundred years is still present? Oxford University Press is now establishing the “New Histories of Philosophies” series with professor Christia Mercer and Melvin Rogers as editors. London University has started to offer the course “World Philosophies,” and Dr Meera Sabaratnam was the one who held the introduction at the seminar on “Decolonising the Academy” in Oslo, June 8th. In Norway, a “Decolonial Research Group”  was set up at The Norwegian University of Science and Techology some months ago, a platform for discussing “the legacies of colonialism from ethical, sociotechnical, literary, and cultural perspectives.” They recently held their first public workshop in Trondheim, and soon after, the student organization SAIH (The Students and Academics International Assistance Fund) did a very well attended seminar in Oslo. This fall, several books are published internationally: One of them is the anthology “Decolonising the University” (Pluto Press); Sussex-professor Gurminder K. Bhambra is one of the editors.  I studied postcolonial literature in the 90s, what is different now? Dag Herbjørnsrud: You’re right: Decolonization might look like postcolonial studies all over again. And of course, classics like Edward D. Said’s Orientalism (1978), Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak” (1988), and Samir Amin’s Eurocentrism (1988) are an important background for today’s development. Still, I would say that the decolonizing concept brings new energy to the debates: Instead of a narrative where “postcolonial” succeeds the colonial era, a bit like Neo-romanticism arises as a consequence of Romanticism, the concept of decolonizing rather makes us think: No, we need to reject the colonial ideology altogether. We need decolonize! The problem is the ideological colonial narrative that is all around us. The task is to erase the colonial legacy from our mind sets – in order to get a more balanced and scientific approach to our past and present. In other words: Decolonising the Mind. That is also the title of a book published in 1986 by the Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o. His main concern was language; the right to speak, write, and use one’s native language instead of only colonial languages like English. I think Thiongo’s concept has this transcending power that could be applied to most of the Academy of today. In 1999, New Zealand professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith published Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People. This is a ground-breaking book that uses the Maori experience with the colonial system in order to bring us forward toward a more non-colonial and global perspective. As I see it, there are often one or more of these three demands when it comes to decolonizing: 1) A more balanced presentation of the world’s scientific history within the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. The Academy should not only be based on a Eurocentric or Protestant/Catholic narrative. 2) A less Oriental account of the world outside Western Europe/the US. For the last decades this region has been given the mythological name “the Western Countries,” seemingly meaning “white”, but too often the complexity and diversity of Europe and the US are not acknowledged. 3) A more subject critical evaluation of what we study, and why. In several disciplines today, European men have been canonized and given quotas just because one has not bothered to look for earlier or better writers and scholars. There are other perspectives as well. Student organizations have been working in order to help establish the Indigenous University in Colombia – and last year the Native and Afro-descendant Peoples of Abya Yala thanked a number of Norwegian institutions for their support. So, decolonizing can mean different things depending on the discipline, the place, and the context. But I think the most contributions can be included in the three points above.  You have written a book called Global Knowledge. Renaissance for a New Enlightenment (2016, new edition in 2018). Why did you decide to write this work? Dag Herbjørnsrud: After some twenty years in the media, and some three co-authored books, I got a bit tired of all the myths and simplifications in the media and the academy. So, instead of asking others to give a non-colonial presentation of the world’s global knowledge – arguing for a new Renaissance – I just wrote the book myself. I founded Center for Global and Comparative History on April 6th, 2015, three days before Chumani Mawele started his more successful campaign in South Africa. In May 2016, just before I was to turn in my manuscript of my book, Bryan W. Van Norden and Jay L. Garfield published a column in the New York Times arguing for diversity, and this column resulted in the book Taking Back Philosophy. A Multicultural Manifesto (2017). So, I guess you might say that these topics of diversity, global perspectives, and non-colonial thinking were in the air several places in the world.  Could you give us some examples of characters that have been neglected by official historians? Dag Herbjørnsrud: Oh, that would take weeks. But of the English texts I have published on these matters, I could mention the Aeon essay “The African Enlightenment”: It covers the Ethiopian rationalist philosopher Zera Yacob (1599–1672) and his student Walda Heywat. In his book, The Inquiry (1667), Zera Yacob argues against all religious laws that are contrary to reason, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Indian. He argues against laws that says menstruating women are impure, as it “impedes marriage and the entire life of a woman, and it spoils the law of mutual help, prevents the bringing up of children and destroys love.” Zera Yacob stated that woman and man are “equal in marriage,” and he put forward a universal argument against slavery and discrimination “All men are equal in the presence of God; and all are intelligent, since they are his creatures; he did not assign one people for life, another for death, one for mercy, another for judgment. Our reason teaches us that this sort of discrimination cannot exist.” This is far beyond anything Kant wrote, a hundred years later. The Aeon text became one of the most shared essays on the web last December/January, and it was translated and published in some of the foremost papers and magazines in Brazil, Iran, and Italy. So, it seems that there might become a global awakening. More people understand that the human culture has produced so much more exciting than the ethnocentric and national canons we have been fed. The Aeon text also covers Anton Wilhelm Amo (ca. 1703–1755), who was born and died in today’s Ghana. As a young child he was brought to Germany – and he ended up teaching philosophy at Halle and Wittenberg and writing treatises in Latin. One could of course mention hundreds of names from the Chinese, Indian, Arab, African, and Latin American cultures who have contributed to the world heritage. When it comes to the natural sciences more recently, I would like to mention the Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose (1894–1974) whose work on quantum mechanics provided the foundation for Bose-Einstein condensate.  Bose’s contribution was misrepresented in the curriculum at the University of Oslo, and I’m glad the result of the discussion is that he is given due credit for his important work. Bose’s article was actually rejected in the UK, so he sent it to Albert Einstein, who immediately recognized his genius derivation of Planck’s law. Einstein translated the text from English into German, and Bose got it published. The rest is history. When it comes to the theory of evolution, I think it should be common knowledge to know that Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) – who also can be named a founder of sociology – proclaimed that humans descend from apes: “The higher stage of man is reached from the world of monkeys, in which both sagacity and perception are found, but which has not reached the stage of actual reflection and thinking.” When it comes to history, I think it is important to know that The Battle of Vienna (1683) – and the rest of European history for that matter – never was a clash of civilizations between Christianity and Islam. My second Aeon essay, “The Real Battle of Vienna”, highlighted how the Sunni Muslim Tatars of Lithuania and Poland have been vital for the defense of their countries from 1397 and until the Nazi invasion in WWII. In general, the encyclopedias, the media, or the standard text books do not mention such facts; maybe such facts are not deemed as important, but they are.  What about this argument presented by your opponents that SAIH will introduce dangerous medical treatements or perhaps set back the progress of research? Dag Herbjørnsrud: Those accusations against SAIH and others are way off target. True, The Daily Mail and other UK colonial defenders have had some vicious attacks on the students who wanted to mention Kant’s racism and terrible views upon women. But the claims from some academics and media pundits have been rather embarrassing for the image of Scandinavian debate. Wouldn’t decolonization have to take into account the peculiarities of each academic discipline? Can we have a decolonization of medical science, for instance? Dag Herbjørnsrud: Yes, one has to be precise. And medical faculty postdoc Tony Sandset has stressed exactly that point. According to Maren Sæbø, a journalist and historian specializing in African affairs, the medical research institutions do not prioritize sickle-cell disease, of which 80 percent of the cases occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. That is one way to decolonize medical science – to give priority also to the health problems among minorities in rich countries and to diseases in countries that have been colonized. In addition, I think all medical students should be taught that the Persian polymath Ibn Sina (980–1037) wrote The Canon of Medicine (1025) – which was the standard medical textbook in Europe for over five hundred years, until the 18th century. If the upcoming doctors and researchers know that they are following in the footsteps of a Muslim from today’s Uzbekistan, the father of modern medicine, I think that will have positive effect on attitudes and actions as well.  Another argument presented by your opponents is that you, by adding to the official canon, will push out familiar faces. These characters, some claim, are essential for understanding our own history? Dag Herbjørnsrud: That is a valid point to discuss. One answer would be: Look at the books written by professor Arne Næss for exphil (the introductory courses at the Norwegian universities) in 1953. He did not push out familiar faces even though he included Chinese, Indian, and Arab philosophers. It is the Canon of the last decades that has become more narrow and ethnocentric. For example, Goethe was inspired by the Persian poet Hafez, dedicating one of his latest major works (West-Eastern Divan) to him. Both Martin Buber and Martin Heidegger translated and utilized the thinking of the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi in their writings. The British translated a lot of Indian texts into English while they occupied/colonized India. I would say such things changed for the worse after WWII. Ironically, when the former colonies became politically independent states, the former colonizers seem to have lost interest in their intellectual production. So, the political decolonization did not result in a mental decolonization. Take a look at the historian William McNeill’s bestseller The Rise of the West. A History of the Human Community (1963). It neglected or Orientalized the world beyond “the West”. But in 1991, in a new foreword, McNeill admitted that his former scope and conception was “intellectual imperialism,” an expression of “the postwar imperial mood”, and a result of “residual Eurocentrism.” Unfortunately, not too many are as self-critical as him. When history is written it may trace either chronology or influence. Some ideas emerge, only to be forgotten and then re-appear at a later date. It is the same in nature, the eye has been re-invented many times by evolution. Could you give us example of such an idea, and tell us why it is important to study these historical «dead ends»? Dag Herbjørnsrud: One example is the atheistic and secular school of India, Lokayata (also known as Carvaka). It is the world’s oldest known atheistic and materialistic thinking, more than 2500 years old. We have texts about such natural thinkers, like Jayarasi in the 8th century and the Muslim Mughal emperor Akbar in the 1580s. But atheism became a “dead end” during colonial times – the 17th–20th centuries were actually very religious. I think atheism/Lokayata is an example of an idea/school that can reappear more forcefully now in the 21st century. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya’s collection on this is so great – and just a week ago, Ethan Mills published a very exciting book on a closely related topic, scepticism, namely Three Pilars of Scepticism in Classical India.  Some claim that decolonization should only be relevant for certain cultural spheres. The Chinese, for instance, should perhaps be allowed to use their own thinkers instead of the western ones. What are your specific goals with decolonization? Are you trying to change our common global knowledge, or are you calling for more space for individuality? Dag Herbjørnsrud: I’m trying to change, or rather improve, our common global knowledge. I think we need to expand our knowledge both in its breadth and in its depth. A hundred or two hundred years ago, the educated people were proud to know about the world. For the last decades, it seems like we in Europe have become less interested in the global history if ideas. The global perspectives of Arne Næss was removed from the curriculum lists, and the UiO master program of both the history of ideas and cultural history has been defined purely as part of “European culture”. This idea of “cultural spheres”, that only the Chinese should know about the Chinese, is really new and dangerous. Yes, Europeans still know about the peace message of Gandhi and Mandela – but there is so much more – like the cosmopolitan “universal love” philosophy of the Chinese thinker Mozi (3rd c BCE). Luckily, people in Africa and Asia get to know about Europe, but it is dangerous that Europeans in general are not taught much about the rest of the world – at least not in a non-Oriental or non-colonial way. This narrowness feeds extremists and populists. In his main work of 1543, Copernicus proudly quoted Arab scientists and stated that he relied on Egyptian calculations and Indian numbers. Such pre-colonial world-views are seldom these days. But I still believe in change.So many excellent academics are working for the better – for example Peter Frankopan, check his bestseller The Silk Roads (2015), and Wendy L Belcher, Sarah E. Bond, Dorothy Kim, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Peter Adamson, and Chike Jeffers. Why do you think there has been so much opposition to the decolonization project within Norwegian academia? Dag Hebjørnsrud: One reason is that some scholars feel threatened. After all, the philosophy departments in Norway basically teach philosophy only within a European Catholic-Protestant tradition. So, Europeans like the Muslim Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides – both from what is now Spain and born in the 12th century – are excluded. Ibn Rushd was included in the Canon by both Dante in 1320 and by the painter Raphael in 1511, but now, he’s not presented as a European anymore. In addition, Norwegians have for generations been taught that they have been “colonized” by Danish and Swedes. Norway’s unions with its neighboring countries had nothing to do with colonialism, of course. But Norwegians are not being taught that Norway was heavily involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade; shipping over 100,000 Africans to the Danish-Norwegian colonies in Ghana and in the Caribbean (St. Thomas, St John, and St Croix) from 1672 to 1814. And it’s not yet part of general knowledge to acknowledge that the Sami people for centuries have been treated in a colonial way by the state, like the indigenous people in Canada or the Maoris in New Zealand. Without facing such facts or realizing the historical suppression of the Jews and the Roma people, it will also be hard to face such a debate on decolonizing the Academy.  Let us say that you are successful in your efforts. What will be different in our western academia? Dag Herbjørnsrud: Well, it’s not about me; it’s about us. What kind of academia would we like? Several loud voices seem to fancy a more nationalist, ethnocentric, and colonial curriculum – based on a white identity ideology. I would prefer a more balanced, global, scientific, and non-ideological presentation of the past and the present. In short: decolonized and non-colonized reading lists. There is a long way to go. But there is still hope. Dag Herbjørnsrud is the author of  Global Knowledge. Renaissance for a New Enlightenment (2016, new edition in 2018), a work hailed as “An enormously important project” by Norwegian social anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen. The book is a journey into the history of ideas, from India’s secular lokayata-philosophy, via Copernicus and the woman who wrote the world’s very first novel, to The Matrix.  Relevant links: “The African Enlightenment”, an essay by Dag Herbjørnsrud  “The Real Battle of Vienna”, an essay by Dag Herbjørnsrud “Den Muslimske Darwin”, a Norwegian article by Dag Herbjørnsrud (translation: The Muslim Darwin”) Like this:Like Loading... [...]
creative writing / literatureSometimes everyone who writes get frustrated. You search for different ways of improving your writing, and of understanding what it actually is. There is a whole support industry for writers, with all sorts of meta theories, methods and ideas. But which ones to choose? decided on a different approach: we would seek out a genuine clinical psychologist and ask him or her some questions. Of course, there is the a chance that we might not be asking the right questions. But that’s what psychologists are for, isn’t it? We were fortunate enough to get in touch with professor Elena Grigorenko. And we got some things clarified at least: even a distinguished professor may struggle with writing. ……..Also, I think our questions could have been better. Some people write diaries or journals, does this have any proven psychological value? Elena Grigorenko: This is a very broad question. Psychological value in general? Or as a component of something else, for example, treatment for aphasia or dysgraphia or depression? With regard to the former, it depends on how the writer frames diary and/or journal writing for him/herself. The subjective value attached to this exercise does matter a lot. It could be viewed as an autobiographical tool, as a self-efficacy tool, as a writing development tool, and all these tools are improvable—the more you practice, the better you get. With regard to the latter, yes, writing is used effectively in various treatment approaches and there is a corresponding literature for that. Does it matter whether you write by hand or on a keyboard? Elena Grigorenko: The writing mode one uses does matter. Consider a number of parameters here. The first is speed. When adults speak, they produce 120-180 words per minute, when they type—60-90 words, when they handwrite—18-24 words. The second is coordination—while writing by hand, we need to coordinate multiple modalities, there is a substantial fine motor element to hand-writing which is very important. The third is editability; when we type, it is much easier to edit, compared to handwriting. Finally (among many other possible dimensions of comparisons, I suppose), there are esthetic features to writing. Calligraphy was considered a type of art; not quite like painting, but… not that different, really. Typing has never been appreciated for its esthetic features. So, it does matter; different types of writing engage different (although overlapping, of course) sets of psychological processes. What about writing literature, being creative and constructing scenarios that have nothing to do with your personal experience? Elena Grigorenko:  What about it? This opens different dimensions for us to consider, among which are “gift with words” (this type of writing is different from creating grocery lists) and “gift of storytelling.” This is not only about the skill of putting words on paper or on screen. There is much more to it! Is there an optimal way of writing, things that one should or should not do? Elena Grigorenko:  Writing for what purposes? Developmentally, writing acquisition is a very important component of developing mind-hand coordination, so hand-writing is very important. In the everyday adult world typing saves time, makes people much more effective in expressing their thoughts quickly (and sometimes sloppily). There are different (very different!) goals for which different modes of writing are used, and it is important to differentiate these goals. When I was a student, I found that writing had an impact on memory. For instance, if there was a lecture, whether I remembered its content or not often depended on whether I took notes. Regardless of whether I actually consulted my notes afterwards. Is this true? Elena Grigorenko: Yes, it is true. Note-taking gives you a chance to process the information twice, initially orally and then when you put your thoughts on paper. This means you have encoded the information twice (and therefore, will remember it better). Many writers have different rituals that they perform before beginning their daily sessions. Does this have any proven value? Elena Grigorenko:  I, unfortunately, do not know much about these routines, but I assume that these are used as self-organization devices, so people get themselves into states of mind that they consider effective for the goals they want to accomplish. It is, probably, not that different from musicians or athletes or professors—all have to get into modes of maximum performance. What does writing tell us about the way we externalize and organize ideas? Elena Grigorenko:  Are you asking about judging the quality of thinking of an individual based on his or her writing? Sure, that can be done. That is why writing is used diagnostically in school settings, admission to higher education settings, and job performance settings. Yes, writing is a good diagnostic tool. And it could be used to diagnose different skills–critical thinking and creative thinking, among other things. If we regard writing in terms of brain function, have we discovered anything new in recent years about the phenomena of writing? Elena Grigorenko:  Writing does involve the brain and there are specific pathways (partially overlapping with and partially different from those used to substantiate reading and math). Are there differences between the effect of different types of languages, for instance English and Chinese? Elena Grigorenko: Yes, of course. Writing necessitates the mastery of a writing system, alphabetic or not. As systems differ, so does writing, both developmentally (i.e., how we learn it) and functionally (i.e. how we use it). What about your own methods of writing? You have written several books; did you follow any of your own advice? Elena Grigorenko: No, unfortunately, I do not have a recipe. Writing is difficult for me, it is hard work. And all I do to get better is practice as much as I can and solicit feedback as much as I can. And try to get better at it. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyOn June 30, 1980, a promising young academic got into his car in Guyana. Minutes later a bomb detonated and he was instantly killed. That man was Walter Rodney, an influential historian whose thinking about Africa and the colonial legacy caused an uproar in the 1960s and 70s. But who was Rodney really and what was his academic legacy? And was his mysterious murder in any way connected to his revolutionary ideas? We asked Dwayne Wong Omowale, author of The Political and Intellectual Legacy of Walter Rodney. Why is Walter Rodney such an important character in African intellectual history? Dwayne Wong Omowale: Walter Rodney’s importance to African intellectual history is the work that he was doing was very revolutionary in many ways. He was a historian and political activist who challenged many of the racist ideologies and ideas that were prominent in academia at the time, but more so than challenging the often racist and Eurocentric narratives about Africa’s history, Rodney also spoke out against the injustices that were being inflicted against African people around the world. What is also especially noteworthy about Rodney is that he seemed to have left a profound impact wherever he worked, whether it was in Guyana, Jamaica, Tanzania, or in the United States. Prior to this death, Rodney was also planning to move to Zimbabwe because he was invited to work as a professor there. Very few Pan-African intellectuals left the type of global legacy that Rodney did. Tell us a little about his background, his family and education? Dwayne Wong Omowale: Rodney was born in British Guiana in 1942. His father was a member of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which was led by an Indian man named Cheddi Jagan. At the time the PPP was the leading anti-colonial political party in British Guiana. Eventually there was a split between Jagan and Forbes Burnham, who was one of the founders of the PPP. Burnham would go on to create his own political party, the People’s National Congress (PNC). Burnham would go on to lead British Guiana into independence in 1966 and the name of the country was subsequently changed to Guyana after independence. In school Rodney was able to distinguish himself as a very brilliant student and he eventually earned a scholarship to study at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. He then completed his doctorate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, England in 1966. Rodney was 24 at the time that he finished his doctorate. The interesting thing about this is that when Rodney began working as a professor in Tanzania some thought that he was one of the students because Rodney was actually younger than many of the students there. When did he start developing his theories about colonialism? Dwayne Wong Omowale: As I mentioned, Rodney’s father was involved in the PPP at the time. As a child Rodney was tasked with distributing party manifestos, so Rodney was introduced to politics and the anti-colonial struggle in Guyana at a young age. As an undergraduate at the University of the West Indies, Rodney was involved in campus activities, which included many of the political discussions that were being held at the time. In 1962, Rodney traveled to Cuba and returned with a book by Che Guevara. That same year Rodney also attended a congress that was held in Russia. It was during this period as an undergraduate that Rodney was being exposed to communist literature and this would continue when Rodney went to study in England. There Rodney was in contact with communists. C.L.R. James, who was from Trinidad, was a significant influence for Rodney. James was a Pan-Africanist and a Marxist theoretician. Rodney participated in study groups with James and other Marxists in England. Rodney’s theories regarding colonialism were developed during his years in college as an undergraduate and a graduate student, but Rodney was exposed to the anti-colonial struggle since he was a child. According to Rodney the West prevented Africa from developing after liberation. Especially the multinationals were blamed. With the benefit of hindsight, does his theories still hold water? Dwayne Wong Omowale: In hindsight much of what Rodney said regarding multinationals is still very much true. We can look at the blood diamond controversy for example. Civil wars in countries such as Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Congo were financed by Western diamond industries. In Botswana the San people took the government to court because the government of Botswana was trying to evict the San people from their land in order to gain access to the diamond deposits there. Aside from blood diamonds, there is also the issue of coltan from the Congo. Coltan is used for electrical devices such as smart phones. The mining of coltan has included forced labor, as well as child labor. These are just two quick examples of how multinational corporations have been exploiting Africa’s resources and hindering Africa’s development since Rodney died. There still is this persistent issue of foreign nations benefiting from Africa’s resources at the expense of the African people. Much of the mineral wealth and resources that is extracted from Africa benefits foreign corporations and foreign nations, but Africa remains underdeveloped and the African masses are still struggling. This relationship has not changed very significantly since Rodney was alive. What sort of reception did his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972) get? It was not as scholarly as his dissertation? Dwayne Wong Omowale: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa is Rodney’s most well-known book. The reception to it has been very positive largely because Rodney was able to put Africa’s underdevelopment and poverty into its proper historical context. Rodney was not the first person to suggest that there was a relationship between Africa’s underdevelopment and Europe’s exploitation of Africa, but How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was a very extensive study of that relationship. It was also a very important work because it dispelled the idea that colonialism was a benefit for African people. Colonialism was often justified on the basis of bringing civilization or modern advances to Africa, but Rodney demonstrated that the technological gains that Africa made as a result of colonialism were very minimal at best and this was offset by the tremendous suffering that Africans endured as a result of colonialism. Medical care is one area that Rodney specifically addressed. Typically, the best medical care was reserved for Europeans who were living in Africa and Africans were forced to be treated in hospitals that were in very poor condition. In most cases Africans simply did not have access to hospitals at all because the European administrations decided not to build one. Rodney also criticized the fact that in many colonies the Europeans not only failed to provide medical care, but they also failed to train African doctors. The benefits of modern medicine from Western society was not something that the majority of Africans were not able to truly benefit from, yet Africans badly needed proper healthcare because they were being overworked and underfed by the colonial administrations. Malnourishment and curable diseases killed many Africans during colonialism. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was more of a polemic against colonialism in Africa than Rodney’s dissertation was, so it may not have been as scholarly in that regard, but How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was still very thoroughly researched and built on some of the arguments that Rodney had made in his dissertation. He was quite a controversial figure on Jamaica where he worked for a while. What were the 1968 Rodney Riots? Dwayne Wong Omowale: He was very controversial in Jamaica. At the time there was a growing Black Power movement in the Caribbean, which was influenced by the Black Power movement in the United States. Many in the Caribbean were frustrated with the fact that colonialism had ended, but there was still a lot of poverty in the region, so for the masses of people in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries independence did not bring about a significant change in their situation. Caribbean governments were very uncomfortable with this development. For example, Jamaica banned books by Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and other activists who were deemed to be too radical. What made Rodney so controversial is that he was very critical of the Jamaican government for neglecting the black masses on the island. Rodney himself wrote about meeting with people who lived in rubbish dumps. This was the type of abject poverty that existed in Jamaica at the time. Rodney was also preaching the same message of Black Power which the Jamaican government was attempting to censor. In 1968, Rodney went to Canada to attend a conference. When he attempted to return to Jamaica, he was denied entry into the country. What became known as the Rodney Riots was a reaction to the news that Rodney was banned. People in Jamaica took to the streets and began rioting to express their frustration that Rodney, who had become a very popular figure in Jamaica, was banned. Rodney was seen as a spokesperson for the struggling masses in Jamaica, so banning him sent the message that the Jamaican government truly did not care about the suffering of its own citizens. The Jamaican opposition also criticized the government’s decision to ban Rodney. Hugh Shearer was the prime minister of Jamaica at the time Rodney was banned and he would go on to lose to Michael Manley in the election that was held in 1972, so in a sense the Rodney Riots also represented an important shift in Jamaica’s politics. Unlike Shearer, Manley was much more supportive of the Black Power movement. In his writings Rodney often referred to “race” and “class”? Are these terms sufficient to explain the historical period he was writing about? Dwayne Wong Omowale: I would argue that these terms are sufficient. For Rodney, both race and class were important to truly understand the oppression of African people around the world. As an African descendant, Rodney was combating the racial oppression that African people were experiencing around the world, but he was also a Marxist who was fighting against the class structure of the global capitalistic society as well. Class was important to Rodney’s analysis because within this racist capitalist structure there were certain Africans who were able to amass somewhat of a privileged position. This included the Caribbean and African heads of government whom Rodney was very critical of. These Africans belonged to the class of people whom Rodney referred to as the “petit bourgeoisie.” Rodney included himself in this class as well because he worked in academia. Rodney saw this class of Africans—the petit bourgeoisie class—as people who benefited from the exploitation of the African working class. He included academics in this category because many of them earned a comfortable living working at public universities which were paid for by taxpayers, but few of these academics truly served the interests of the African working class. In Rodney’s view the struggles of African people around the world was not just a struggle against racism, but also a struggle against a global capitalist system which exploited working class Africans around the world and a system in which a particular class of Africans were benefiting from at the expense of the masses. Race and class were especially important in Guyana, where politics were polarized based on race. I mentioned the split between Burnham and Jagan before. This not only created a political split in Guyana, but a racial split as well, which resulted in violence between Africans and Indians in Guyana in the 1960s. When Rodney returned to Guyana in 1974, he joined an organization known as the Working People’s Alliance. The WPA was trying to create racial unity in Guyana and criticized both political parties for exploiting Guyana’s racial tension for their own purposes, so within that context the class structure of Guyana was just as important to Rodney as the racial make up of the country as well. What sort of views did Rodney have on the transatlantic slave trade? Dwayne Wong Omowale: In Rodney’s view the transatlantic slave trade began the underdevelopment of Africa, which is a process that would continue under colonialism. You mentioned Rodney’s dissertation before and the slave trade was a very central topic in his dissertation. In his writings Rodney mentions some of the ways in which the slave trade adversely impacted Africa’s development. He wrote that it completely changed the social and political organization in West Africa, as well as stagnating both Africa’s population and economic development. Rodney also applied his views of class and race to the slave trade. Rodney wrote that the European ruling class and the African ruling class jointly preyed on the African masses during the slave trade. Rodney argued that the slave trade not only sharpened class divisions in Africa, but that the slave trade was a forerunner for the present day “neo-colonial” situation in Africa in which African politicians and multinational corporations jointly work together to exploit the African masses. So, on an academic level the slave trade was central to Rodney’s work because the slave trade is not only where Africa’s underdevelopment began, but it is also where certain class formations began forming in Africa. Apart from Rodney’s views on the slave trade as a historian, the slave trade was also important to the work that he was doing as a political activist. The slave trade stole millions of Africans away from their homeland, so a lot of the work that Rodney was engaged in was an effort to reconnect with that lost African identity. This was one of the reasons why Rodney became so interested in studying African history and why he worked as a professor in Africa. Rodney felt that it was important for African descendants in the Americas to reconnect with their African roots and to take pride in their identity as descendants of Africa. Was there any relationship between Walter Rodney and Immanuel Wallerstein?  Dwayne Wong Omowale: I am not sure honestly. The two men shared many of the same ideas regarding the adverse impact that colonialism had in Africa and they were both very critical of capitalism, but the precise nature of their relationship is not something that I am aware of. I was able to come across information about a letter that Wallerstein had sent to Rodney, which included a cheque, but I am not sure what Rodney did to earn this cheque. That is the most that I know about the relationship between the two men. Who were Rodney’s chief academic opponents at the time? Dwayne Wong Omowale: That is an interesting question because usually the focus tends to be on Rodney’s political opponents, such as the governments of Jamaica and Guyana. Rodney was a Marxist, an anti-colonialist, and an anti-imperialist, so many of his academic opponents were typically people in academia who were opposed to the ideas that Rodney was putting forward. The example that comes to mind is a historian named J.D. Fage, who disagreed with Rodney’s views on the slave trade for many reasons. Fage argued that the slave trade was good for Africa’s political development, whereas Rodney held the opposite view. Fage also accused Rodney of romanticizing Africa. Rodney was challenging many prevailing ideas about Africa’s history at the time, such as the notion of Africa being a “Dark Continent” which had no civilizations of its own until Europeans arrived, so much of the opposition that Rodney received came from scholars like Fage who wanted to hold on to these ideas about Africa. There are many theories about his murder? Some speculate that the West was involved somehow? Is there any truth to this? After all, this was the Cold War and Rodney was a socialist? Dwayne Wong Omowale: It would be difficult to say how much Western involvement there was. I know there is a lot of speculation that the West was involved not only because of the political climate at the time, which you alluded to, but also because Burnham was someone who was helped into power by the United States and Britain. Jagan, whom I mentioned before, was a communist. Western countries saw Burnham as a more moderate alternative to Jagan, although Burnham was a professed socialist as well. Western countries intervened in Guyana to ensure that Burnham was the prime minister of Guyana by the time the country became independent. Burnham remained in power in Guyana from 1966 until his death in 1985. The view that some Guyanese have expressed to me is that the same CIA which helped Burnham take power in Guyana was still assisting Burnham to remain in power, so the CIA eliminated Rodney because of the threat that Rodney potentially posed to Burnham’s government. It is difficult to say with certainty because when Rodney was killed there was not a real investigation to find out what happened. The government at the time alleged that Rodney had killed himself with his own bomb, but there was never an official investigation. In 2015 there was a commission of inquiry held on Rodney’s assassination. The commission concluded that Rodney was indeed assassinated and that Prime Minister Burnham was complicit in the plot to kill Rodney. The commission also presented evidence to dispel the notion that Rodney had blown himself up with his own bomb. As to how much of a role the CIA or other Western entities played, I am not aware of any documents or evidence that directly links Western entities to Rodney’s assassination and this was not something that was discussed at the commission, although there is good reason to believe that the CIA may have been involved. What sort of reactions did his death cause at the time? Dwayne Wong Omowale: I have some personal experience with this because I was born in Guyana. My mother, who was still a child at the time, attended some of Rodney’s rallies. She told me that she was devastated, so much so that she had buried her memory of Rodney deep in her subconscious, until I reminded her about him more than three decades later. Many of the Guyanese who supported Rodney felt this same feeling of shock and devastation regarding Rodney’s assassination. It is estimated that as many as 35,000 people attended Rodney’s funeral. It is also important to understand what was happening leading up to Rodney’s death as well. Prior to Rodney being killed, there was a Guyanese journalist and priest named Bernard Drake, who was stabbed to death because of his criticisms of the government. There was also the Jonestown massacre which happened in 1978, so this was a very dark period in Guyana’s history and Rodney’s death added to the fear and uncertainty that Guyanese were feeling about the future of the country. Rodney inspired hope in many Guyanese, so to have him be killed—especially in such a horrible manner—was a very devastating blow to Guyana. What do you think Rodney would say about the way Africa is today, almost 40 years after his death? Dwayne Wong Omowale: As I indicated earlier, I think much of what Rodney said still applies today, so I am sure that much of what Rodney was saying about Africa in the 1970s is what he would be saying today if he were alive. Africa is still underdeveloped and the petit bourgeoisie African leaders that Rodney denounced when he was alive are still in authority in Africa today. I also think Rodney would be encouraged by some of the events that have been happening in Africa. In recent years there have been uprisings and protests that have resulted in regime changes in countries such as Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, the Gambia, and more recently the Sudan. Togo, which has the oldest military regime in Africa, experienced mass protests in 2017 and the Togolese activists are still fighting to end dictatorship in Togo. Rodney wrote a pamphlet titled, “People’s Power, No Dictator.” The pamphlet was directed specifically at the Burnham regime in Guyana, but in it Rodney also wrote very broadly about dictatorships and why the masses must organize to liberate themselves from dictatorships. Rodney argued that the people must mobilize to liberate themselves from oppression and this is something that we are witnessing today across Africa. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history A crowd of millions cheered as Ghana became independent in 1957 (audio above). “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked-up with the total liberation of the African Continent”, Kwame Nkrumah boldly declared on the day of liberation. Yet a couple of decades later, Nkrumah has been toppled from power, has ended up in exile on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, and his pan African dream lies in ruins. In some ways, his own personal fate mirrored that of a whole continent. We talked to professor Jeffrey Ahlman, a specialist on the Ghanaian statesman, about what happened to Nkrumah, and what has been the lasting legacy of his ideas.  Let us begin at the end of Nkrumah’s life. He had quite a sad demise. He was ill, paranoid and afraid of western intelligence agencies. And he lived in exile. Did he have reason to be afraid? Professor Ahlman: There was significant reason for Nkrumah to have concerns about US and other western subversion in Ghana. In African history, the year 1960 is often remembered quite jubilantly as the “Year of Africa,” marking not only the independence of Nigeria and the Congo, but also the many states that comprised French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa. However, from the perspective of radical anti colonial figures like Nkrumah, the year opened not with jubilance, but with the troubling independence of Cameroon under a government viewed by many as an appendage of the French state. The rushed independence of the Congo and the political chaos that ensued—much of it the result of US and Belgian Cold War intrusion into Congolese democratic politics—only further added to Nkrumah’s wariness, especially as his government had committed a significant number of Ghanaian troops to the UN peace mission to the Congo. However, it was the Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba’s assassination that dramatically shook Nkrumah as, for him, the assassination marked the extremes to which capitalist powers would go to subvert the autonomy of African independence. Meanwhile, in Ghana, Nkrumah survived a number of attempts on his own life. The most famous one being the bombing in the far northern Ghanaian town of Kulungugu in August 1962 in which at least two people were killed and Nkrumah himself suffered significant injuries—injuries that some Ghanaians argue was a cause of the cancer that killed him a decade later. Eyeing what had happened to Lumumba a year and a half earlier, Nkrumah and his government read the Kulungugu attack, among the others he endured, as at least in part efforts by capitalist countries like the United States, Belgium, and Great Britain to subvert his vision for Ghana and for Africa. Given this context in Ghana and Africa more broadly, yes, he did have reason to be afraid. How did he become involved with the struggle against British Colonial Rule in The Gold Coast? Professor Ahlman: In his autobiography, Nkrumah argues that he first became aware of the “wickedness of colonialism” while in the UK while waiting for a visa to the US as Mussolini invaded Ethiopia. According to him, the expressionless response from men and women on the streets as the newspapers’ headlines announced the invasion awakened in him a desire to “play my part in bringing about the downfall of such a system.” In the United States, Nkrumah attended Lincoln University and later UPenn, while also seeking connections to African student groups as well as a number of black political and cultural institutions during his time in the country. After a decade in the US, he traveled to the UK, where he joined the political network of the Trinidadian pan-Africanist George Padmore and played a key role in helping to organize the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester—a congress that demanded an immediate end to colonial rule in Africa. It was approximately two years after the Manchester Congress that Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast at the invitation of the newly formed United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), a political party often maligned as being too moderate. During his time as the UGCC’s general secretary, he clashed with the convention’s other leaders before leaving the convention—or getting expelled depending on whose version one accepts—and forming his own party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), under the mantra of “Self-Government Now.” Why the CPP is so important to African history is that it was one of the first mass political parties on the continent, drawing supporters from a wide range of walks of life (educated, uneducated, farmers, urban dwellers, youth, women, etc) and, for many, providing a new sense of belonging in a period of rapid political and social change following WWII. Like Gandhi he was partly educated in Britain, in what way did this influence his ideas? Or were his years in the United States more significant? Professor Ahlman: I think the fundamental elements of his political education occurred in Great Britain as he came under the tutelage of George Padmore. It was here, I believe, where his ideas began to mature and gained their first coherent form in his 1947 pamphlet Towards Colonial Freedom. However, one cannot underestimate the role of his time in the US, for he arrived in the US in the midst of the Great Depression and stayed through the war years. During this time, he not only actively sought out readings by such people as Marcus Garvey and associated with Paul Robeson’s Council on African Affairs, among others, but was forced to live in the highly racialized social environment of the United States as a black man. It is hard to imagine that such an experience did not help shape his understanding of the world, colonialism, and race. Was he always a leftist? Professor Ahlman: I think in terms of his adult life, yes. When he became PM of the newly liberated Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast) he was quite popular. How popular were his ideas of pan-African unity? Professor Ahlman: I think you have to add more nuance to the question. In principle, I think many Ghanaians were supportive of some sort of largely undefined pan-African unity, especially one that—like Nkrumah suggested—placed Ghana at the center of an emerging pan-African politics. Part of this was pride; part may have been—and still may be—an authentic hope for what unity could bring to the future of both Ghana and Africa. On the other hand, many questioned the resources spent in pursuing Nkrumah’s continental ambitions. This included the aid Ghana offered to other countries and liberation movements as well as the time Nkrumah spent away from the country. By as early as 1958, if not earlier, criticism of the resources spent on Nkrumah’s pan-African policies had become a potent critique of the government when marshaled by some opposition officials. Why do you think the idea of pan-Africanism failed? Professor Ahlman: I don’t believe it did, particularly because I don’t think we can talk about pan-Africanism in the singular. There were/are many different pan-Africanisms—diasporic, continental, political, social, cultural, economic, etc. What may have failed was Nkrumah’s particular vision of a United States of Africa. However, even Nkrumah shouldn’t be beholden to that singular definition of pan-Africanism, especially when answering rather normative questions like whether he succeeded or failed. In his life, Nkrumah came to influence, embody, interact with, and shape a number of competing, if not contradictory forms of pan-Africanism. His flirtation with Garveyism may not have meshed organically with his socialism and aspects of the Ghanaian nation-building project at home and the Ghanaian exceptionalism that seemed to follow in its wake does not easily fit within the continental vision he so famously articulated. He launched quite a lot of programs in those early years, how successful was he in modernizing Ghana? Professor Ahlman: Ghana has not seen a leader like him to date. He transformed the country politically, socially, culturally, economically, and infrastructurally. He shepherded in the development of the city of Tema, transforming a previously small fishing village into the industrial engine of the new Ghana. Similarly, he also ushered in the damming of the Volta River that, through the electricity it produced, electrified much of the country and still does so today. However, the greatest impact his government had was in its promotion of fee-free primary education. This program democratized education in the country, allowing untold numbers of boys and girls who may not have had the opportunity to go to school before gaining an education. When did his downfall begin? And why did he eventually lose his grip on power? Professor Ahlman: His downfall began with the 1966 coup. People were talking in unspecific ways about what Ghana might look like without Nkrumah prior to the coup. However, it was always in vague terms. He and his government appeared strong on the eve of the coup and the coup surprised many. This is not to say that many were content with the state of affairs in Ghana at the time. The reality was much more complicated. Instead, even as late as the month of the coup, many people had come to terms with a reality that the one-party political context created by Nkrumah and the CPP represented the reality that they must live with for the foreseeable future. In what way would you say the Cold War affected the idea of pan-Africanism? Professor Ahlman: I think it constrained the possibilities open to African thinkers and leaders as they sought to reimagine the new world created by decolonization. As individual countries and  liberation movements faced pressures from the US, France, the UK, Belgium, and the Soviet Union, many found it difficult to break from the bifurcated global model that so defined the Cold War in their efforts to make a reality the futures they imagined. How is Nkrumah remembered in Ghana today? Do they celebrate him, or lament his failings? Professor Ahlman: Nkrumah and his ideas appear to be gaining in popularity in Ghana again. However, Ghanaians tend to have a complicated relationship with Nkrumah, especially those who lived through his rule. Many truly appreciate how he transformed Ghana into a major player on the international stage during his tenure and, at the same time, built roads, schools, healthcare facilities, etc. Yet, many of the same people recall the atmosphere of fear and suspicion that accompanied a government that in many ways policed many forms of political and social expression, particularly those forms did not fit within the ideological confines of an orthodox decolonization-era Nkrumahism. What is the legacy of Pan Aficanism today? Professor Ahlman: I’m not sure how to answer this given that there are still pan-African thinkers today, both in Africa and the diaspora. They are actively trying to reflect on the legacies of earlier generations of thinkers like Nkrumah, Du Bois, Padmore, Stokely Carmichael, Malcom X, and others. At the same time, they are actively trying to construct their own pan-African visions that not only take into account contemporary realities in Africa, the diaspora, and the world, but are also experimenting with methods and ideas—small and large—to bring their visions for the future into a reality   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyThe ruins of Angkor were long hidden by the Cambodian jungle. Early explorers  such as the French artist Louis Delaporte (1842-1925) sketched the glory of what they found. Little did they know that the past was even more magnificent than they imagined. Just over a hundred years later, new laser technology, or lidar, is able to strip away the overgrowth of centuries, and bring to light a clearer outline of  that lost civilization. Now we can finally begin to understand what Angkor was and why the empire faded. Much still remains a mystery, but we were able to get some preliminary answers from dr. Damian Evans of the French Institute of Asian Studies (EFEO).  In what way does your new Lidar findings expand or confirm the view of Angkor presented by Zhou Daguan in his 12’ century travel narrative? Damian Evans: There has always been a degree of uncertainty about the urban context of the temples, because it was made of perishable materials which have rotted away. However Zhou Daguan mentioned a system of residence in which multiple households were arrayed around communal ponds. Using the lidar we have identified patterns in the ground surface that we can identify as remnant traces of ponds, and earthen occupation mounds on top of which people built their houses. We’ve mapped a vast network of these features, several thousand of them, which essentially confirms the account of Zhou Daguan as it relates to residential patterning. Marco Polo speaks of a great empire in Asia (not China), is there any chance he might have mentioned Angkor? Damian Evans: There’s no evidence for that unfortunately. The Khmer Empire was one of many large political entities which flourished in the region at that time, so it’s not necessarily the case.  What was the population of an average city in the Angkor Empire and what was the total population? Damian Evans: For population estimates we need to know two things: the spatial layout of the settlements, and the density of the neighborhoods. We have only just recently come to terms with the layout of the cities using lidar and other mapping techniques, and figuring out the density of inhabitants per hectare is the domain of household archaeology, which has really only just begun at Angkor. So we haven’t yet had the opportunity to sit down and make precise calculations, and we are still missing some crucial information. We can say though that figures in the one million rage for a population of Angkor are probably way too high, and I would say that there are several hundred thousand people at the capital, and some tens of thousands of people at each of the major regional centres.  What was the most surprising thing that you discovered? Damian Evans: There are still quite a few features that we discovered that we don’t understand. There are large grids of mounds covering several hectares, and strange geometric shapes carved into the surface of the landscape. They don’t seem to have had any agricultural or residential function, and when we excavate them there is nothing inside, so they are not burial sites. They may have some larger symbolic meaning as geoglyphs or something, we don’t know. Work on that is ongoing, as they have turned up everywhere and were obviously an important component of the built environment, and perhaps also of a kind of sacred geography whose meaning is obscure to us.  Has this form of archaeology uncovered anything new about the lives of ordinary people in Angkor? Damian Evans: Not directly, no, aside from confirming the residential patterning. One of the great values of lidar though is that it provides a very detailed and comprehensive picture of the built environment that allows field archaeologists to target excavations very precisely on areas that we know will deliver the most useful information. That work will now begin to deliver a wealth if information about the everyday life of the people. The insights from lidar are more orientated towards large-scale factors such as water management, landscape change, the structure of the urban environment, that kind of thing. One thing we can say is that people were living in a very densely inhabited space in the downtown area of Angkor, and with a lack of sanitation disease must have been an extremely serious issue. Why are there so few traces of this empire in the historical sources? Damian Evans: There is a local tradition of carving inscriptions in stone, and there is a corpus of around 1300 of those inscriptions. It is a rich historical record that informs most of what we know about the Khmer. In terms of accounts from outsiders, early sources are very few and far between so there are huge gaps in our knowledge. Later historical sources in the medieval period are very trade-centric, and are dominated by European accounts. Societies heavily engaged in commerce and/or located in coastal areas to take advantage of maritime trade are heavily privileged in these accounts. Angkor was engaged in trade to a certain extent, but it was most of all an inland agrarian empire and not of great interest to traders and trade emissaries, with the exception of Zhou Daguan.  Why and when did Angkor disappear? Damian Evans: It’s a complex question, there are many theories to do with war, overextension of the empire and so on, but none of the theories really stand alone as sufficient explanations. Increasingly we are seeing that their water management system evolved over centuries in a way that was problematic and ultimately unsustainable; because it was crucial for the success and maintenance of Angkor as the capital region, when the water management system ultimately failed – perhaps in the face of extreme climatic events – the royal court decided to relocate towards the coast and re-orient the economy towards commerce.  If Angkor had such extensive building complexes, canals and waterways, isn’t it natural to assume that they were advanced in the fields of science, mathematics and engineering? Do we know the names of any prominent scientists from the Angkor period? Damian Evans: Not really, no, although there are mentions of some specific professions like architects who seemed to be quite prominent within the royal court. The inscriptions in stone that are our main historical sources are not really informative on such kinds of issues, as they are mostly poetic dedications to the gods which glorify the rulers and list donations to the temples. So we know very little of the mechanics of how things were built and why, and by who. Looking at the extremely precise way that the temples were built however there would have been a cohort of professionals who were very skilled in these fields, and who had the benefit of thousands of years of technical knowledge inherited from China and India and beyond.  What sort of language did the ancient Khmer have, and are there any remains of their literature, either in their own language or in translations in other languages? If not, why not? After all ancient Greek sources often survived in Arabic translations? Damian Evans: They had their own language which is the ancestral language of modern Khmer, although they had no indigenous script and expressed it in writing in a script that was borrowed from India. The language is intelligible to scholars. The high language of religion and the royal court was also borrowed from the Indian tradition – it was Sanskrit, which of course can also be translated easily enough. The corpus of 1300 or so inscriptions has been mostly translated into French.  The lidar technology that you used has been applied most recently on the ancient Maya. Is there any room for improvements in the technology? What will be possible in the near future? Damian Evans: At the moment the technology is still very expensive. In the future, as lidar instruments become miniaturised and as UAV technology develops, we should start to be able to cover wide areas with that combination. For now though it is not practical to cover wide areas on the scale of Angkor for example with UAV technology. But that will come soon I think in the next few years. Unfortunately there are technical limitations which prevent high-resolution space-based lidars. But in a decade or two we might achieve that as well, which will provide cheap global coverage. The amount of archaeological material that will be uncovered then will be extraordinary. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyIn the shadow of the dying Hapsburg Empire a new treatment that focused on conversation was invented: psychoanalysis. However, who would benefit from Freud’s new method and what end would it finally serve? Sigmund Freud saw himself as part of the supercilious materialist wave that reduced men to Darwin’s apes. He was part of the liberal bourgeoisie of Vienna around 1900 and was educated in the neuro-physiology of Brucker and the hypno-theraphy of Charcot. Some time between 1895 and 1900, he broke with his old mentor Breuer and produced psychoanalysis. Like his role model, Charles Darwin, whom he praised in a 1917 essay*, he benefited greatly from his privileged background, and like him, he was sometimes haunted by his historic limitations. While Darwin swore by his own observations, Freud based his ideas on conversation and analysis. At the turn of the century, Freud was tested in a way that would expose the difficulties of psychoanalysis, the case of Dora. Privileged patients Psychoanalysis was the outcome of Freud’s conversations with women who could not survive in their social straitjackets. So it was with Dora, or Ida Bauer, as her real name was, an 18 year old who was sent to Freud by her wealthy family. She had been abused by an older friend of the family as a 14-year old, and as a result she had developed several symptoms, such as continued arguments with her father, fainting and the writing of suicide notes. «In their nature women are like feeble, exotic green house plants» Stephen Zweig joked. The contemporary ideal was, according to Zweig that «A young girl from a good family should not have the faintest idea about what a man’s body looked like; not know how children are conceived, they were innocent angels». Freud never denied the fact that he benefited from family power structures and that the psychoanalyst borrowed his authority from the father figure. But because Freud saw himself as the as a prophet of psychology, he never understood the ways in which he came to rationalize oppressive conditions in his own society. Ida Bauer was told that she denied her own sexuality when she described her fear of her abuser, «Mr K», and this qualified her to the obscure diagnosis «a hysteric». However, there were many women who claimed to be sexual victims, and Freud may have had some reason for doubt. Even so, the diagnosis becomes incomprehensible without  understanding the social and historical context. Vienna at the time At the start of the 1900s Freud was an ambitious doctor who had struggled long in the shadow of positivist physiology; he was well established with a large family which, excluding himself, included his wife Martha, as well as relatives, colleagues and a brood of children. From the safety of his home at Berggasse 19 he could defy the medical establishment and acquire the clinical experience that brought him- after several detours- to a better method of treatment. In addition, he developed a new theory about dreams and the structure of the mind. In spite of progress, Freud failed to rise in the academic hierarchy at the university of Vienna, where he had been employed as an assistant professor for years. Vienna was the center of a conservative empire. According to Stephan Zweig there was only one thing that could shatter the social neurosis and liberate the creative forces: Art. «all these social strata existed in their own own circles and even in their own neighborhoods, the aristocracy in their palaces in the center of the city, the diplomatic corps in a third area, industry and merchants around Ringstrasse, the petty bourgousi in the inner parts, the proletariat in the outer. But they all met in the theater». Anti-semitism flourished in the wake of various financial scandals and the French Dreyfuss affair. The right wing mayor Karl Leuger had been elected in spite of massive protest from the aristocracy and the powerful Jewish bourgeoisie. Barring the foul mob that rose from the gutter, few had the power to force through moderate reforms. Upper-class liberals like Freud now turned their back on politics and sublimated their own rebellions. A rigid society therefore seem to wither from within. Complicated by social factors Freud was among the first to develop a theory about how human dialogue can solve mental problems. A bi-product of this was an unsentimental description of the power structures in this conversation, both how they prevented and contributed to communication. When Dora one day slammed her door and shut Freud out, Freud saw it as a sign of weakness. Posterity, and a few literary scholars and theoreticians in particular, has compared Dora to Ibsen’s famous heroine, Nora.* To other thinkers like Hélène Cixous, Dora became the woman who exposed Freud as a chauvinist. Women, like some religious people, have discovered that the more you criticize psychoanalysis, the more you seem to confirm its diagnosis. In the essay «On femininity» Freud declared that psychoanalysis doesn’t ask what a woman is, but how she is made. Psychoanalysis is seemingly impervious to any attack, and raises itself high above women, the religious and other so-called pathologies. More humane after all On the other hand, Freud took an important step away from the macabre laboratories of neuro-physiology and the institutionalized sadism that preoccupied many contemporary institutions. He communicated with his patients and wasn’t afraid of touchy subjects, like sex, death and aggression. But perhaps because Freud developed a theory to penetrate the defenses of the self and unveil hidden motives, he was later seen as the architect of a state sponsored invasion of the private sphere. In the doctor-patient relationship, historical positivism and its wave of materialism became a social tool of the establishment. The power of definition Of course, this spurred a host of counter-theories. Freud’s studies revealed that all women at some point in their childhood discovered that boys have something which they apparently lack, and that leads to “penis-envy” and supposedly causes neurosis later in life. Freud never accepted that this was in some ways a description of, if not a rationalization of, contemporary attitudes. Later psychologists like Karen Horney understood that women needed to justify fundamental needs. They need to find a response to the old language of power. The feminist Susan Gubar begins one of her articles with the question «Is anatomy linguistic destiny?» Such a fate seemed inevitable to early feminists who suggested that penis-envy be replaced by “womb-envy”, or the stage in a boy’s life when he discovers that he is unable to give birth and consequently develops neurosis. It is not hard to see that this theoretical tug-of-war masks a power struggle. Psychoanalysis in a vacuum? Darwin had won his victory by gradually placing his followers in strategic positions within the scientific societies. The psychoanalytic movement followed a similar pattern, and spread throughout Europe after 1906 through intrigues and personal animosity. The totalitarian side of psychoanalysis became increasingly more apparent as Freud clamped down on heretics within his own movement: Fleiss, Adler, Jung, Reich and others. This is a fate that psychoanalysis shares with Marxism. Where Marx saw exploitation, Freud saw neurosis, and the twentieth century seemed to follow these two in their search for hidden agendas. Whether Freud was a positivist is debatable. However, he did write texts in which he saw himself as part of an accumulating corpus of knowledge. He also clung to scientific objectivity, and is consequently often scolded for his arrogance. Yet, it seems like posterity has blamed him for not being able to bring conversational analysis into a social vacuum. Can we really predict human behavior as reliably as the laws of Newton or describe them as eloquently as Darwin’s finches? It is not without reason that the great Karl Popper labeled both evolution and psychoanalysis as «metaphysical research programs». Such unreasonable demands may also have also influenced Freud’s view of himself. However, in 1914, after a heated debate over psychoanalysis, the world experienced a series of irrational tremors that swept the old bourgeoisie and their prejudices aside: the shell shocks of the first world war. The immense tragedy of that conflict secured both women and psychoanalysts a better position in society. Michael Wynn * “A difficulty in the path of psychoanalysis” Sigmund Freud 1917. * A simple search in google scholar revealed serveral who made the comparison.  Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / movies  Despite the hardships of war, the 1940s are usually considered a golden age of British cinema. TV was not yet introduced into the homes, and during the worst fighting the audience flocked in their millions to see the Noel Coward films of David Lean, the collaborative work of Powell & Pressburger or Gainsborough melodramas (1943-49). After the war there were of course Ealing comedies (1947-57) to cheer you up. How did the British manage to maintain such an output of quality productions during a period when sacrifices were so great? We had a brief chat with movie historian Charles Drazin.  How were films financed during the war? Charles Drazin: Dominating production at this time was the Rank Organisation, which provided the lion’s share of financing for most of the prestige films that are still remembered today. (The Rank Organization was the media empire founded by J. Arthur Rank, and owned everything from studios to the cinemas where the movies played.) Was there much censorship? Charles Drazin: Mainstream movies had to respect the British Board of Film Censorship and, if they wanted to get into the profitable US market, the Hollywood Production Code, and also of course any wartime regulations relating to national security, but I think what was more notable was the freedom that film-makers had to express themselves. A good example is Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943). Churchill wasn’t able to prevent the film from being released although he disapproved fiercely of its content. Were movie people exempt from military service in any way? Charles Drazin: They could be if they were in a “reserved occupation” deemed to be necessary for the furtherance of the war effort. How do British wartime movies compare with the similar productions in Germany? Charles Drazin: Filmmakers were “free” in the sense that no higher government authority was telling them what to say. Obviously film-makers were encouraged to make films that support the war effort, but there was a diversity and authenticity of spirit that comes from free expression. The British film industry was of course engaged in a kind of propaganda but it was soft propaganda as opposed to the hard propaganda of the Nazis. I like the comment someone made about the great British documentary film-maker Humphrey Jennings that he was making “propaganda for the human race”. Were the movies distributed among the troops? Charles Drazin: Most certainly. What about availability of raw film? Certainly that would have to be rationed during the war? Charles Drazin: Yes, very significantly. Like so many other things at this time raw film was rationed. How did the moviegoers during WWII react to the realism of some films, such as One of our Aircraft is Missing? Charles Drazin: The critics thought such realism was the crowning glory of a British film renaissance – what made it stand out from the phoniness of Hollywood – but of course over time audiences grew tired of it. In the second half of the war the most successful movies were the escapist Gainsborough romantic melodramas. These melodramas were very much aimed at women. (The men were mostly off to war, or perhaps home on leave.) Did the army have any role in the production of the film like In Which we serve (1942) or One of Our Aicraft is Missing (1942)? Charles Drazin: The armed forces would provide support in the form of men and equipment to films that the Ministry of Information considered to be in support of the war effort. What would you say were the major forms of innovation in British cinema during the war years? Charles Drazin: The major achievement in my view was breaking away from formulaic, genre cinema to say something important to a mass popular audience. There were all sorts of style innovations, but it was the coming to age of the cinema as a serious medium in Britain that made such innovations possible. One of Our Aicraft is Missing (1942)  Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureIn Nepal every school boy knows the name Laxmi Devkota (1909-59), author of the short Napelese epic Muna Madan. All over Himalaya his works are revered as classics, yet in Europe and the West his folk inspired narrative poems remain largely unknown. In a special interview one of his two surviving sons, Padma Devkota, explains the continuing attraction of his father’s stories, and why a tale like Muna Madan still fascinates today, almost 100 years after it was written. Why has Muna Madan become such a central work in Nepalese literature? Professor Padma Devkota: Muna-Madan remains a central work in Nepali literature for several reasons. Briefly, it is the first major Romantic work in Nepali literature which revolts against the age-long Sanskrit classical tradition and seeks to tell the story, as Professor Shreedhar Lohani observes in “Life, Love, and Death in Muna Madan,” of real people through lives of fictional characters, and to fictionalize real geographical space. This is the first work in Nepali literature which elevates the jhyaure song, an otherwise neglected cultural space, to a significant literary height. Next, it tells a story of the common Nepali people which remains realistically contemporary in the context of the international labor market which still attracts many indigent Nepali workers. It is a heart-rending tragedy written in a simple diction which even the illiterate people of Nepal easily understood. They found their own lives written all over the pages of this book. Even then, Poet Devkota himself was criticized by elitist writers as having done something that would mar his literary career. Muna Madan deals with issues like poverty and caste, to what extent are these issues in present day Nepal? Professor Padma Devkota: The caste system is not a central theme of Muna-Madan. It is mentioned only once in the course of the story when Madan’s overwhelming gratitude to the Good Samaritan figure, the Bhote, causes Madan to mention his own caste. Furthermore, the caste system itself was efficient at the time it was created. Later practices cast a slur on its original intent, which was simply a division of labor within a small, ancient community. Quite obviously it has outlasted its use in contemporary societies and the Government of Nepal has taken efficient action against all caste discriminations. However, even as poets and thinkers point up the correct path, human habits die hard. We now fear the rise of economic castes such as those that encrust capitalistic societies. I believe Nepal, especially after its secularization, has been more successful fighting the discriminatory caste system than it has succeeded in fighting poverty. Tell us a little about your father, Laxmi Prasad Devkota. What sort of man was he? Professor Padma Devkota: Laxmi Devkota is popular as Mahakavi (Great Poet/Epicist). The public was quick to recognize the exceptional qualities of a poet whose fifty-ninth book, The Witch Doctor and Other Essays, a collection of thirty essays written originally in English, appeared on November 11, 2017. There are several other documents waiting to be published. He wrote in practically all the genres of literature and excelled in poetry and essay. Initially, he wrote under the influence of his Sanskrit background and English education. He started out as a Romantic poet in the Nepali tradition but continually grew as a poet to a literary modernity which the bulk of his writings have shaped. As an intellectual, he participated in the socio-political life of the nation, which he loved with all his heart. As a writer, he had vision, imagination and mastery over the medium. He also raised his voice against colonialism, imperialism, discriminations and injustice. As a thinker, he asserted the necessity of scientific and logical thinking to counteract blind faith and orthodoxy which hindered progress. As a human being, he had the gift of compassion and empathy. Legends continue growing around the life of the poet. What kind of reception did Muna Mudan receive when it was published? Professor Padma Devkota: Muna-Madan is a long narrative poem written in the lyrical form called jhyaure in which learned people of the time found, as Devkota himself explains, “a low standard of rural taste, an inkling of distancing from civilization or of showiness or trace of ill-manners of the hills.” He tells us how the pundits “started wrinkling their nose” at the mention of jhyaure. For them, the merits of literature were with Kalidas and Bhavabhuti, the classical Sanskrit poets. For Devkota, they were not national poets and their literary output was not the Nepali national literature. So, he compares his situation to that of his predecessor, Bhanubhakta Acharya, the Adi Kavi or the First Poet of Nepal. During Bhanubhakta’s time, the elitists asked if it was possible to write poetry in Nepali. But Bhanubhakta used the Sanskrit classical meter and produced wonderful poetry in Nepali. Similarly, in Devkota’s time, the elitists asked if it was possible to write poetry in jhyaure. Devkota elevated the status of jhyaure by writing serious literature in this rhythm of the common heart. Quickly, Muna-Madan gained popularity and it still remains the best-seller even to this day.  There is a movie version of the novel, is this film faithful to the original text? Professor Padma Devkota: I would have to look at the movie again to tell you just how faithful it is. When I watched it for the first time years ago, I thought it was sufficiently faithful to the original text, but that is just a passing claim. Gaps, additions and interpretations of the movie need a more serious revisiting. Watch the movie trailer  Could you describe the literary style of that your father uses in his narrative? Is he a realist writer, a naturalist? A modernist? Professor Padma Devkota: Muna-Madan is a long narrative poem written with the ballad in mind. It uses a lyrical form called the jhyaure which was popular among people at work, especially in the paddy fields where young boys and girls teased each other with songs and fell in love. Although Devkota’s poem is tragic in essence in keeping with the eastern view of life, he insists on the importance of action, which alone can give significance to life. Throughout the poem, there are reversals of the imaginary and the real, of gender roles, of situations, and so on. The poem is romantic in vision, emotionally well-balanced and under full control of the writer. It uses fresh metaphors and images that have a lasting impression upon the mind of the reader. The work is popularly acclaimed as being simple, but simplicity of diction is counteracted by the poet’s imaginative flights that trail the syntax behind them. It is as if my father wanted to apply William Wordsworth’s famous poetic declaration in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads to Nepali literature: to write about real people in their own tongues. In trying to select a “language really used by men,” Devkota strikes gold and achieves a simplicity which stands in great contrast to the complexity he was later able to achieve in the epic language of Nepali Shakuntala, for instance. In terms of its revolt against the classical tradition and its attempt to speak in the simple language of the common people, Muna-Madan is modernist too. It does make a very powerful statement against discriminatory caste practices.  In which way does his novel fall into the narrative of Nepalese literary history? Professor Padma Devkota: Nepali derives from Pali, which derives from Sanskrit. Very early Nepali writers wrote devotional poetry in Sanskrit; but Bhanubhakta Acharya decided to freely translate Ramanyan into Nepali using the classical Sanskrit meters. He also wrote a few poems about the political and social issues of his time. Then came Motiram Bhatta and introduced the Urdu gazal and wrote many love poems. Lekhanath Poudyal stuck to the Sanskrit tradition but wrote a Nepali that gleamed with polished language. Balakrishna Sama, a playwright and a poet, looked westward and to science and philosophy. Laxmi Prasad Devkota introduced Romanticism and Modernity to Nepali literature. Briefly again, my father’s poetry is spontaneous, deeply felt, sincere and honest, and has a touch of spirituality in it. He loves his nation, but goes glocal. He finds his inspiration in the histories and mythologies of India, Greater India (Bharatvarsha), Greece, Rome and Nepal. For him, mythology offers a proper window into the hearts of the peoples of the world. For the human being must stand at the center of the universe. The human being is the only significantly worthy object of worship. And the poet remains a liberal humanist.  Why do you think Muna Madan is so little known in Europe? Professor Padma Devkota: No serious attempt has been made by the Nepalese Government to introduce its culture and literature to the Europeans, who don’t read Nepali anyway. And why should they? Nepal is not an economic or military giant. So, its richest cultural mine awaits discovery by individuals who wander in search of the best in world literature. Some such as Dom Moreas who met Devkota at his death-bed and reminisced him in Gone Away: An Indian Journal or David Rubin whose translations of Devkota’s poems appear under the title Nepali Visions, Nepali Dreams or Michael Hutt of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, who translated Muna-Madan are examples of Western scholars who have discovered him. More recently, international scholarship has grown around Devkota’s work. One such study, though peripheral to Muna-Madan, is that of Anna Stirr’s on “Sounding and Writing a Nepali Public Sphere: The Music and Language of Jhyaure” (Asian Music 46, 2015). Although Devkota himself started the tradition of translating his own works and those of his colleagues’ into English, and although he also started the tradition of writing serious literature originally in English, we have not been able to publicize it beyond the frontiers of our immediate neighbors.  Are there many foreign translations of the story? Professor Padma Devkota: Not as many as or as good as we would like to see. Some Nepali translators have attempted rendering Muna-Madan into English. Among them are my father’s brother, Madhusudhan Devkota, and Tirtha Man Tuladhar both of whom attempted a translation of this work in 1970. Ananda Shrestha’s rendering into English appeared in 1995. Foreigners, too, have tried to translate this work in their own ways. A. M. Syangden and Ganga Singh Rai form India attempted translating Muna-Madan in 1994 and 1996, respectively. Their major problem is with the language itself. Michael J. Hutt’s translation appeared in 1996. It remains the most noted version to this day. Liu Xian translated it into Chinese in 2011. Portions of the text have been translated into Russian, Korean, French, German and other European languages, too. All of them have translated from the original text of Muna-Madan, which is shorter by 399 lines from the text revised by the poet in 1958. This one remains to be translated by someone.     Click to buy an English translation “Muna Madan follows the life of Madan who leaves his wife , Muna,  and goes to Lhasa to make money, and while returning he becomes sick on the way. His friends leave him on the road and come back home saying he has died. The story also shows the life of a poor woman who suffered much without her husband and later dies because of grief. Finally he is rescued by a man who is considered to be of lower caste in Nepal. That is why it is said that a man is said to be great not by caste or race but by a heart full of love and humanity. When Madan returns to Kathmandu after regaining his health, he discovers that his wife is dead and becomes grief-stricken. Madan comes to realize that money is of no value at that point. In this poem, Devkota has written about the biggest problems in Nepalese society at the time.” (Wiki) Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyA lot has been said about the movies made by the German director Uwe Boll. But in spite of much opposition he has been at his post since 1991, writing, producing and doing what he loves. asked him a few questions about the types of films he has made, and why he made them. Some of the movies relate to various historical periods, while others seem to be mere entertainment.  Tell us a little about your background and how you came to be a film director? Uwe Boll: Since I was 10 years old I wanted to be a film director. I started with super 8mm and BETA Video and short films and documentaries when I was in my teenage years. German Fried Movie was the first real movie I could do 1991 with a budget of 50.000$ on 35mm and it started my career.  You have a PhD. in literature, what was the subject of your thesis? Have you used any of this knowledge in the movie making business? Uwe Boll: I wrote about the development of storytelling in novels and series, and went deep into the history of that form. Directly using for my movies was not necessary but its always good to have a deep background in literature, film and TV history. Unfortunately a lot of young filmmakers have no idea….. their knowledge starts at Star Wars …or E.T.  You have based many of your films on video games. Why did you choose this particular approach? Uwe Boll: I made House of the Dead in 2003 and it made very good money and so I could only raise money for video game based movies…that was the only reason I made so many of them.  What is the difference between adapting, let’s say, a novel, and adapting a video game? Uwe Boll: A novel is normally pretty much clear about the story, emotions, storytelling etc. A game leaves a lot of that open. So you fill it in yourself and then the fans flip out on you because you CHANGED something. But in reality you filled the voids.  In your career you have worked with some very famous actors: Christian Slater, Jason Statham, Ray Liotta and others. What is your approach to directing, are you a hands off guy or do you micro-manage? Some of these actors would be very experienced? Uwe Boll: Most of them had a lot of experience and I let them do their job. They should show me in the first run through how they approach the scene or their character, and then if necessary I correct something.  This is a blog about history. So I have to ask you about your World War II movie about the nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz (2011). Why did you make this film? Uwe Boll: I felt that in times of fake news and after truth bullshit we need a real film showing what the holocaust actually was. Not the hero stories etc…just the killing. Because that was Auschwitz. 50% of the people who came with a train in were dead within 2 days. There is a lot of holocaust denial and I think those who watch my movie will get the reality stuck in their face.  You also made a film about the situation in Sudan called Darfur starring Billy Zane. There is an interesting dilemma presented in that movie: two journalists have to choose between reporting or helping victims. How and when did you get the idea to make this film? Uwe Boll: I felt that after Rwanda where the West didn’t help that in Sudan we should stop the genocide, but as always nobody did anything. No NATO troops stopped the genocide. 450.000 women, children, old people got hacked into pieces ….and nothing happened …. A crime.  You made a film called Tunnel Rats (2008) about soldiers during the Vietnam War. Don’t you think it is strange that there is so much focus on the perspective of the American soldiers, and  so little on the lives of the ordinary Vietnamese? Uwe Boll:Yes, I tried to show both sides in my film and also showed why America really lost the war. You could bomb the tunnels, but they were structurally sound….and of course the Vietnamese were fighting for EVERYTHING and the Americans had no clue why that war actually happened.  You are no stranger to controversy. You have gained a reputation as a sort of cult director. What would say has been the hardest part of the movie making process? Uwe Boll: Raising money and getting good distribution. To shoot the movies was always the fun part.   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short story“Where?” by Stein Riverton, published in the collection Himmel og Hav, 1927. Translated by Michael Henrik Wynn r. Elling Winter is one of those restless vagrant individuals whom you can encounter anywhere on this earth. I chanced upon him on several occasions, most recently in the north of Italy. There is a certain arrogance about his behavior, which he probably picked up during his year-long tenure in the English colonies. He is not the worst sort of globetrotter, though. Beneath his trivial facade of melancholy, tiger-hunting and womanizing, any countryman would soon notice his hearty and friendly disposition. He is more than willing to tell you of his adventures. And listening to him is not always amusing. There is often something impersonal about his exposition. He has almost made a cosmopolitan art of downplaying his own role in events, yet at the same time making his own importance apparent to each and all. But, during our meeting in the north of Italy this time he told me of an unusual series of happenings, a result of his fraternization with a more ordinary crowd. That I myself had occasion to witness the events that brought the story to his mind, made it immediately more captivating. What happened was this: We had just dined together at the Hotel Colle in the mountains overlooking Bolzano and were sitting in the in the cafe on the terrace, from where there is the most splendid view of the remote, glittering and snow-covered Swiss alps. I suddenly noticed that a woman was climbing the stairs to the terrace, the sort that you can frequently observe at major international spots and spas, where the unfortunate seek solace for their fragile nerves. Not quite young, though not burdened by her years, she seemed weighed down by something else, a certain melancholy and unease. Her hair was as gray as her gaze; gray, too, were her clothes. Another older woman followed her, that this was her nurse was painfully obvious. The lady in gray slowly crossed the terrace, past the many prattling people. Her movements seemed solitary, for she was in a world of her own. She quietly disappeared into the carpeted corridors of the hotel. As she passed us, I was surprised to notice that Elling Winter leaned over and covered his face behind a napkin. “You know her?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. “And you have no wish to meet her.” “I didn’t want her to see me. She is the type of person whom you feel obliged to pity” He got up and let his eyes wander far over at the hotel roof, like he was scouting for migrating birds. “It is as I suspected,” he then said, “the hotel does not have a phone. I have heard they say about her that she restlessly moves from place to place, and that she always chooses locations without a phone. The mercilessly shrill sound of a ringing phone is linked to a terrible event in her life, which I once witnessed. That is why I didn’t want her to see me.” I bade him relate the story to me – and here it is, based on his own words. While he spoke, the early southern dusk descended, and the city of Bolzano far below lit its mesh of lights. His story was set at the same time of day, though in another country and in another time; in those twilight hours when daylight gives way and conjures up the most colorful moods, from the most serene peace to the most terrifying distress. It was a spring evening in the great city up north that you know so well. I was at a party at a most refined and reasonably happy family. The hostess was the very woman that just passed us. I remember everything about that evening very clearly, precisely because the events that transpired so completely overturned the life of my friends. I remember that the mistress of the house and I were standing on the balcony looking down unto a road that stretched out into the distance. The door to the apartment was open, and we could hear the hum of voices. The lamps were not yet lit inside, but the gray dusk flowed in through the windows, and in the dwindling light we could make out a few faces. Here and there there was the glow of cigarettes, and in the corner there was a piano whose ivory keys gleamed. The two of us on the balcony talked about the seasons and the first spring evening. What did we say? I remember that I was at the time was most concerned with the events of my personal life, and this must have tainted my conversation, no doubt. Our tête-à-tête unintentionally assumed an ominous tone that in a strange and sinister way forewarned of later events. I told her what I believed to be the truth, that I always meet the season with an irrational sense of foreboding. It is this fear that always motivates my travels. Spring falls upon every man like it falls upon the trees of the forest: all that grows in us, grows in spring, both what is good and what is evil. It is a dangerous time. As we stood thus talking, we noticed how dusk descended upon the city. I leaned over the railing and looked down towards the asphalt below where the streets teemed with people and carriages. There was still enough light to make out the occasional human. I pointed down towards two tiny shapes that walked swiftly and closely side by side. I thought I recognized the children of the house, and told their mother. She leaned forward, placed her arms on the marble railing and rested. I looked at her blond hair and her calm smiling face. I heard her whisper: “Anne-Marie and Luise”. Whispering seemed like the natural thing to do. Because she was their mother, they were bound to hear her. But then she straightened up. “No, it’s not them,” she said. — My God, how happy and peaceful we felt at that moment. And think about her whom you just moments ago saw passing us, transfixed with fear. It gradually grew darker, and the electric arc lights came on with a sudden spark, the streets swarmed with blinking hats and the streetcars seemed to glide upon a luminescent river. The artificial glare hit us on the balcony like a cold gust. We went inside. The sitting room was not yet lit, but the adjoining room was completely illuminated. The shimmer from the room next door blended with the dusk that flowed in through the windows, and transformed and blurred our gray faces. The voices were subdued like they always are in darkness or faint light when thoughts multiply and we are reluctant to disturb the dreamers among us, or seem annoying. Everything was peaceful and pleasant at this quiet and quite ordinary party when suddenly a clock nearby began to strike and killed all conversation. It struck twice. It was eight thirty. Our hostess stood up and fumbled for the electric light switch. The sharp, white rays filled the room revealing a number of faces- all seemed surprised by her haste. Her eyes showed fear. Not much, but a little. “Eight thirty,” she said with a questioning look on her face, “the children should have been here by now.” “Come now,” said her husband comfortingly, “they will be here soon. Where are they?” “At aunt Hanne’s. She promised to send them home by seven thirty.” A few giggles were heard and some remarks were made. Then aunt Hanne has been reluctant to part with the dear children. Dear God, such old children . . .Parents will be parents, what do you expect? … Then the conversation turned to other matters. Until silence again hit them with striking of the clock. It was now nine. The young mother had been pensive and nervous in her chair the last fifteen minutes. While the clock was still striking, she ran to the door to the adjoining room and called for her husband. “Hans!” she shouted, “it is nine o’clock and the children have not yet arrived.” Her voice was tremulous, and made the silent guests slowly turn towards her. For a second there was a dead quiet. Then they could hear a man getting up in the adjoining room. Suddenly he was in the doorway. The moment he saw how frighted his wife was he turned calm. “You are making me nervous,” he said, “the children have of course remained with aunt Hanne”. He sounded for the maid and asked her call aunt Hanne on the phone. I noticed how the mother tried to stifle her worry and I wanted to say a few words to her in order to calm her down. After all, I knew her pretty well. But suddenly she looked at me as if I were a complete stranger. There was a message on the phone that the children had left aunt Hanne’s one and a half hours ago. And they only had to walk for a quarter of hour to get home. When the mother heard this, her first inclination was to turn towards the city. She opened the balcony door and went out. The night had started to settle on the center. The ever-growing silence between the many ominous stone buildings out there must have filled her with terror. My dear friend, I don’t have to tell you that every one of us really had began to worry, but we wanted to hide it from the mother. Little girls who wander alone about the big cities at night  always face that particular threat. Just at this time there had been an especially nasty case that was of such a nature that the bourgeois press declined to report on the matter. The mother might not have known about this, but she realized the danger. I could see from the way her eyes passed questioningly from one person to the next. It was strange and terrible to notice how the guests who forced an attempt at pleasant conversation ended up looking so superficial that their words seem to choke on our common fear. The mother was all the while mute, but attentive. Bound by a conventional and embarrassing concern for her guests, but watchful like an animal, alert, desperately impatient. I can still see her stand by the balcony window, trapped between the subdued voices of her guest behind her and the bustle of the city below. There is no one as unreasonable as a frightened mother. Suddenly she was a hunted prey in the forest, sniffing the air for danger. Her black pupils widened in scope as well as depth and her chest heaved. Her dry lips and the movements of her nostrils, all betrayed an agitation of mind that seemed almost bestial. Even when her husband approached her with his wide arms open, she withdrew, frightened by his overbearing smirk. Perhaps his smile was a brilliant disguise to hide what they both suspected. Yes, why did we all suddenly turn so quiet? Even the great city outside did not seem to raise its voice. The quietness of the evening became apparent. Perhaps the mother regarded the city as a living entity, a huge and monstrous foe that was afraid to speak because of something that was about to happen. Or perhaps it had already happened? I thought about the young girls who I had seen so often. And really it was as if I pictured their faces in the urban night, their transitory smiles and red innocent lips. It was a terrible moment. And then there were all these imbecilic guests! I will always remember their mutterings: “Mothers are all like this, what can you expect? They all think that their child is always at risk, while, truth be told, no one is so protected in the big cities as the very young. They can hardly walk a few steps without being pursued by watchful eyes, and if they get lost, there is a constable at every corner, a genial Bobby, who will look after them and bring them home. And let us consider our own childhood, when we walked down the highstreets admiring the wonderfully illuminated shop windows. Did we pay attention to the time? Hours seemed to fly by, while we just gazed and gazed in amazement. We dashed around corners without anyone noticing. And suddenly we were absorbed by an unfamiliar throng. If Anne-Marie and Luise are lost and encounter some nice Bobby, they will have been taught a lesson, that is all. The night is still young. Life has not even started yet on the great boulevards. There is still plenty of time before people will withdraw for the evening and lock their doors— The mother again seemed painfully impatient. She surveyed her guests nervously and her instinct no doubt told her that they all conspired to hide the truth from her. She shook with suppressed anger over such remarks. They still talked about the beauty of the night. It was clear, blue and cool – and there was no more wind. The curtains hung motionless in front of the open balcony door. Down there lights flickered behind all the shut windows and silence reigned in a thousand backyards. ….. Suddenly she shouted: “I can hear footsteps on the stairs.” None of the others could hear anything, but as we all listened, the cruel ticking of the clock cut through the silence. Then, a little later, we could all hear the footsteps, and the parents rushed to open the door. Then voices were heard, male voices, and two of the guests entered the living room, their faces still exhausted from walking the streets at night. And now the mother was told what we all suspected, that some of the guests had immediately taken to the streets to look for the children. This seemed to nurture her fears. Then it was true after all, the other were frightened too. She was barely able to make out what the new arrivals said. They had not seen the young girls, but the city was bright with joy of spring, and the cafes teeming with people. There were people everywhere. There was no danger. The mother stood for a while thinking. Then she said: “Bring my coat!” And the guest, all of us, instinctively got up at the sound of her voice. It was, in a way, not just her voice anymore. At that very moment the sound of a ringing phone echoes through the room. It struck us all like a summons. The mother rushed to the phone with her arms outstretched. The small white nickel-bell above the dark mahogany table was still ringing when she grabbed the receiver. It was Anne-Marie who was on the line. I can tell you, my friend, that every word of this phone call has been endlessly repeated. Every word that was spoken has been tested and considered, yes, even the tone in which they were uttered, all to find a way out of the darkness, a clue. The mother tells us that she first heard the rush of breathing on the line. Suddenly the tiny, slightly curious and anxious voice of a child was heard, which she recognized as belonging to Anne-Marie. The voice said: “Is that you mummy?” The mother bent over the phone, as if trying to bridge an unknown distance between herself and her child. “Yes, it is me!” she shouted triumphantly, “It is me! Where are you children? Can you hear me Anne-Marie, where are you?” There was no reply. But she could hear the child breathing into the receiver far away. “Answer me!” she called, “Anne-Marie, answer me. It is me. It is your mummy.” Still there was no reply. But then she could suddenly hear quite clearly that the child whispered, she whispered to somebody who was standing next to her by the phone. The mother could not make out the words. The whisper was inquisitive and curious rather than anxious. “Dear God!” the mother shouted bewildered, “to whom are you whispering, Anne-Marie? Answer me. Who are you talking to? It is me. It is mummy.” Then the mother heard that the child, in stead of responding, dropped the receiver. She noticed a little click. Then the line was broken, the phone dead – all was black and quiet. Those of us who were present could no longer remain calm. Our indifference was after all an act, and now it was mercilessly exposed. In stead there were now confusion and bewilderment. Maybe we had been better able to keep to our faces if the mother had not been present, but her despair transfixed us all. She clung to the cruel phone. This scene by the phone has left a distinct impression upon my mind: the mother grabbed hold of the telephone bell, as if to resurrect her child’s voice. I can clearly see white nickle-bell between her shivering hot hands. It was like an eye that would never close, but stare at her without mercy for the rest of her life. Mr Elling Winter made a pause in his story. “But dear God, man,” I exclaimed, “the mystery was solved, was it not?” “No,” he replied quietly. “Are you really telling me that children have not been accounted for?” “It has been six years now since this happened. You have seen the mother yourself this evening. Doesn’t her appearance tell you everything? No one has heard anything from or about the two young girls. The last sign of life was this terrible phone call.” “But the police?” “The police” My friend shrugged. “The police in a big city,” he muttered, “of course they did everything they could, but to no avail. They immediately tried to trace the source of the phone call, but the technical complexities being what they are, it was found to be impossible. Nor was there anything in the child’s voice that could explain the situation. No hint of fear, no sense of urgency. In stead there was this childish sense of confidence, quite puzzling. And then there was the whispering, of course.” “To whom did she whisper? Perhaps to her sister? “Perhaps to her sister” “Perhaps to someone else?” “Yes, perhaps to some one else” For a while we sat there silently pondering. Then my friend said: “I know that one street and one house in the great city must know the secret. Every time I pass it on my journeys – surely it must happen once every few years as the train rushes through the dark chaos of tall and sad urban structures illuminated by bluish gleams from the streecar cables – then I say to myself: Where…. Where?” I was half in a world of my own as I listened to my friend’s voice. The town of Bolzano, with its many points of light deep down at the bottom of the valley, did not seem so beautiful anymore. I glanced over at the hotel where I knew the mother was staying. The lower windows radiated a matt shine, but the arched gloomy ceiling weighed heavy upon the construction. Above, there was a clear and starry sky – there always was in these southern lands. The stars are signs of eternity, and they always call to us posing questions concerning our suffering lives: How, why … where? Translated by Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyBetween the time of Buddha and when the Mongol hordes poured onto the Asian steps almost a millennia later, there existed an ancient center of learning in India with tens of thousands of students.  A Turkish invader left their library in ruins, and its books, like all those unknown scholars, became scattered and forgotten by time. The present-day Nalanda university library, like the modern library of Alexandria, cannot replace or restore the ancient centers of learning they once served, only honor them. There are about twenty influential teachers from Nalanda listed at Wikipedia. But over a millennia there must have been countless more. Students would have arrived from far and near, books would have been copied and sold. Even if most names should be forgotten, some of the infra-structure of learning can always be deduced from archaeology. If there are many students, the facilities of learning would tell us about teaching methods. And also about where they came from and how they were recruited, and perhaps went after their studies. If a gigantic stone is uncovered at a mysterious site like, for instance, Nalanda in India or even the much older temple at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, many things can be learnt about the technology and mathematical skills of those who placed it there. And if such skills exist, then they are learnt somewhere. The study of European Antiquity has brought to light the great minds of men like Aristotle, Archimedes and Hero of Alexandria. Then there is that legendary library in Alexandria that we all know about. Some who have studied history might talk about the one in Pergamon where Galen was educated, the second most famous. But often these towering institutions are icebergs of a forgotten academic system, a network of learning centers. If academic works were written, they also had an audience. And they were also traded and sold, which means merchants of knowledge. Sometimes even booksellers and agents. Recently, new lidar technology has stripped away the overgrowth of centuries, in the Amazon and in the jungles of Cambodia. What emerges magnifies the ancient cultures in these areas and their influence exponentially. Their urban arms stretched farther than anyone today could now have guessed. The literature of meso-America was quickly disposed of by the Europeans, and the only source of importance about Angkor Watt is the report of an ancient Chinese emissary. So slowly the rest of the planet is having its history restored, bit by bit. But, do we yet know what might be hidden beneath impenetrable jungles elsewhere, in Papua New Guinea or Congo? In 1916, a Jamaican arrived in New York. He had been educated in the heart of the Empire, London. His name was Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), and he was the first organizer of a black mass protest movement. He was extravagant, flamboyant and also dishonest. But even if he was eventually kicked out of the US, he managed what he set out to do: awaken the African Americans to the great wealth of unknown cultures located beyond the gaze of the European scholar. Europeans never spoke about the great sub-Saharan cultures known at the time. In his novel She, the late Victorian adventure writer H. Rider Haggard (1856–1925) made wild, but extremely entertaining speculations about the origins of the great stone structures of Zimbabwe. This was needed because Africans could never have managed to construct such marvels on their own. Europe had even swept  the mighty Songhai-empire of western Africa conveniently under the carpet, along with the great libraries of Timbuktu. In fact, even Roman expeditions into sub-Saharan Africa or the sub-Saharan battles of the First World War, have been met with total silence. This was infertile soil for learning and culture. This was the land of naked savages. One of the countries Marcus Garvey frequently mentioned was Ethiopia, and the Rasta movement would later often refer to him. Garvey himself, however, belonged to an earlier generation. So, when he referred to Ethiopia he had other things in mind. Today, students are just becoming aware of the great genius of men like Zera Yacob (1599 – 1692) , the Ethiopian enlightenment philosopher, and contemporary and almost equal of Kant himself. But the same comment I  made concerning the intellectual celebrities that are known from Nalanda applies to Zera Yacob. He was the top of the largest remaining iceberg of a past system of learning. Gone with the wind are the other students, their lives and the network that supported them. Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
creative writing / literatureMaking it as a script writer in Hollywood is not easy. There is a whole support industry for creating stories, classes on almost every corner in Tinseltown. One of the more dedicated teachers of the craft is professor Ken Dancyger of New York University. We spoke to him about his work as a teacher of writing, and about the realities of the business. When did this notion of a “script guru” become common? What sets such a person apart from, let’s say, a professor of literature? Professor Dancyger: The “script guru ” for me started with Syd Field. I remember going to see him in Toronto along with 400 others and being outraged by his ideas about scripts. He made me define where I stand on the vital issues about how to write a strong script. At that point I myself had written, alone or with partners, 10 scripts. The first secured me a Hollywood agent, the second sold to Canadian television. I seemed on my way. A script guru is very different from a Professor of Literature. A Professor of Literature is well-read and has an area of interest. He or she may or may not be a novelist. Script guru is much closer to the popular arts i.e. the media. Certainly the guru may borrow ideas from literary critics such as Northrop Frye but his or her knowledge base is strongly rooted in the hundred plus history of Film. The earliest writers about script were often playwrights and so ideas about plays, their structure, was much more likely to influence Script gurus than Academic Professors of Literature. They must get their ideas from somewhere? Do you read a lot of academic literature, and then translate this into practical advice? Or have you done the empirical work yourself? Professor Dancyger: I read a lot of history as well as literature and see many plays and of course I see every film I can, always with an eye to what makes the work compelling. The scripts I’ve written, the writers I’ve worked with, the classes I’ve taught are all laboratories where I define and refine my ideas about storytelling and what constitutes a strong screenplay. If you were to give a little praise to one of your colleagues or competitors, who would that be, and why? Professor Dancyger: I like David Howard from USC and Judith Weston who teaches acting for Film and Television. David is very good on character-driven stories and Judith is excellent on character arcs and their importance. Both have written strong books. The late Syd Field was famous for his 3 act-theory. Robert McKee also presents a lot of rules about what constitutes a good script. What is your main dictum on how movie scripts should be constructed? Professor Dancyger: My approach is as follows: In a feature length screenplay a character changes. What is the issue (crisis) when we meet the main character? How does the character change by the resolution or end of the screenplay? Who/what changes him (relationships and plot)? Next what will the dramatic arc (plot) be? Every genre has a different dramatic arc. What genre is your story? Genre is pliable in terms of how it is used. What tone will you use? (light, realistic,dark). Will you alter any genre expectations? (How you begin or end, the nature of relationships). Screenplay that succeed often surprise is in our expectations. Will your screenplay defy our expectations? Can you really create a norm for what a good script is? If you look at prose, some writers excel on plot construction, like Agatha Christie, others on their poetic qualities? Wouldn’t the same thing be true for a movie script? Professor Dancyger: There is a norm for expectations of what a script will be. This is based on how particular story forms have been used over time. Writers differ, some are strong on plot, others on character, yet others on dialogue. Robert Towne is very good on dialogue, David Rayfiel is very good at story construction, Francis Coppola is very good at tone. Each is unusually gifted in their area but few writers are good at every thing. What is the best way of breaking into the hollywood script business? Do you just email your script to someone? Or do you need to know a lot of people in order to make it? Professor Dancyger:  Working in the business at all levels is the way into a career. Schools help as you can make a good short film that will get you attention. At that point the door may well open for you. Have a well written feature film script written. That too will help. At the moment CONTENT is king in Film and Television. The opportunities are abundant. It remains tough but this is a good time for writers. I have seen European writers and directors go from a nominated foreign film to a Hollywood opportunity. This is the competition students who graduate from Film Schools face. When your script has been bought, it may be reworked by someone else, might it not? So the end result doesn’t really have to look anything like you originally intended? Isn’t this frustrating? Professor Dancyger: The realities of the industry is that many voices will impact your script, in both Film and Television. It might be frustrating but my advice is get over it. Its the way of this world.. When I was a student, my professor told me a story about the Irish Nobel laureate, Samuel Beckett, and how he was rejected many times, only to become famous as a mature man. At what point should one give up, and simply accept the fact that perhaps one’s talent isn’t sufficient for a career in Hollywood? Professor Dancyger:  Persistence is more valuable a trait for a writer than in many fields. There is no one path. Everyone has talent, not everyone is persistent. You must have read thousands of scripts, what would you say is the most common mistake that young or novice writers make? Professor Dancyger: The most common mistakes early writers make are, in order: Excessive reliance on dialogue.  Not understanding how much change in the main character has to take place in the Feature film and how many barriers to the main character’s goal need to be overcome in the course of the screen story. That plot an external pressure on the main character, needs to be deployed and that it should have surprising twists and turns. Tone is how your unique voice underlies the story. Genre or story form matters and given its plasticity it can make your story seem fresher. What is the best movie script of all time, and why? Professor Dancyger:  The best movie script of all time is a tough nut. I have many favorites: Casey Robinson’ NOW VOYAGER for story construction Billy Wilder’s SUNSET BOULEVARD for character and dialogue Samuel Raphelson’s SHOP AROUND THE CORNER for sheer pleasure Federico Fellini’s 8/1/2 for creativity Elem Klimov’s COME AND SEE for daring and passion I could go on but will stop… Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyIn 1789, the revolution swept the old aristocracy from power in France. A few years later, Napoleon Bonaparte, the legendary Corsican, emerged as the new strong man. Through conquest he became the scourge of the nineteenth century, a man both feared and admired. His armies set foot in most countries on continental Europe, and whatever the outcome, change followed. After his defeat, nothing would ever be the same.  But what should we today think about a man who in some ways modernized a reluctant Europe through victories on the battlefield? We asked professor Michael Broers of Oxford University, an expert on Napoleon. For those of us who do not know the details of Napeoleon’s life, could you tell us why he is different from a more familiar conqueror of Europe, Adolf Hitler? After all, Hitler emerged from a period of crisis, just like Napoleon? Michael Broers: The comparison is inevitable, given their territorial conquests, but there is no significant similarity. Napoleon had no racist agenda, nor did he have a clear plan for expansion. They both invaded Russia, but for wholly different reasons: Hitler to conquer and exploit; Napoleon to force Russia back into the alliance against Britain and to knock out its military threat. Napoleon rose to power by an insider coup; Hitler through democratic election. Your biography of Napoleon relies on new source material, how has your view of Napoleon’s character changed? Michael Broers: He was usually very measured and more controlled as a person than I had imagined; he was a very good committee chair, seeking out the views of others; he had  a capacity to forgive and to apologise I had not seen before. A very good sense of humour. Why did Napoleon set out to conquer Europe? Michael Broers: He didn’t. he sought to defeat his enemies – don’t forget he inherited the was from the French Revolutionaries; he did not start it. He dealt with each defeat as it occurred, by reordering certain parts of Europe to suit France. The only time when there was an overall plan was between 1807 and 1811, when he annexed as much of the North Sea Coast as he could to enforce the anti-British Blockade. There was no master plan. He was of course a military genius. What was his chief advantages on the battlefield? Michael Broers: He delegated well to his commanders, and chose them well. he trained his troops very thoroughly when he had the chance. His troops moved very quickly, along well planned routes. He usually had clear battle plans, but we very quick to adapt in a crisis. Napoleon has long since passed into myth in paintings of him horseback, and in films like Abel Gance’s silent epic (or his later color feature about the battle of Austerliz.) How much truth is there to these idealized versions of the man? Michael Broers: This is impossible to answer, as there are so many and varied images of Napoleon, from the comic and contemporary (eg Gilray) to the heroic (eg Byron) to the demonic (Tolstoy). He divided contemporaries as much as he has later generations. There is one undeniable part of the physical image: All who knew him commented on his bright, clear eyes and his penetrating look. The conquest of Spain and Russia were particularly brutal. Why did he not simply retreat from those campaigns? Michael Broers: He wanted to retreat from Spain, but could not abandon his brother Joseph, whom he had placed on the throne. Once the British established themselves in Portugal and Galicia, by 1809, it was too dangerous to withdraw – when he had to pull out large numbers of troops in 1812 to fight in Russia, this decision to stay was proved correct, as the British pounced on the weakened French and drove them back to France. Russia was very different: The campaign was to last only 3 weeks. Its goal was to catch the main Russian army, knock it out and go home. He did catch it a couple of times and inflict damage, so he preserved. Once lured as far as Moscow, and not finished the Russians off, he did actually retreat. After his first defeat, he was banished to an island, but returned. Why wasn’t he simply shot after he was first captured? After all, a lot of people died in his campaigns.   Michael Broers: They were all guilty of war mongering, so it would have been impossible to pin such a charge on him. To have shot him would have placed the allies on the same level as the French revolutionaries who guillotined people out of hand; they equated Napoleon with them, so it was not ‘the done thing’. They also knew he had enough support left in France that it would have been dangerous to make a martyr of him. Overall, it was an unprecedented set of circumstances. The French has had a varying relationship with Napoleon. How is he viewed in France today? Michael Broers: This is too varied to answer properly. For many, he is seen as a military dictator who destroyed the Revolution; for others, he made France great. Most educated people know he laid many of the institutional foundations of the modern French state. What about the rest of Europe? Michael Broers: Again, hard to answer. Russians actually admire him, Tolstoy not withstanding; he tends to be despised in the UK. Italians look to him as having helped set them on the way to unification. In Spain he is a demon. etc How would you say Napoleon changed the face of Europe? It wasn’t all bad, was it?  Michael Broers: Most of it was positive, once the wars were over. His military and diplomatic edifice was swept away without trace, but his legal and administrative, and educational reforms have been adopted over most of continental Europe, even in countries like Spain and Portugal which opposed him tooth and nail. In many key ways, it is a positive and fundamental legacy.     Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyWhen Mohammad died in 632, most of the Arabian peninsula had converted to his new religion. Soon a rapid expansion of the faith across most of North Africa followed, untill a caliphate was established. During the Middle Ages, Islam became the sworn enemy of Christian Europe. Even so, it is through Islamic custodianship that much of the legacy of classical Antiquity survived.  The animosity between cultures seems to have reached a new peak in the wake of the war on terror following 9/11. Today, there is hardly a more controversial historical figure than the prophet Muhammad, the man who, in 610 A.D., at the age of 40, sought refuge in a mountain cave and was visited by the angel Gabriel. We talked with a well-known moderate, British proponent of interfaith dialogues, Methodist and historian, Martin Forward.  We asked him to introduce Muhammad to those of us unfamiliar with his life. You have studied Muhammad and written a short biography of the man, what attracted you to this subject? Muhammad has had a very bad press in the west as a false prophet, an epileptic, a cardinal who went bad and founded another religion out of spite, and a host of other bad things. These criticisms arose in part out of people dissing what they fear. Islam was a threat to Europe’s Christian identity for over 1,000 years: as late as 1683, Ottoman Turks laid siege to the gates of Vienna. But they also arose out of a genuine puzzlement: why, Christians thought, did Muslims need another religious founder after Jesus? Why could they not accept him and his religion? So I found him a fascinating figure and wanted to see what I thought of him. Writing it out helped that process! In the West, we often compare Muhammad to Jesus, but how fair is that comparison? Muslims compare Jesus with Muhammad. For Muslims, Jesus is a prophet, Messiah and son of Mary (but not of God). Christians, as I have said, often regard Muhammad as a fraud, though there is no obligation, in their religion, to have a point of view about Muhammad at all, since he post-dates it. Understandably, Muslims are often disappointed that Christians can’t find fine things to say about Muhammad when they themselves hold Jesus in high regard. Equally understandable, Christians are disappointed that Muslims high regard for Jesus misses (from their perspective) the important point about him and his role in salvation.  Do all Muslims have the same view of Muhammad? Are there differences within sects or traditions? There are different views but they’ve been submerged by the dominant one. An early view, that of the Mutazilites, didn’t see him as a passive recipient of an inerrant scripture but gave him a much more positive role in its manufacture. There views were quickly abandoned as innovative, though they re-emerge in the writings of Muslim modernists in Egypt and India (e.g. Syed Ameer Ali’s “The Spirit of Islam”) Shiahs tend to emphasize Muhammad as a charismatic leader whose descendants may inherit some of that spiritual power, whereas Sunnis are more cautious about this. But the vast majority have the view that he is the last and greatest prophet, after whom there will be no more prophets. What sources do we have about his life, and how reliable are these sources? The Qur’an and the hadith (traditions). Muslims and until recently, western scholars of Islam, have taken a conservative view of these and see them as closely linked to the historical life of the prophet and as reliable guides to it. But radical recent western historians now often regard the Qur’an as a work that wasn’t fixed and finalized until many years after Muhammad’s death. Muslims don’t accept this, but the evidence is quite compelling that, e.g., some of the Qur’an is post-Muhammad. (John Wansbrough and Patricia Crone are famous exponents of this view).  What sort of a man was he? Was he an educated man? Many Muslims believe him to have been illiterate and this has the advantage of highlighting the miracle of the Qur’an and its divine provenance. Since he was a member of a distinguished clan, and the husband of a wealthy businesswoman, Khadijah, it’s likely that he was able to read and write (though, as I say, many Muslims don’t believe so,) and to do basic math.  We often hear that Muhammad was a military man, and that as such he cannot be worthy of being praised. How should we deal with this issue? How do Muslims deal with it? Islam was the most successful religion of all, in its infancy. Within a few years, it had destroyed the Persian Empire, and vastly reduced the territories of the Byzantine Empire. Within a century Muslims controlled much of the Middle East and North Africa, and had entered Europe as conquerors through the Iberian peninsula. Islam’s success was based on military power. This isn’t a problem for Muslims, God being on the side of the righteous, though it conflicts with views of Jesus as the prince of peace. To Christians, Muhammad seems to be a violent sort of prophet. To many Muslims, Jesus seems to have been an unsuccessful one, dying before he could implement his vision in any concrete ways. Describe for us the sort of tribal culture he was born into? He was born into a distinguished clan, the Quraysh. Clan life was originally desert based and gave its members an identity and a loyalty. You could, e.g., raid another clan but not your own. Mecca, the town where he was born, was on the silk route. Many scholars suggest that greedy capitalism was beginning to subvert tribal values at the time of Muhammad, and see this as the background to the Qur’an’s condemnation of those who oppress the poor and needy. How did Muhammad regard women? This is a minefield. He had many wives, and had them veiled out of respect, though he didn’t require other women to be veiled. He limited wives to four, for others, and some Muslims claim polygamy was a concession to circumstances, to protect and look after widows of the Muslims who died fighting against pagan Meccans. One of his wives, Ayesha, was very young, and his marriage to her nowadays would be regarded as pedophilia. But it wasn’t a problem then, if you compare it with practices in Greek and other cultures.  There is the very difficult topic of Muhammad’s relationship with the Jews. How should we today interpret his military actions against Jews? Muhammad saw them as thorns in his side, preventing him from implementing his vision; fifth-columnists, if you like. He acted as leaders of his day did, removing them in a ruthless fashion. But he wasn’t a modern anti-Semite, regarding Jews as intrinsically sub-human. In the Middle Ages, Jews often did pretty well under Muslim rule, as opposed to Christian rule. Why is it so important for some Muslims that we don’t show artistic representations of Muhammad. Like Jews, (but unlike Christians) Muslims believe that God is incomparably beyond our power to depict him artistically or in any other way. Muhammad is the messenger of God. and so should be afforded the same courtesy.  What do the sources say about his appearance? Do we know anything about what he actually looked like? I summarize his appearance in my book. There I write: “He was of average height or a little taller. He was strongly built. His complexion was fair. He had a hooked nose, and black eyes flecked with brown. He had a good head of hair, and was bearded. He had a large mouth, which occasionally broke into a warm smile. His was a mobile body: he turned his whole self to look at somebody, spoke rapidly and to the point, and was often in a rush.” Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureIn his youth, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) wrote 6 poems in total. We publish 4 of them here with the permission of their translator Donald Rayfield. The poems are presented for educational purposes.   Untitled The rose’s bud had blossomed out Reaching out to touch the violet The lily was waking up And bending its head in the breeze High in the clouds the lark Was singing a chirrupping hymn While the joyful nightingale With a gentle voice was saying- ‘Be full of blossom, oh lovely land Rejoice Iverians’ country And you oh Georgian, by studying Bring joy to your motherland.’ by Joseph Stalin (“Soselo”)   Old Ninika Our Ninika has grown old His hero’s shoulders have failed him… How did this desolate grey hair Break an iron strength? Oh mother! Many a time With his ‘hyena’ sickle swinging, Bare-chested, at the end on the cornfield He must have suddenly burst out with a roar. He must have piled up mountains Of sheaves side by side, And on his face governed by dripping sweat Fire and smoke must have poured out. But now he can no longer move his knees, Scythed down by old age. He lies down or he dreams or he tells His children’s children of the past. From time to time he catches the sound Of singing in the nearby cornfields And his heart that was once so tough Begins to beat with pleasure. He drags himself out, trembling. He takes a few steps on is sheperd’s crook And, when he catches sight of the lads, He smiles with relief. by Joseph Stalin (“Soselo”)   To the Moon Move tirelessly Do not hang your head scatter the mist of the clouds The Lord’s providence is great.   Gently smile at the earth Stretched out beneath you; Sing a lullaby to the glacier Strung down from the heavens. Know for certain that once Struck down to the ground, an oppressed man Strives again to reach the pure mountain, When exalted by hope.   So, lovely moon, as before Glimmer through the clouds; Pleasantly in the azure vault Make your beams play.   But I shall undo my vest And thrust out my chest to the moon, With outstreched arms, I shall revere The spreader of light upon the earth! by Joseph Stalin (“Soselo”)   To Raphael Eristavi When the laments of the toiling peasants Had moved you to tears of pity, You groaned to the heavens, oh Bard, Placed at the head of the people’s heads; When the people’s welfare Had pleasantly exalted you, You made your strings sweetly sound, Like a man sent forth by heaven; When you sang hymns to the motherland, That was your love, For her your harp brought forth A heart enraputuring twang…. Then oh Bard, a Georgian Would listen to you as to a heavenly monument And for your labours and woes of the past Has crowned you with the present. Your words have in his heart Now put down roots; Reap, grey-haired saint, What you sowed in your youth; For a sickle, use the people’s Heartfelt cry in the air: ‘Hurray for Raphael! May there be many Sons like thee in the fatherland!!’ by Joseph Stalin (“Soselo”) Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storypublished in All-Story Weekly, September 21, 1918 by Francis Stevens (real name Gertrude Barrows Bennett, 1884–1948) t was after nine o’clock when the bell rang, and descending to the dimly lighted hall I opened the front door, at first on the chain to be sure of my visitor. Seeing, as I had hoped, the face of our friend, Ralph Quentin, I took off the chain and he entered with a blast of sharp November air for company. I had to throw my weight upon the door to close it against the wind. As he removed his hat and cloak he laughed good-humoredly. “You’re very cautious, Santallos. I thought you were about to demand a password before admitting me.” “It is well to be cautious,” I retorted. “This house stands somewhat alone, and thieves are everywhere.” “It would require a thief of considerable muscle to make off with some of your treasures. That stone tomb-thing, for instance; what do you call it?” “The Beni Hassan sarcophagus. Yes. But what of the gilded inner case, and what of the woman it contains? A thief of judgment and intelligence might covet that treasure and strive to deprive me of it. Don’t you agree?” He only laughed again, and counterfeited a shudder. “The woman! Don’t remind me that such a brown, shriveled, mummy-horror was ever a woman!” “But she was. Doubtless in her day my poor Princess of Naarn was soft, appealing; a creature of red, moist lips and eyes like stars in the black Egyptian sky. ‘The Songstress of the House’ she was called, ere she became Ta–Nezem the Osirian. But I keep you standing here in the cold hall. Come upstairs with me. Did I tell you that Beatrice is not here tonight?” “No?” His intonation expressed surprise and frank disappointment. “Then I can’t say good-by to her? Didn’t you receive my note? I’m to take Sanderson’s place as manager of the sales department in Chicago, and I’m off tomorrow morning.” “Congratulations. Yes, we had your note, but Beatrice was given an opportunity to join some friends on a Southern trip. The notice was short, but of late she has not been so well and I urged her to go. This November air is cruelly damp and bitter.” “What was it — a yachting cruise?” “A long cruise. She left this afternoon. I have been sitting in her boudoir, Quentin, thinking of her, and I’ll tell you about it there — if you don’t mind?” “Wherever you like,” he conceded, though in a tone of some surprise. I suppose he had not credited me with so much sentiment, or thought it odd that I should wish to share it with another, even so good a friend as he. “You must find it fearfully lonesome here without Bee,” he continued. “A trifle.” We were ascending the dark stairs now. “After tonight, however, things will be quite different. Do you know that I have sold the house?” “No! Why, you are full of astonishments, old chap. Found a better place with more space for your tear-jars and tombstones?” He meant, I assumed, a witty reference to my collection of Coptic and Egyptian treasures, well and dearly bought, but so much trash to a man of Quentin’s youth and temperament. I opened the door of my wife’s boudoir, and it was pleasant to pass into such rosy light and warmth out of the stern, dark cold of the hall. Yet it was an old house, full of unexpected drafts. Even here there was a draft so strong that a heavy velour curtain at the far side of the room continually rippled and billowed out, like a loose rose-colored sail. Never far enough, though, to show what was behind it. My friend settled himself on the frail little chair that stood before my wife’s dressing-table. It was the kind of chair that women love and most men loathe, but Quentin, for all his weight and stature, had a touch of the feminine about him, or perhaps of the feline. Like a cat, he moved delicately. He was blond and tall, with fine, regular features, a ready laugh, and the clean charm of youth about him — also its occasional blundering candor. As I looked at him sitting there, graceful, at ease, I wished that his mind might have shared the litheness of his body. He could have understood me so much better. “I have indeed found a place for my collections,” I observed, seating myself near by. “In fact, with a single exception — the Ta–Nezem sarcophagus — the entire lot is going to the dealers.” Seeing his expression of astonished disbelief I continued: “The truth is, my dear Quentin, that J have been guilty of gross injustice to our Beatrice. I have been too good a collector and too neglectful a husband. My ‘tear-jars and tombstones,’ in fact, have enjoyed an attention that might better have been elsewhere bestowed. Yes, Beatrice has left me alone, but the instant that some few last affairs are settled I intend rejoining her. And you yourself are leaving. At least, none of us three will be left to miss the others’ friendship.” “You are quite surprising tonight, Santallos. But, by Jove, I’m not sorry to hear any of it! It’s not my place to criticize, and Bee’s not the sort to complain. But living here in this lonely old barn of a house, doing all her own work, practically deserted by her friends, must have been — ” “Hard, very hard,” I interrupted him softly, “for one so young and lovely as our Beatrice. But if I have been blind at least the awakening has come. You should have seen her face when she heard the news. It was wonderful. We were standing, just she and I, in the midst of my tear-jars and tombstones — my ‘chamber of horrors’ she named it. You are so apt at amusing phrases, both of you. We stood beside the great stone sarcophagus from the Necropolis of Beni Hassan. Across the trestles beneath it lay the gilded inner case wherein Ta–Nezem the Osirian had slept out so many centuries. You know its appearance. A thing of beautiful, gleaming lines, like the quaint, smiling image of a golden woman. “Then I lifted the lid and showed Beatrice that the one-time songstress, the handmaiden of Amen, slept there no more, and the case was empty. You know, too, that Beatrice never liked my princess. For a jest she used to declare that she was jealous. Jealous of a woman dead and ugly so many thousand years! Or — but that was only in anger — that I had bought Ta–Nezem with what would have given her, Beatrice, all the pleasure she lacked in life. Oh, she was not too patient to reproach me, Quentin, but only in anger and hot blood. “So I showed her the empty case, and I said, ‘Beloved wife, never again need you be jealous of Ta–Nezem. All that is in this room save her and her belongings I have sold, but her I could not bear to sell. That which I love, no man else shall share or own. So I have destroyed her. I have rent her body to brown, aromatic shreds. I have burned her; it is as if she had never been. And now, dearest of the dear, you shall take for your own all the care, all the keeping that Heretofore I have lavished upon the Princess of Naam.’ “Beatrice turned from the empty case as if she could scarcely believe her hearing, but when she saw by the look in my eyes that I meant exactly what I said, neither more nor less, you should have seen her face, my dear Quentin — you should have seen her face!” “I can imagine.” He laughed, rather shortly. For some reason my guest seemed increasingly ill at ease, and glanced continually about the little rose-and-white room that was the one luxurious, thoroughly feminine corner — that and the cold, dark room behind the curtain — in what he had justly called my “barn of a house.” “Santallos,” he continued abruptly, and I thought rather rudely, “you should have a portrait done as you look tonight. You might have posed for one of those stern old hidalgos of — which painter was it who did so many Spanish dons and donesses?” “You perhaps mean Velasquez,” I answered with mild courtesy, though secretly and as always his crude personalities displeased me. “My father, you may recall, was of Cordova in southern Spain. But — must you go so soon? First drink one glass with me to our missing Beatrice. See how I was warming my blood against the wind that blows in, even here. The wine is Amontillado, some that was sent me by a friend of my father’s from the very vineyards where the grapes were grown and pressed. And for many years it has ripened since it came here. Before she went, Beatrice drank of it from one of these same glasses. True wine of Montilla! See how it lives — like fire in amber, with a glimmer of blood behind it.” I held high the decanter and the light gleamed through it upon his face. “Amontillado! Isn’t that a kind of sherry? I’m no connoisseur of wines, as you know. But–Amontillado.” For a moment he studied the wine I had given him, liquid flame in the crystal glass. Then his face cleared. “I remember the association now. ‘The Cask of Amontillado.’ Ever read the story?” “I seem to recall it dimly.” “Horrible, fascinating sort of a yarn. A fellow takes his trustful friend down into the cellars to sample some wine, traps him and walls him up in a niche. Buries him alive, you understand. Read it when I was a youngster, and it made a deep impression, partly, I think, because I couldn’t for the life of me comprehend a nature — even an Italian nature — desiring so horrible a form of vengeance. You’re half Latin yourself, Santallos. Can you elucidate?” “I doubt if you would ever understand,” I responded slowly, wondering how even Quentin could be so crude, so tactless. “Such a revenge might have its merits, since the offender would be a long time dying. But merely to kill seems to me so pitifully inadequate. Now I, if I were driven to revenge, should never be contented by killing. I should wish to follow.” “What — beyond the grave?” I laughed. “Why not? Wouldn’t that be the very apotheosis of hatred? I’m trying to interpret the Latin nature, as you asked me to do.” “Confound you, for an instant I thought you were serious. The way you said it made me actually shiver!” “Yes,” I observed, “or perhaps it was the draft. See, Quentin, how that curtain billows out.” His eyes followed my glance. Continually the heavy, rose-colored curtain that wag hung before the door of my wife’s bedroom bulged outward, shook and quivered like a bellying sail, as draperies will with a wind behind them. His eyes strayed from the curtain, met mine and fell again to the wine in his glass. Suddenly he drained it, not as would a man who was a judge of wines, but hastily, indifferently, without thought for its flavor or bouquet. I raised my glass in the toast he had forgotten. “To our Beatrice,” I said, and drained mine also, though with more appreciation. “To Beatrice — of course.” He looked at the bottom of his empty glass, then before I could offer to refill it, rose from his chair. “I must go, old man. When you write to Bee, tell her I’m sorry to have missed her.” “Before she could receive a letter from me I shall be with her — I hope. How cold the house is tonight, and the wind breathes everywhere. See how the curtain blows, Quentin.” “So it does.” He set his glass on the tray beside the decanter. Upon first entering the room he had been smiling, but now his straight, fine brows were drawn in a perpetual, troubled frown, his eyes looked here and there, and would never meet mine — which were steady. “There’s a wind,” he added, “that blows along this wall — curious. One can’t notice any draft there, either. But it must blow there, and of course the curtain billows out.” “Yes,” I said. “Of course it billows out.” “Or is there another door behind that curtain?” His careful ignorance of what any fool might infer from mere appearance brought an involuntary smile to my lips. Nevertheless, I answered him. “Yes, of course there is a door. An open door.” His frown deepened. My true and simple replies appeared to cause him a certain irritation. “As I feel now,” I added, “even to cross the room would be an effort. I am tired and weak tonight. As Beatrice once said, my strength beside yours is as a child’s to that of a grown man. Won’t you close that door for me, dear friend?” “Why — yes, I will. I didn’t know you were ill. If that’s the case, you shouldn’t be alone in this empty house. Shall I stay with you for a while?” As he spoke he walked across the room. His hand was on the curtain, but before it could be drawn aside my voice checked him. “Quentin,” I said, “are even you quite strong enough to close that door?” Looking back at me, chin on shoulder, his face appeared scarcely familiar, so drawn was it in lines of bewilderment and half-suspicion. “What do you mean? You are very odd tonight. Is the door so heavy then? What door is it?” I made no reply. As if against their owner’s will his eyes fled from mine, he turned and hastily pushed aside the heavy drapery. Behind it my wife’s bedroom lay dark and cold, with windows open to the invading winds. And erect in the doorway, uncovered, stood an ancient gilded coffin-case. It was the golden casket of Ta–Nezem, but its occupant was more beautiful than the poor, shriveled Songstress of Naam. Bound across her bosom were the strange, quaint jewels which had been found in the sarcophagus. Ta–Nezem’s amulets — heads of Hathor and Horus the sacred eye, the uroeus, even the heavy dull-green scarab, the amulet for purity of heart — there they rested upon the bosom of her who had been mistress of my house, now Beatrice the Osirian. Beneath them her white, stiff body was enwrapped in the same crackling dry, brown linen bands, impregnated with the gums and resins of embalmers dead these many thousand years, which had been about the body of Ta–Nezem. Above the white translucence of her brow appeared the winged disk, emblem of Ra. The twining golden bodies of its supporting uraeii, its cobras of Egypt, were lost in the dusk of her hair, whose soft fineness yet lived and would live so much longer than the flesh of any of us three. Yes, I had kept my word and given to Beatrice all that had been Ta-Nezem’s, even to the sarcophagus itself, for in my will it was written that she be placed in it for final burial. Like the fool he was, Quentin stood there, staring at the unclosed, frozen eyes of my Beatrice — and his. Stood till that which had been in the wine began to make itself felt. He faced me then, but with so absurd and childish a look of surprise that, despite the courtesy due a guest, I laughed and laughed. I, too, felt warning throes, but to me the pain was no more than a gage — a measure of his sufferings stimulus to point the phrases in which I told him all I knew and had guessed of him and Beatrice, and thus drive home the jest. But I had never thought that a man of Quentin’s youth and strength could die so easily. Beatrice, frail though she was, had taken longer to die. He could not even cross the room to stop my laughter, but at the first step stumbled, fell, and in a very little while lay at the foot of the gilded case. After all, he was not so strong as I. Beatrice had seen. Her still, cold eyes saw all. How he lay there, his fine, lithe body contorted, worthless for any use till its substance should have been cast again in the melting-pot of dissolution, while I who had drunk of the same draft, suffered the same pangs, yet stood and found breath for mockery. So I poured myself another glass of that good Cordovan wine, and I raised it to both of them and drained it, laughing. “Quentin,” I cried, “you asked what door, though your thought was that you had passed that way before, and feared that I guessed your, knowledge. But there are doors and doors, dear, charming friend, and one that is heavier than any other. Close it if you can. Close it now in my face, who otherwise will follow even whither you have gone — the heavy, heavy door of the Osiris, Keeper of the House of Death!” Thus I dreamed of doing and speaking. It was so vivid, the dream, that awakening in the darkness of my room I could scarcely believe that it had been other than reality. True, I lived, while in my dream I had shared the avenging poison. Yet my veins were still hot with the keen passion of triumph, and my eyes filled with the vision of Beatrice, dead — dead in Ta–Nezem’s casket. Unreasonably frightened. I sprang from bed, flung on a dressing-gown, and hurried out. Down the hallway I sped, swiftly and silently, at the end of it unlocked heavy doors with a tremulous hand, switched on lights, lights and more lights, till the great room of my collection was ablaze with them, and as my treasures sprang into view I sighed, like a man reaching home from a perilous journey. The dream was a lie. There, fronting me, stood the heavy empty sarcophagus; there on the trestles before it lay the gilded case, a thing of beautiful, gleaming lines, like the smiling image of a golden woman. I stole across the room and softly, very softly, lifted the upper half of the beautiful lid, peering within. The dream indeed was a lie. Happy as a comforted child I went to my room again. Across the hall the door of my wife’s boudoir stood partly open. In the room beyond a faint light was burning, and I could see the rose-colored curtain sway slightly to a draft from some open window. Yesterday she had come to me and asked for her freedom. I had refused, knowing to whom she would turn, and hating him for his youth, and his crudeness and his secret scorn of me. But had I done well? They were children, those two, and despite my dream I was certain that their foolish, youthful ideals had kept them from actual sin against my honor. But what if, time passing, they might change? Or, Quentin gone, my lovely Beatrice might favor another, young as he and not so scrupulous? Every one, they say, has a streak of incipient madness. I recalled the frenzied act to which my dream jealousy had driven me. Perhaps it was a warning, the dream. What if my father’s jealous blood should some day betray me, drive me to the insane destruction of her I held most dear and sacred. I shuddered, then smiled at the swaying curtain. Beatrice was too beautiful for safety. She should have her freedom. Let her mate with Ralph Quentin or whom she would, Ta–Nezem must rest secure in her gilded house of death. My brown, perfect, shriveled Princess of the Nile! Destroyed — rent to brown, aromatic shreds — burned — destroyed — and her beautiful coffin-case desecrated as I had seen it in my vision’. Again I shuddered, smiled and shook my head sadly at the swaying, rosy curtain. “You are too lovely, Beatrice,” I said, “and my father was a Spaniard. You shall have your freedom!” I entered my room and lay down to sleep again, at peace and content. The dream, thank God, was a lie. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short story1. From the village “Kosisochukwu my son!” Ozioma called repeatedly as she ran along a slightly dangling narrow bamboo bridge towards a building at the fringe of Udi village. It was a small building constructed on the top of a creek that had been rendered lifeless by oil spillage; nearby rivers and streams where they once drank from were equally useless. There were other similar buildings above the creek and they were all constructed with split tree trunks, old planks, and bamboo trees. Important men, of course, did not have roofs of raffia leaves, for they could afford old corrugated sheets to roof their houses. It didn’t matter whether there were perforations in the metal left by nails from the original buildings. These buildings were linked to one another by bamboo bridges. The people were careful to rebuild them at least once a year after harmattan seasons, which dried up and made brittle the wild creepers with which the bamboo logs were bound. These bridges were not stable, and there had been occasions when someone had slipped off and landed into the water. But such occasions only provoked hearty laughter instead of pity. In fact, the villagers considered themselves fish ‘that can never be drowned’, for as far as they could remember, only a toddler had succumbed to such a fate. It had been her mother’s fault, though. She had forgotten to close the opening where they pass out feces, urine and other rubbish into the water, and left to check what she was cooking in the kitchen. When she returned to the room, the child was missing. The mother realised she had not only left the hole open but also the door to the restroom. The lifeless child was picked from the bed of the black creek. “Kosisochukwu my son please leave immediately before they get here!” Kosi heard her mother’s voice and rushed out of the building to the veranda. He was bare-chested with only a very tight short on, his India hemp sticking out and smoking between his dark lips. “Mama, what is the problem!” he called. By now Aisosa was standing at the door post, leaning lazily on the left frame. “Run! Run! Police. Your brother has been…” A gunshot was heard and Ozioma dropped dead on the bridge. Aisosa yelled and wanted to rush to Ozioma’s aid, but Kosi caught her wrist just in time and dragged her into the building. Before long, three heavily armed police men were running towards the house. One stopped by Ozioma’s corpse and pushed it into the creek with his boot. “Level the house. Fire!” shouted one of them, obviously their leader. Bullets perforated the building until it caught fire and burned to the ground. “Any need to check for their corpses?” asked the policeman who had pushed Ozioma into the creek. “No,” the police chief replied. “They’re obviously dead.” Kosi had dropped into the creek with Aisosa through the building’s shithole before the shooting began. It was a narrow escape though, for a bullet had nearly hit his head. He had tilted his head to peep through a crack when the first shot sounded. The bullet smashed a mirror behind him. They vanished undetected in the water under cover of noise and commotion; Aisosa had even let out a loud cry when her ankle hit one of the poles that supported the building. They escaped through a trench which Kosi had deliberately dug and hidden in between hedges for occasions such as these, gunshots echoing in their minds. He covered Aisosa’s mouth with his right palm and then lowered her into the trench. A week earlier, a white man who worked with one of the oil companies in that region had been kidnapped, and the kidnappers demanded a hundred million naira ransom which the company was unable to pay because government had recently criminalized ransom payment. The militia group gave a one day ultimatum which elapsed without the company or the government doing anything to that effect. Mr Richard Anderson was promptly executed. To spite the government, the militia group filmed the atrocity and released the video. The militia leader was heard in the video saying: “You cannot deny us food and expect us to let you eat in peace. You have killed our fish and our fishermen can no longer survive. You have turned our waters into poison with your oil and rendered our farmland barren. You have deliberately starved our children for generations, and you tell us to go to hell when we protest with placards and helpless songs and chants. This time we will protest with guns and bullets and knives and monstrosity, and nothing will stop us. So go ahead and criminalize ransom and watch us answer you with more blood and death and vandalism.” As expected, the government responded by sending heavily armed police to the village with a special order to kill on sight. They arrived at the village with saboteurs and collaborators, those who feed fat off the misfortune of others. Names of militant leaders were mentioned, and Kosi was one of them. Although Kosi was a leader of a militant group, he was not part of the group that killed Mr Richard Anderson. In fact, he learned about this after the attack on his house. His only brother was shot in the head by the police that humid morning when they had reached his home. When the police discovered their mistake, they pursued Ozioma, whom they saw escaping through the back door. Later, Kosi’s second-in-command calmly laid the facts before him, and in addition added the name of the chief betrayer. His name was Chief Amayenabor. Chief Amayenabor lived in a luxury mansion in the best part of the town, two or three miles from the creek. Kosi puffed his weed, and listened to his second-in-command in their hideout. It was a bunker, squeezed between the trench that led to his house on one side and a mosquito-infested swamp on the other. Air and rays of light entered the tunnel through a square opening in the roof. There was silence as the story was told, and puff after puff rose through the dim air. In the end Kosi stood up abruptly, dipped his left hand into his trouser’s left pocket and brought out a pill, a tramadol tablet. Two 500mg pills were placed on Kosi’s tongue. He dipped his right hand in the other pocket and brought out a small bottle of codein, a cough syrup, opened it, filled his mouth and swallowed. “Target!” he shouted as though the startled Target wasn’t sitting at his left side. “Chairman!” Target answered, leaping to his feet. “I dey your side chairman,” he added, drawing heavily from his smoldering weed. “Correct!” Kosi replied. “E no go better for chief!” he added. “E no go better for chief!” said Target, as Kosi extended the pack of pills to him. ” Ready the confirms, put plenty groundnut seed for inside and carry others follow body,” Kosi instructed. “Confirm. At your command Chairman,” Target said. “Government!” Kosi yelled, and the Second-in-Command rose to his feet. “Chairman,” he answered, his weed hanging from his lips, smoke oozing from his nostrils. “I be your loyal boy. Command me.” “Chief go fall today.” “I hear you, Chairman.” “Get the other boys ready at once! We’re out of here,” Kosi said and marched into the jungle. They went by boat in the night. Before dawn Chief Amayenabor was missing and three of his personal security personnel were confirmed dead. Two days later, his head was found hanging on a stake before government house, and three days after this his headless body floated down the creek. The killing of a high government official like chief Amayenabor was an assault on the government, an unpardonable offence, according to the 9:00pm Newscaster on NTA. The government was determined to crush the riff-raff and have normalcy in the region. That day, the Inspector General of Police deployed twenty-four police officers from the dreaded Special Anti-Crime Squad unit to the village. This time they were to intensify their operations. Unfortunately, these men were met with a kind of fierce resistance they never envisaged, and during one of the gun battles which had lasted for the whole night, twenty-one out of the twenty-four police men were killed. The three who made it out of the village that night didn’t do so unharmed, for one of them later died in a general hospital at Abuja where they were all hospitalized. The militants counted only lesser casualties, and this infuriated the authorities even more. For three weeks, there was a news blackout, nothing was mentioned publicly. It was as though normalcy had truly returned, and the militants halted their operations. Then one night, the whole village was awoken by the sound of jets piercing the heavens. A sudden blast from one dead end of the village shook buildings, and brought others to the ground. The village was under siege, and screams and cries of women and children rose to the moonlit sky. Beneath the bombs, helter-skelter through a hail of bullets, villagers ran in all directions. Some made their way over the bamboo bridges to nearby bushes, and were cut down with machetes by soldiers. That night, two thousand five hundred villagers died. Kosi, Aisosa and his militant group were in their bunker when the noise reached them. From their position of safety, Kosi escaped to Benin City where he met Omos and Efe, and planned to travel out of Nigeria. He was a wanted man in Nigeria, and had to flee for his life. Omos, on the other hand, wanted to leave the country because there were no jobs for him, not even with his university degree, ten years of training as a mechanical engineer. Efe’s reason for leaving was not clear.   2. Across the sea “Omos!” Kosi shouted from the sinking edge of the deflating balloon boat. There were over a hundred of them stuffed in this bloating object and that was probably why it deflated too soon, and it happened far from shore. “If you survive this please don’t tell Aisosa that I am dead! Tell her that I shall return to marry her! Tell her to name our child Ozoemela!” That was Kosi’s last words before the next wave knocked him off the balloon. In his Igbo ethnic group, name must be significant, for it was beyond a mere means of identification. Names to the Igbos were marks that followed children from the spirit world, and most times the living knew about them even before the children were birthed. So a name must represent at least an event, and it didn’t matter whether it was good or bad- as long as it highlighted and emphasized something; if he must be called Bush, then his mother must birth him in the bush. Ozoemela is a name with a deep meaning, filled with pity and grief. It pleads for another, Ozo, not to happen again. Some things should never be repeated. Many in this makeshift boat ended their journey on the sea bed, those who could not swim, or those who were caught up by rolling waves as the boat capsized, and currents drove them apart. Those born near rivers and creeks kept themselves afloat for a very long time, and were for the first time in their lives grateful for having been exposed to the dangers and hardships of unknown waters while growing up. Efe was the most grateful, for all he could remember when he regained conscioussness was that he had let out a muffled shrill with his last strength and then began to sink. Omos was as much grateful even though he could not remember anything beyond drinking a lot of the salt water when his arms became numb and could no longer move to keep him afloat. He lay face-up on the shore, his eyes wide-open yet, not fully alive. The Libyans who found them on the beach walked about. From time to time, they bent over their motionless bodies for a closer look. Omos thought they were shadows, nameless creatures pulling him down towards the depths of the ocean. A half dream, from which he struggled to escape. “He is stirring,” one of the Libyan rescuers yelled and signaled his colleagues, “this one is still alive.” “Mop up the water running from his nustrils,” the other said. And as the man lowered his face a little closer and was about touching Omos’ nose with a piece of cloth, Omos jerked fully awake, throwing up on his face and all over his body, brown water that smelled like urine. “Let me be!” Omos yelled in a panting fright. “You black piece of shit!” the man said and hit his mouth so hard that it bled. Efe was lying beside him still unconscious. “What’s the problem?” a voice asked in Arabic. The man responded in Arabic too and then fixed an irritated gaze at Omos as he gradually stood up. “Come on black ass; your mates are eating inside!” The voice came again, but this time in English. But the accent was a caricature; a mockery of the English language. When the man left, Omos sat up properly and tapped Efe on the shoulder. Efe didn’t stir, then he tapped him again and again until he sneezed and blinked his eyes open. Omos helped him sit properly. Efe gently surveyed his surroundings and asked where they were. He, too, would occasionally cough up brown water. ” Thank God we’re alive, ” Omos said in almost a whisper. “Where are we?’ “On a shore in Libya. “ “Where is Kosi?” Omos turned his head, “Maybe in that metal house?” Efe yawned and stretched his hands above his head. “Hungry?” Omos asked. “No, famished.” “Let’s hurry into the house, I think some of us are already eating there.” “Some of us?” “Yes. We aren’t the only survivors.” Halfway to the metal house, a few yards from the sea, a heavily-bearded Libyan with a perfectly round face and an AK47 rifle hanging from his left shoulder threw the door open. With a broad smile he beckoned them to move faster. He cursed them in Arabic and introduced himself. “Come inside and eat, you black idiots. I am Ahmed Abdulahi, the head of the rescue team. Thank Allah, you’re alive!” He patted them on their shoulders and stepped aside to let them enter. Omos sensed something sinister in his eyes. The man’s handshake was too loose. There was an impenetrable darkness waiting inside the metal house. “It would have been a great loss for us if you hadn’t made it to the shore alive,” Ahmed added. Omos stared at his brown teeth and a long scar that ran from the corner of his left eye and crossed his nose bridge to the corner of his mouth. Omos thought of a gunshot, but finally concluded it was a slash by a very sharp-edged weapon. Ahmed must have noticed their hesitation and said, “Now let’s go in”, and led the way. Omos was relectuant, but there was no choice. He was the last to enter, and the door was shut with a metallic clang that startled them both. They heard a chain dragged across the lock behind them. “Are they inside?” a voice asked from one end of the darkness. Loud and ominous, the statement ended with a few Arabic mutterings. Then a switch was pulled and there was light. Not very bright, but at least there was relief. What then revealed itself to Omos was very unexpected. Where were the meals and his mates? Where was Kosi? Five men stood in that vast room. Ahmed Abdulahi was by the door with his rifle, by his side a man whom Omos remembered from the beach. One rifle leaned against the wall. At the far end Omos saw a man seated in front of a table. On the table, another rifle. He saw the aging hands of a black man in a grey hood resting on the table by the door as he was leaning forward. As soon as the light came on, he turned quickly to another Libyan that was standing behind him. “Are they your cargo?” the man in front of the table asked. “Yes, they are,” the black man responded. The accent was Nigerian, Edo precisely. “Here is the check,” the Libyan said, handing the sheet to the black man, who took it, frowned and grumbled. “You know this is the first time this has happened. That’s all I can pay for the two. We lost so many of them at sea,” the man added. “Well, I understand,” the Nigerian said. “Another boat is on the way.” “Let’s hope they arrive safely. It’s a pleasure doing business with you.” The two shook hands, and the black man turned and made towards the door, his eyes fixed to the floor. As he approached, Omos and Efe gave way for him to pass. Ahmed Abdulahi opened the door and light from outside shone bright on his face, and just then Omos recognized him. “Uncle Irobosa!” he shouted, hurrying towards him. But it was too late by then, for the rays of light vanished and the door shut with a heavy bang. In the dark, Omos crashed his head against the damp metal wall. Suddenly he was unconscious on the floor. The last he heard was a muffled scream from Efe. Within seconds, Efe too was knocked down from behind and unconscious. When Omos opened his eyes, he was naked on a narrow bed in a very small room. He could see and hear, but his body was unable to move. This bed was almost a solitary piece of furniture positioned very close to the window. There were voices, not far off beyond the glass pane. By the foot side of the bed he suddenly noticed low stool with a silver tray containing surgical equipment. There was a pair of bloodstained rubber gloves. A gown hung on a pole close by. He wanted to shift his gaze when someone shouted. It was the voice of the man he had seen in front of the table in the dark room. “This is not what we bargained on the phone! A kidney costs more than this and you know that! Do you how much I pay to get them here? “ “Well, gentlemen, I don’t think it has come to this. I am only but a middle man in this business,” another voice said. “If I…” “Then tell your master what the market price is. Don’t come here with few dollars and expect to go back to Saudi with this!” the harsher voice said. “Get him on the phone right now!” “Erh…he wouldn’t want to be disturbed, and moreover I, we have…” “Get him now or I drill your skull with a bullet! I pay that doctor over there, or you think he’s doing this job for free? I want to speak to the big man directly.” “You can’t speak directly to my master. He is a busy man, but you can talk to his doctor in Saudi.” “Then get me the damn doctor!” Somebody was speaking Arabic on a phone. When he was done, he switched back to English. “Well, he has agreed to pay thirty thousand. He’s also interested in the second kidney at the same price. But we can’t do that without ending him. “ “In that case, we shall wait until Mr Chin Lu arrives for the heart.” Omos tried to lift his head towards the window, but his neck was stiff and firm. He rolled his eyes to his left hand and discovered that he was not only on a drip, but also restrained. His hands and legs were chained to the bedframes. Suddenly, he felt moisture in his right abdomen. Blood was dripping out, he was cut. There was a sharp pain and an urge to scream, but his voice was long gone. By Ify Iroakazi Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history1876, the year Mark Twain published his novel Tom Sawyer, and Queen Victoria, now 57, adopted the title empress of India. In the history of science, one often remembers this as the year of the first telephone call. There were, however, some other events which took place that year which would influence generations to come. In Britain and in France, new scientific reviews dedicated to psychology were founded. In the UK, it was the Scotsman, Alexander Bain, who took it upon himself to finance this new innovation. London was in the middle of the Darwinian revolution, and the new quarterly review, entitled Mind, would become the preeminent medium for discussion in the decade, yes even century, that followed.   We talked with professor Cairns Craig, a specialist on Bain, and asked him why no one had ever written a biography about this vastly influential philosopher.  Alexander Bain founded one of the most influential journals within psychology. Why has there been written so little about him? Professor Cairns Craig: Because he was seen as the continuer of empirical psychology as developed by Hume and J.S. Mill and as the precursor of a new kind of psychology, based on a material understanding of the nervous system. He was neither regarded as a contributor to the ongoing discipline of Philosophy nor as any more than a precursor of the new discipline of psychology. He is often mentioned as prefiguring the future of psychology but his own works dated rapidly, in part because they were based on empirical dated that was rapidly overtaken by new studies. When we refer to «psychology» in Victorian times, we are not talking about modern clinical psychology. How would you briefly describe the psychological thinking of the Victorian age? Professor Cairns Craig: it was divided between British empiricism – the mind is a tabula rasa which learns from experience – and Kantian notions of the mind as shaping the world through the categories by which it organised its perceptions. In the second half of the nineteenth century, determined effort were made to combine these two views, culminating in James Ward’s article on ‘Psychology’ in the ninth edition of the Encyc Britannica, which attempted to show that Kantian categories were in fact the product of experiences laid down on the tabula rasa of early human experience. When and why did Bain come up with the idea for a psychological journal, and how did he set about creating it? Professor Cairns Craig: Bain has always been an intellectual entrepreneur, writing books that fitted with school curricula and university disciplines. I believe he saw the journal as a means of challenging Kantian notions of the mind by insisting on empirical study, and since Kantianism was dominant in late-nineteenth-century Britain through the influence of the Cairds and T.H.Green, the journal was a way of fighting back on behalf of empiricism. There was another journal, Brain, founded a little later, and of course Ribot’s La Revue philosophique in France. Why did Mind become more influential than these, do you think? Professor Cairns Craig: Because it combined traditional philosophical empiricism deriving from Hume and developed by J.S.Mill with the new empirical psychology that sought material causes of mental experiences. Bain hired George Croom Robertson to edit his journal. When and how did the two meet? Professor Cairns Craig: Croom Robertson was one of Bain’s outstanding students and Bain invited him to edit the journal because he did not feel himself up to a task which would mean engaging with the wider British philosophical and psychological community – he was happy to be established in and to remain in Aberdeen. Bain wrote a book about John Stuart Mill. In what way did his own thinking depart from Mill’s? Professor Cairns Craig: Bain was a follower of both Mill and his father (James Mill) in terms of their philosophy and their psychology, but he was profoundly disappointed when J.S.Mill appeared to give up their materialist commitments for some kind of ‘spiritual’ version of humanity. Bain wrote biographies of both father and son in the latter years of his life and was very unflattering about J.S.Mill’s ‘apostasy’ from the cause of empiricism and materialism. Bain and Mill were both of Scottish descent. In what way were they indebted to the Scottish enlightenment? Professor Cairns Craig: this is a difficult question, for there was no such concept as the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ in the nineteenth century – it did not come into existence till the 1960s. In the nineteenth century Scottish philosophy was deeply divided between the adherents of Hume – sceptical, irreligious – and the adherents of Reid – believing and committed to a Christian conception of the world. There could be no ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ till this opposition faded, which it did not do till Norman Kemp Smith’s book on Hume in the 1940s, which allowed Hume and Reid to be seen as sharing a very similar philosophy despite their asserted differences. There was a Canadian science journalist called Grant Allen, a proponent of Herbert Spencer, for the most part. In his early work Allen used Bain to balance out what he saw as dogmatism in Spencer’s theories? What was the relationship between Bain and Spencer? Did they know each other? Professor Cairns Craig: I believe that Bain and Spencer shared a similar empirical approach to the human mind but that Spencer had taken on the Darwinian perspectives which were barely available to Bain when he was writing his major works. Bain’s associationist psychology was eventually pushed aside by the Darwinian revolution. Bain lived a very long time. How did he meet the new questions raised by Darwin? Professor Cairns Craig: It is a profound mistake to think that associationist psychology was made redundant by Darwinism; in fact, associationism EXPLAINED the mental processes of Darwinism (associations are adaptive behaviour that help species survive) and associationism flourished in the Darwinian environment of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – it is as fundamental to J.G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough as it is to Freud’s account of latest and manifest meaning. Is there a lasting legacy of Bain’s own psychology today, except for Mind of course, which continues to survive as a journal? Professor Cairns Craig: Bain is almost always cited as the first modern psychologist but there is little in his work that would be considered relevant to modern psychology. His influence is the indirect influence he exerted through his students – some of whom helped shape early twentieth-century psychology ­– and through Mind, which was the medium by which philosophy and psychology established a new discipline that combined the self-reflexive analysis of the mind (that was to become phenomenology) with the acceptance that the mind existed only in and through the body and the nervous system. Listen to a reading of Alexander Bain’s 1882 Rectorial speech Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureHappy new year to all the listeners of! We have collected some of the darker stories in our blog and radio stream, and published them in a free ebook. It will be much easier to read, on any device you may choose. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyLamin Bajinka is a very fortunate man, a history teacher in a country where the unemployment rate is sky high. Yet, his days are far from care free, and often he too dreams about a comfortable life in Europe or America. Originally from the rural part of the Gambia, he lives in an urban area during the academic year, and moves back with his extended family on a farm during holidays. There he ploughs the fields by hand and tries to assist his relatives. «We grow delicious watermelons», he boasts. A devout muslim, he often prays and finds comfort in simple things. In his spare time, he trains the local soccer team, and it is not without pride that he talks about their many achievements on the pitch. Tell us a little about your background. Why did you decide to study history? Lamin Bajinka: I began my education in a small village called Kiti. Then I went to the Gambia college campus in Brikama, which is five kilometres from my native land. Brikama has about 90 000 inhabitants. I sometimes live in a town called Brufut, on the Gambian coast, with my mum. My grandfather inspired my interest in studying history. During my youth he narrated vivid stories to me, which inspired to know the history of this land and her people. How many students do you have, how old are they and what do you teach them? Lamin Bajinka: I teach classes of 35 to 40 students and we have 4 history classes in the school. The age of my students differ. They are between 15 and 20, but there is nobody older than 20. In the Gambia, the history syllabus is divided into two: National History and West Africa and the Wider World. We try to read more about our own country and West Africa. What about your pay as a teacher, is it sufficient for a decent life? Lamin Bajinka: No, my wages are not enough for decent life because I can’t even buy a bicycle or construct my own house. And tuition, is it free for all Gambians? Lamin Bajinka: Yes, today basic education is free for all Gambians. Girls were the first to get free tuition, in order to empower and encourage female education in the country. What sort of methods do you apply in your classroom? Lectures? Group work? Lamin Bajinka: I normally I put the child at the center of the class and allow them to express their own understanding of the subject or topics. Then we have group work while I guide them. What are the greatest difficulties that a Gambian student faces in school?  Lamin Bajinka: Many have difficulties with the distance they travel to attend  school. Not every village or community is blessed with a school. So, as a result, some students travel far  in order to get a better education. Once a student graduates, what are their chances of attending university? Lamin Bajinka: The chances are very slim due to the student’s financial circumstances. I am a good example of this, I haven’t finished my university degree. Yes, there are scholarships, but it is not sufficient for the number of people who want to have a university education. Do you think there is adequate focus on Gambian and west African history in the media? Lamin Bajinka: There is not enough focus on west African history, particularly Gambian history. European countries don’t focus much on our history in their media, do they? If you were to teach Gambian history to a European class for a day, what events and topics would you focus on? Lamin Bajinka: I will focus on the ethnic groups of Gambia, that is the people of the country, their social and political structure, and our economy. Then you can see how we live. If you were to recommend a book on Gambian history, what would it be? Lamin Bajinka: If I am to recommend a history book for my region, it will be any history of the ethnic groups of the Gambia that you can find. Our diversity is so important. What are your dreams for the future? Lamin Bajinka: I pray to become a successful business man.   The Gambia:  There are 8 main ethnic groups in the Gambia: Mandinka, Wolofs, Akus, Jola, Fulanis, Serahule, Serer and Tukulor all living in relative peace. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / online resourcesIn the 19th century the British Empire went to war to keep China addicted to opium. Britain was the largest drug cartell the world had ever seen, shipping their merchandise from India, and bribing the Chinese customs officials to bring the drugs into the country. Millions of Chinese became addicted, a public health emergency. The Chinese emperor dispatched Lin Zexu, an efficient former regional govenor, to deal with the issue.  The result was an armed conflict which ended in a humiliating treaty for the Chinese. William Gladstone, the famous liberal, denounced the war as scandalous. “A war more unjust in its origin, a war calculated in its progress to cover this country with a permanent disgrace, I do not know and I have not read of” he wrote. His opposition was Lord Palmerston, the prime minister at the time, who said he would fight for compensation from the Chinese for lost merchandise. Along with the great Indian famines, the opium wars are seldom mentioned in Britain. The UK likes to take the moral high ground focusing on Churchill’s struggle with the nazis. But the British were, at times, no saints themselves. Lin Zexu on the other hand, the rigid moralist, emerges a hero of Chinese history. There are at least three great epic movies about him (two below).  Although blamed for the war, he was partially rehabilitated in his lifetime. He died in 1850. “Let us ask, where is your conscience?”- Lin Zexu open letter to Queen Victoria Lectures The Opium Wars “Conflict over China” “The China Trade” part 7 “The Opium Wars” London School Economics Lecture by Amitav Ghosh on his Opium War novels The Guardian audio “Raj Ghatak reads the first chapter of Amitav Ghosh’s latest novel, Flood of Fire” (1 hour 12 min) Radio shows BBC In Our Time “The Opium Wars” Teacup media The First Opium War History Today Podcast “The Opium Wars” with Julia Lovell “Frank Sanello, author of The Opium Wars: The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another” (25 min) Documentary Below you can watch a Chinese feature movie on the Opium Wars. There is a public domain version of the story from 1959, but it is not subtitled. This one from 1997 has been available from several channels on youtube for a while. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / moviesWhen we read speculative fiction, our minds conjure up the most fantastic creations. Through writers like H.G. Wells we are able to transcend time and space, even envision the most terrifying aliens. How these creatures look, however, is entirely dependent on our own imagination. Ed French is an Oscar nominated and Emmy Award winning special effects make-up artist whose job it is to bring such dreams into the realm of reality. He has worked on some of the most successful science fiction franchises, Star Trek and the Terminator series, and now, more recently, on Westworld. We asked him some questions about his job in the entertainment industry. How does one become a special effects man in Hollywood? Ed French: Talent and perseverance. Luck plays a part. I think you have to love the whole process of film making . Most of the people I know that do this for a living dreamed about working in movies from an early age. How much of what we see on TV and cinema is produced by make-artists and special effects men (and women), like yourself, and how much is the vision of the director Ed French: On T2, James Cameron had a very clear, specific vision about every aspect of his him. He made his own drawings. When I worked on Star Trek VI, Nicholas Meyer wouldn’t micro-manage. He gave me complete freedom to create the alien characters the way I saw them. I’ve often worked on projects where I was contracted to create a character based on a drawing by an art director or rendered by a production artist. In the end though, when that character arrives on set, the finished work of the makeup artist will determine if the “vision” has succeeded. Do you have a particularly well-developed imagination? Ed French: I think that as A Special Effects Makeup Artist I’m a conduit for other people’s imagination. I’m a creative person. I feel as though I’ve come up with some imaginative ways to make characters or certain effects believable to the camera’s eye. Interesting question. Quite often I’m required to create an effect such as say, an autopsy makeup with an actor lying in a morgue with a closed, sewn up “Y incision” scar and 3 bullet holes in the chest. That should appear exactly the way the audience EXPECTS it to look. How do you know if an alien is realistic on not? Are you inspired by creatures in nature? Ed French: I don’t consider most of the aliens I ’ve done to be “realistic.” Star Trek is to realistic aliens as “The Wizard of Oz” is to realistic lions…perhaps the most “realistic aliens” were the ones in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” They were mysterious entities beyond our comprehension and Kubrick depicted them as such. Sometimes the alien makeup concepts I do will integrate elements from a creature in nature. I try to make them appear somewhat plausible. Organic. Some of the make-up work is extremely elaborate. What is the longest make-up session you have had? Ed French: “White Chicks.” It took almost 5 hours to turn Sean Wayans (an African-American comedian) into a white woman. And after that, constant touch-ups were required. I was trying to maintain a “beauty” makeup over prosthetics that transformed a black man into a hot young white woman. I would start at 3:30 AM and work till 7P.M. And then I had to clean the prosthetics and body paint off, which usually took about an hour. There were a few shooting days when the turnaround was about 6 hours. You have worked with some pretty famous actors. Do you ever get star struck? Ed French: I’ve worked off and on for 15 years creating the autopsy and “scene of the crime” trauma and casualty make-ups for N.C.I.S. spending a lot of time in “Ducky’s” forensics lab in scenes involving David McCallum. When I was kid, his early TV appearances on The Outer Limits and The Man from U.N.C.LE. made a huge impression on me. I’m always a bit in awe when I’m working around him. He was Illa Kuryakin! What is your favorite type of job? Do you prefer regular make-up, aliens, monsters or period drama? Ed French:  I like my job because I get to do all those makeup categories. I particularly enjoy creating historical look-alikes. I like to feel like I’m an entertainer. It’s magical when you make someone up to look like Albert Einstein or even the Frankenstein Monster. Everything stops on the set and everyone wants their picture with the character. How much has CGI and computers affected the special effects make-up business? Ed French: It has eliminated a lot of “creature effects” that use “practical” makeup, prosthetics or creature suits, animatronic puppets and so forth. A lot of my colleagues have reservations about CGI being used to “touch up” their makeups or replacing makeup altogether. I think its fabulous if it can correct a prosthetic makeup that NEEDS a touch up. In the series Westworld, the characters are human robots. Did this pose any special challenges? Ed French: This is where C.G.I. hasn’t quite taken over completely. We had robot actors that required full body makeup. In cases where the robots went back for repairs we would apply prosthetics simulating the effects of massive trauma injuries. Chests ripped open, skulls partially blown off, arms missing, etc. There were some fun challenges. We did authentic period makeup for the “old West.” Facial hair and Beards for the men and cowboys. Native American makeup too. There were a few days when I got to do a Samurai makeup with a bald pate. You are also blessed with a wonderful reading voice, and publish audio narratives on youtube. How did you get into audio production? Ed French: Thanks. Through a circuitous route. I was a radio announcer for a couple of years back in the 70’s. I would have been more at home with radio during its golden age. Radio drama and comedy, all that stuff was long gone by the time I sat behind a microphone. I abandoned radio for theatre and as that career sort of fizzled out I found a niche in Special Makeup Effects just as it was gaining momentum in the 80’s. It was fortuitous. However, I never lost the urge to want to perform. I think it was 9 years ago (?) I discovered that the equipment to make professional audio productions at home was available commercially. When I was in radio everything was analog. We recoded on big magnetic Ampex tape reels. There was a learning curve with the digital software. I’m still astounded by what you can create with just a lap top, and audio box, Audacity WAV editor and a microphone . It has enabled me do my “Day Job” and play the storyteller on the side. What is your favorite piece of speculative fiction? Ed French: H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine comes to mind when you ask that. Or The Invisible Man. There’s a man with imagination. He wrote before the cinema invented, or at least before the techniques of film story telling had moved beyond the “staginess’ of the early silent movies. His work, particularly The Invisible Man is cinematic. When I was recording it I could see vividly how every scene would be filmed. Close-ups, wide shots, shock cuts. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureIn 1873 the restless poetic prodigy composed one of his final and greatest works. Arthur Rimbaud had been shot by his lover. Now he left the literary salons to become a vagabond, a deserter and a gun runner among the sand dunes of north Africa. Rimbaud came upon the artistic crowd in Paris like an invasion from the Ardenne. All his life he tried to escape his claustrophobic childhood. His father was passing soldier who deserted his family and his mother was strict, religious and maintained a facade of respectability. Most people who met Rimbaud were stunned by his talent, but they soon detected a rebellious streak behind his childish features. If there ever lived a poet of the gutter or a man who lived up to the bohemian myth of the restless artiste, Rimbaud must be it. He wrote his masterpieces between the ages of 16 and 19. Then he quit suddenly, left everyone and everything and became a legend. There are different theories as to why he did this. Was it the break-up with his homosexual lover Paul Verlaine? (Verlaine was much older than Rimbaud.) Was it his tragic childhood? He ran away from home when he was 14. As a teenager he searched the dustbins of Paris when France lost the war against Prussia in 1870. He saw the last French empire dissolve and the communes of Paris. He hung out with artists, painters, drank constantly, experimented with drugs and lived fully the life of the caffees. But after Verlaine had shot him in the hand, Rimbaud withdrew to face up to his theory of art in the poem “A Season in Hell” and decided to become a man of action. Verlaine, who still missed his wife and children, made a futile attempt at reconciliation, but Rimbaud turned his back on him. Verlaine was a born again christian at this time, and he is said to have prayed for Rimbaud’s salvation: “Merciful God,please save this angry child.” Distant horizons Rimbaud’s travels brought him to most countries in Europe, including Sweden, but after his sister’s death in 1875, he set his eye on exotic continents. First he decided to travel to Russia via Austria, but in Wien he was robbed by his own coachman. He begged in the streets until he was arrested by the police for vagrancy and shipped out of the country. A year later he was in the Netherlands where he joined the army for a six-year period, but after a few months in Java, he deserted. He returned to Paris wearing British sailor’s outfit. Then he decided to go to Egypt. In Hamburg he heard that a ship was due to sail from Greece, and in 1878 he crossed the alps during the winter season, an insane undertaking that almost cost him his life. A few months later he could proudly engrave his name on one of the pillars at the Luxor temple. In Egypt he worked for a while in Alexandria before he moved to Cyprus. Here he contracted typhoid, and when he returned to his mother he was only 25. Rimbaud’s return was nothing but a stay of necessity. Suffering had been a part of his artistic ideas, and now it became the force that drove him. He returned immediately to Cyprus where he saved up enough money to travel south along the shores of the Red Sea. Tired and sick with fever he ended up in the desolate and isolated seaport of Aden. Here he came into contact with a French coffee merchant, and it was in his service that the vast interior with its waving sand dunes, jagged peaks and savage tribes opened up to him. He was sent to Harar, a city where no Frenchmen had been, and soon he was given the opportunity to penetrate deeper into the unknown continent, the heart of darkness. His article about this journey was published by the French Geographical society, but only his letter to his mother revealed his true feelings: Loneliness is a wretched thing, and I am starting to regret the fact that I never married or started a family. As things are now, I am obliged to roam the earth, tied down by a distant enterprise. And every day I lose my taste for the climate and way of life in Europe. But no, what does the endless spending and accumulation of profit mean, these adventures, this hardship among alien races, these languages that fill my mind; what does all the indescribable suffering mean if I not, after many years, can rest in a place I like and have my own family. . .. Who knows how long I can survive in the mountains here. I may lose my life among these people without anyone ever knowing. .. The arms dealer When Rimbaud finally returned to Aden he brought with him an Abyssinian woman with who he lived happily for a while. We don’t know the reason for why he sent her away. New changes arrived in the area. Egypt was losing its political position, and like many Europeans Rimbaud tried to make money from gun running. He found experienced partners and invested all his savings to fund a caravan, but lady luck was not on his side. One of his colleagues was murdered and the other two fell ill. Rimbaud took charge of the caravan himself, from the coast to the interior. It took several months, a bitter contest with the elements. When he finally reached his destination, he was swindled by the devious king Menelek, and the balance only barely swung in his favor. Because he had a unique knowledge of local conditions, and because Italy had become active in the region, Rimbaud sent some articles to the newspaper Le Temps. The articles were rejected, but the newspaper could tell about his growing reputation in France. You probably don’t know this as you live so remote, but you have become a legend to a small circle here in Paris; one of those who is taken for dead, but who still maintain a group who believes in you and who patiently awaits your return. The petty salons of Europe were part of a world that Rimbaud had permanently abandoned. Rimbaud was now a weathered adventurer who pursued his investments. He found a partner for shipping goods between the French port Djibouti and Harar. His partner got him involved in the illegal slave trade to Arabia. However, he traded mostly in guns and other merchandise. Gradually he established a significant business and was well liked as a trader and known for his integrity and frugal nature. He had a good relationship to the natives, often helping those in need. As a white man in Africa, he was still an outsider, and he often wrote dreamy letters to his mother about how she would give him away in marriage upon his return to France. The servant Djami kept him company, a constant support for Rimbaud. The warm-hearted Rimbaud married him off when he turned 20, even if it served to consolidate his own solitude. The poet returns The decision to return to Europe was inevitable. In 1891 Rimbaud was struck by pains in one of his feet. It became infected and he lost mobility. He feared that his days were numbered and he immediately set course for home. 16 servants carried him through desert and rainstorm to the sea port. The local doctor eased his symptoms, which allowed him to set sail for Marseille. He telegraphed his mother and his sister and asked them to meet him there, and told them he might have to amputate one of his legs. He was carried ashore, but realised his time had come. All he could think about now was whether his personal life had been wasted. He returned as a poetic legend, but he never got in touch with his old colleagues. His final days were spent with his sister and he constantly complained about the fact that he had not married: And I who had planned to return to France this fall to marry. Goodbye marriage! Goodbye family! Goodbye future! My life is over! I am nothing but a rotting log. Rimbaud died November 9 1891 by his sister’s side, at the age of 37. His many acts of rebellion both in life and in poetry have since influenced a generation of poets. When his old lover, the great Verlaine, published his book about what he called “the damned poets”, Rimbaud was given special mention. In the 1960s he was admired by Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan, and he became – in spite of the fact that he resented his own fate – the poet icon of the sixties. Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureAs the first trains departed for the front in 1914, few of the enlisted suspected that a tragedy was to follow. Not even Siegfried Sassoon who was to arrive at the frontline a year later, realised what was coming. The First World War, like the American Civil War some decades earlier, became a showcase for new military technology, laming, disfiguring or killing millions. Soon the enemies were entrenched on opposite sides in a war of attrition. The old world view perished in the bloody trenches of Verdun and the Somme. The most important witnesses to the tragedy, the ones who communicated this cultural shell schock most clearly, were the Great War poets, men like Rupert Brooke (d.1915), Wilfred Owen (d.1918) and Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967). contacted one of the authorities on the period, Lord Egremont, in order to learn more about Sassoon. Siegfried Sassoon came from a very privileged family, do you think this protected him in any way? Lord Egremont: I think it helped him hugely. Class was important in Britain then. He also had a private income and a considerable fortune after a relation’s death in 1928. There were several poets of the Great War, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves and others. Many of them knew each other, isn’t that a strange coincidence? Lord Egremont: They met accidentally; Graves and Sassoon were in the same regiment and Owen and Sassoon were patients together at Craiglockhart. In the probably quite philistine atmosphere of the army they were drawn to each other. Where did they publish their poems? How did their literary output come to the attention of the public? Lord Egremont: The war poems were not really successful during the war and Owen’s work was not published in any significant amount until after 1918. Sassoon’s prose works that came out at the end of the 1920s sold well. The acclaim for the war poems grew gradually and became particularly great during the 1960s. When did Sassoon’s doubts about the great war begin? Lord Egremont: He became disillusioned when his friends began to be killed and the home front became increasingly hysterical and out of touch with the reality of the trenches. He was of course decorated for his tremendous bravery. But then he turned and issued a declaration against the war, and was detained in a psychiatric hospital. But he could have been shot, could he not? Lord Egremont: He could have been. But the army was reluctant to risk a trial and public support for Sassoon. From the point of view of the Allies the general progress of the war at this point in 1917 was bad – at least a stale mate that seemed to favour the Germans. After the war, he had some professional success, married and fathered a child. He was, of course, a well-known homosexual. To what extent was this a marriage of convenience? Lord Egremont: I think he longed to have a family and hoped marriage might work. There is a famous poem called «Suicide in the Trenches», do we know anything about when he wrote this poem? Lord Egremont: Suicide in the Trenches was probably written while Sassoon was in the barracks at Limerick in January 1918. It has some Housman-like lines, and appeared in the Cambridge Magazine, February 23 1918. It is also in Sassoon’s 1918 collection Counter-Attack. It symbolises his growing disillusion with the war and his wish to shock civilians out of their ignorance. Sassoon’s style was relaxed and informal although strikingly effective. “Suicide in the Trenches” I knew a simple soldier boy Who grinned at life in empty joy, Slept soundly through the lonesome dark, And whistled early with the lark. In winter trenches, cowed and glum, With crumps and lice and lack of rum, He put a bullet through his brain. No one spoke of him again. You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye Who cheer when soldier lads march by, Sneak home and pray you’ll never know The hell where youth and laughter go.   Listen to a dramatic reading  Was Sassoon traumatized by his war experiences throughout his life, the way many veterans are today, with PTSD? Lord Egremont: I think he remained deeply affected by it. I think the poem “Letter to Robert Graves” shows Sassoon’s disturbed state of mind during the summer of 1918, when he wrote it in hospital in Lancaster Gate, having had a bad time in the trenches. He recovered during the 1920s, perhaps helped by writing the prose works such as the Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man and Memoirs of an infantry Officer. But the war undoubtedly scarred him as it scarred so many. His friends of the 1950s remember long sessions listening to him talk about it. He was a man who valued dignity and therefore would have not wanted to reveal private pain except to people to whom he felt very close. The doctor Rivers was his confessor/father figure and this helped greatly until Rivers died in 1922. Max Egremont (Lord Egremont) is a biographer of Siegfried Sassoon and a fellow of the Royal Society for Literature. (Image credit : Macmillan.) Garth Ennis and Phil Winslade’s illustrated interpretation of Sassoon’s poem “The General”(some scenes added for dramatic effect) from the comic book Above the Dreamless Dead (2014).  Buy Above the Dreamless Dead (2014) here  Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyby J.-H. Rosny published in The Chickasha Daily Express, December 21, 1900 e were strolling along the shore of the bellowing sea. The waves were magnificent. They advanced in caravans, crested with foam, singing crystal songs, they came with great cries and falling upon the rocks left long trails of snow. Rapid, irritable, angry, numberless, they assailed the cliffs, sometimes like a gorgeous garden of white and green flowers, sometimes roaring like ferocious troops of bears, elephants and lions. “Look,” exclaimed Landa. “There goes Lavalle.” All turned. In a little carriage, they saw a man still young by whose side was a woman of the Iberian type; one of those ravishing beauties who arouse desire, hate and jealousy in every man’s breast. “He’s in luck that fellow,” murmured the banker Langrume when the carriage had passed. “By a single stroke be became owner of 90,000,000 francs, and the prettiest woman to be found from pole to pole. And I have worked thirty years to get my beggarly half dozen millions.” “You are envious,” answered Landa. “Don’t you know that Lavalle owes his fortune and his wife to a good speculation. It all came from an investment of exactly 1,000 francs.” Fifteen years ago our friend Pierre Lavalle was a lucky young fellow of 20 years. He was rich, robust in health, and of a nature to avail himself of his advantages. His father sent him around the world. In Chile he had as a guide a most intelligent man of excellent family and between them a friendship arose. The guide pretended to have discovered rich veins of silver in the mountains, but he feared to be forestalled and dared trust no one. At the moment of their separation Pierre offered him a thousand francs. Jose Alvarado thanked him with a dignified air and said: “In ten years I shall be rich and you are my partner.” Then he wrote in the young man’s journal this memorandum: “In ten years I promise to share my property with my partner, Pierre Lavalle. Jose Alvarado Santiago, Nov. 20, 1885.” Ten years later Pierre Lavalle was completely ruined. His father died of despair after unlucky speculations and left the son only a heritage of debt. The poor boy was forced to accept clerkship in a government office. None the less he still went about in society. As he did not try to borrow money from anybody, as he talked well and looked well the best hostesses asked him to their houses. One evening he attended a ball given by a rich Argentinian, Don Estevan Zuloaga. The affair was dazzling. All the South Americans in Paris were there, including many ravishing beauties. Pierre admired Spanish beauties with the enthusiasm of the old romancers. Those eyes where voluptuousness distilled their magic, those delicious curves of the figure, those little feet light and trembling, those magnificent mouths created for kissing aroused in Pierre an ecstatic drunkenness. Don Estevan had sought to bring together the richest human flowers of the Plata, Peru, Chile, and Mexico. The scene nearly turned the head of Pierre when he entered. But the grace and beauty of all the other women was dimmed in his eyes when he perceived a young Chilean on the arm of a young and handsome Spaniard. With a skin as clear as blonde’s out of a wonderful smoothness, with eyes that absorbed the light and emitted it again in dazzling electric rays; with a divine mouth as innocent as voluptuous; with graceful rhythmic walk, and the sweep of her undulating curves she seemed to possess the quintessence of, the charms and seductions of twenty exquisite women. Pierre was overcome with the despair that follows too violent admiration. The love of such a creature seemed to him something unattainable, a thing to which a man could aspire only by genius heroism or some other great quality. During the entire evening each time she passed near the place where he sat watching her dancing or walking, a wave of passionate adoration and sadness surged through his being. He saw her again. He was introduced to her and in time to her mother. During the winter he loved her silently and without the least hope. What right had he to covet such a love, hundred men, the elite of Paris, would have killed themselves for her. And she was fabulously rich. So he loved her as one loves inaccessible things, the clouds, the stars or the sun. She welcomed him as she did others and her mother seemed to like him. What did that signify? Pierre was an impossibility. In debt up to his neck he passed through the most humiliating period of his life. The chief of his bureau warned him that he must either settle, with his creditors or the bureau would be compelled to dispense with his services. One evening the poor boy sat with his head is his hands reflecting upon his situation. The thought of suicide entered his brain. A tiny fire burned in his stove; the lamp with little oil flickered. He was cold and hungry, and he felt himself alone and without a sympathetic friend like an animal dying in a cave. In the midst of of the distress there came a vision of the Chilean belle and knowing that his clothes were no longer presentable, that his patent leather boots were cracked and that no tailor would give him credit, his desire for death became greater as he realized that he could not again meet his goddess. Mechanically he raised himself and went to the box where he kept his souvenirs in the hope that he might find some jewel that be could sell. Some portraits, yellowing letters, locks of hair, notes, and leaves and dry flowers were crushed under his hand. He encountered the journal of travels and turned over the pages. The notes on Chile awakened his interest. ‘I was twenty years old then,” he sighed, “How could I have known or the misery in store for me?” He read the lines written by Alvarado: “In ten years I promise to share my property with partner Pierre Lavalle.” He smiled sadly. “This very evening the ten years. If the good Alvarado wishes to keep his promise he has not much time left.” Two knocks were heard on the door. Pierre said to himself ironically: “There he is now.” He opened the door. He saw before him a man of large stature, white hair and beard with the mien of a cowboy and the color of cinnamon. The visitor addressed him in Spanish: Excuse me,” he said. “I am late. You are Mr. Lavalle?” “Yes,” replied Pierre astonished. “I am Alvarado.” The young man nearly dropped the the lamp. Alvarado continued: “I have come to pay my debt.” “Good,” thought Pierre, “It will enable me to buy some clothes so I can see her again.” Alvarado continued: “I have made my fortune, I bring you our accounts as we are partners. Aside from my personal property which I deduct, we possess between 90,000,000 and 100,000,000 francs. The half of these have been realized and 25,000,000 francs are at your disposal.” The the lamp fell. “Good,” continued Alvarado, “you are content. It is natural. That encourages me to demand something of you. I prefer that the money remain in my family and my family is composed of my sister and my niece.” Disappointment. Pierre had a vision of his magnificent Chilean and remained silent. “I wish that you marry my niece. You know her already. She is named Anita Fena.” Pierre threw himself upon the cowboy and covered his white head with kisses, while he sobbed for happiness. “And this,” concluded Landa, “is what it is to give 1,000 francs to a Chilean who seeks his fortune.” “I wish I could find one like him to stake,” groaned Langrume. A beggar passed and asked alms in a piteous voice. Langrume turned away. “Why do not the police arrest these vagabonds?” he growled. “It will bring you good luck to give him money.” said Landa. The banker took a franc from his pocket. “Make him write a memorandum in your Journal,” said Songeres.   translated by Mrs. Moses P. Handy (she died in 1933) Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureWhy did president Bush quote Graham Greene, an author who was labelled a “communist sympathizer” by the US government and kept under surveillance for decades? The 22 of August 2007, president George W. Bush enters the podium in a convention center in Kansas City. He faced the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a weathered crowd of old soldiers. «I stand before you as a wartime President» he declares before he begins talking about the Vietnam War. «In 1955, long before the United States had entered the war, Graham Greene wrote a novel called The Quiet American. It was set in Saigon, and the main character was a young government agent named Alden Pyle. Another character describes Alden this way: ‘I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.’» Bush’s reference caused much confusion around the United States because the author, Graham Greene, had been kept under surveillance by the CIA because of the publication of the novel. Conservatives in the 1950s disapproved of his analysis of the situation in Vietnam. The protagonist is the British journalist Thomas Fowler who is drawn into a triangular love story battling for the favors of a young Vietnamese girl. His competition is Alden Pyle, a young man with visions for the future of Vietnam, who later turns out to be an intelligence agent directly implicated in a horrible bombing massacre. According to The New York Times, The Quiet American became a bible for journalists covering the Vietnam war because it predicted and exposed American policies in the country several years before they became generally known. But the Republican right loathed the fact that the hero was an aging British upper class reporter and the villain a young manipulative and naive American. The villain becomes good Oddly enough, only a few years passed before the controversial novel was filmed by Hollywood director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz was himself a part of the right wing, dubiously connected to the McCarthy movement, which at this period in history was engaged in their communist witch-hunts. During the work with the manuscripts Mankiewicz contacted none other than Edward Lansdale, a CIA operative who now was in charge of American operations in Vietnam. Soon the perception spread that Lansdale was the real life model for the villain in The Quiet American. In the 1958 movie, the Alden character was thus fittingly played by America’s proudest son, Audie Murhpy, the most decorated soldier in American history at this time. Murphy had made a career in Hollywood. In this heavily altered adaptation, the villain becomes good, a victim of a communist conspiracy. Alden Pyle is in fact no intelligence agent at all in Mankiewicz’s version, but a toy manufacturer who happens to be in Vietnam for humanitarian reasons. Assaulting the author When Graham Greene discovered what was about to happen to his novel, he was dumbfounded, but he was unable to stop the project for contractual reasons. “One could almost believe.” Greene stated, “that the film was made deliberately to attack the book and the author.” Later it has become obvious to everyone that the US was present in Vietnam at this time, and that Graham Greene was correct in his portrayal of the situation. Norman Sherry, who has written an extensive biography on Greene, points out that Greene had left Vietnam before Lansdale arrived in the country. Consequently he cannot be the real life model for the Pyle character. Many years would pass before Hollywood again focused on The Quiet American. The war in Vietnam ended, and slowly but surely the wounds of a bitter period started to heal. A new acceptance of the sufferings of Vietnam veterans was on display in movies such as The Deer Hunter, Rambo and Platoon. A more truthful adaptation The Australian Philip Noyce therefore decided to make a new adaptation of the controversial novel. He felt that the time now was ripe for a more accurate adaptation of Greene’s old classic. He cast the veteran actor Michael Caine as the British protagonist, a role for which Caine would become Oscar nominated. The new movie was produced Miramax and was completed in 2001. Then, in 2001, it happened: the United States experiences a horrible terror attack in New York costing 1000s of lives. Again patriotism was rife, and yet again the desire to defeat your enemies on foreign soil became public policy. Americans now had to form a united front. Miramax panicked. They feared that the film would resurrect the memories of the Vietnam era. “The film can never be released”, Harvey Weinstein, a Miramax executive declared. “My staff says it is unpatriotic.” Michael Caine and Phillip Noyce feverishly lobbied for the release of the movie, but told the press that the film was “as good as dead”. After much persuasion, The Quiet American was released even so, perhaps as a result of the attention that Michael Caine’s excellent performance attracted. Oddly enough the film proved a financial success in the US. This ill-timed success showed that American attitudes towards the Vietnam war have changed, and that it was possible to release a considered reflection of foreign policy issues in the wake of 9/11. In his speech to the veterans of foreign wars in 2007, Bush demonstrated a newly found detachment from the Vietnam era, and he probably attempted to bring an old matter to rest. He may also have tried to undermine that comparison between Vietnam and Iraq that some claim is obvious. But Bush’s reference to Graham Greene still has a false ring to it because most of all the story of The Quiet American, is a story about misuse of art for propaganda purposes and denial of foreign policy objectives. Michael Wynn (blog editor) Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literature«He is about as much the English Toltoi as Mr Maeterlinck is the Belgian Shakespeare», raged the English feminist M.G. Fawcett. Grant Allen wrote one of the most controversial books of the nineteenth century, a cheap novel that everybody hated, but which they simply had to read. Wolf Island, the small island where Grant Allen’s father worked as a clergyman, is located at the north-east end of Lake Ontario. His mother was of aristocratic descent. Allen was one of seven siblings in a happy and well respected family. But then his father ran into difficulties with his local bishop, and Allen followed his parents to Massachusetts, and from there to France and England. His father made sure he had a proper education. The travels provided Allen with experience and a unique understanding of language, and in the end he studied Latin and Greek at Oxford while his parents returned to America. He married early to a sick woman who lay paralyzed in her bed for two years, and even if he later found the love of his life, he never forgot her. His most famous book, written two decades later, was dedicated to her. Professor in Jamaica The sun never set on the British Empire in the middle of the 19th century. It was the heyday of Social Darwinism and the ideas of Herbert Spencer. In Jamaica at this time a small college was established to teach the natives to be white, well, at least culturally. Grant Allen left university in 1871. For a time he «took perforce to that refuge of the destitute, the trade of the schoolmaster. To teach Latin and Greek at Brighton College, Cheltenham College, reading Grammar School, successively, was the extremely uncongenial task imposed upon me by the chances of the universe. But in 1873, providence, disguised as the Colonial Office, sent me out in charge of a new Government College At Spanish Town, Jamaica» Suddenly he was offered a position as a professor of Moral and Mental Philosophy in Jamaica. Allen gathered his old chums, and celebrated what was to become a journey of disillusionment. The treatment of the local population shocked him, and he eventually came to despise British upper class morality. It was perhaps not so strange because there circulated rumours in the Jamaican press that he had fathered an illegitimate child. A fan of Herbert Spencer His professorship opened his eyes to philosophy, and Herbert Spencer’s evolutionary thoughts in particular. His father had most certainly introduced him to the ideas of the man who, even if he was a quintessential Brit, had become America’s favorite contemporary philosopher. At Oxford Allen’s interest had grown. At Jamaica his interest began bordering on admiration, and he wrote a poem in honor of Spencer, which he mailed to him. On his return to Britain he decided to pay the philosopher a visit, and this became the beginning of a permanent friendship. Allen wrote a thesis about the effect of evolution on aesthetics and he specialized in the link between perception and different physical characteristics in different species. Allen had a unique ability to explain difficult theories in such a way that they became accessible to everyone, and he was therefore warmly received by contemporary greats, like Darwin, Wallace, Huxley, Hooker and Spencer. Almost a biologist At the end of the 1870s Spencer had already followed his only love interest to the grave, and Darwin had become a private and revered authority that controlled the scientific societies from his Down House just outside London. The struggle for control of the science societies was over, and this seemed promising for young evolutionary biologists. But in order to make a living from science you either needed to come from a wealthy family, like Darwin, or you would have to be awarded an academic position, like Huxley. Even Wallace struggled financially. As a newly converted follower of spiritualism Wallace had lost scientific prestige, and he now survived almost exclusively on Darwin’s limitless generosity. If Allen was to provide for his new-born son, he needed to write something that brought him cold cash. Almost a writer Grant Allen settled in Dorking in Surrey, not far from London. His writings had already resulted in several literary friendships, so it was only natural that he would give it a try himself. But he had no illusions about the extent of his own talent: it paid a great deal better than scientific journalism» he wrote ten years later «I decided me that my rôle in life henceforth must be that of a novelist. And a novelist I now am, good, bad, or indifferent». Allen did create several memorable characters, such as Colonel Clay, a precursor to Sherlock Holmes, and for a decade he surrounded himself with writers like Meredith and Gissing. He was a familiar face at all the contemporary news desks, and established himself as one of the most prolific journalists in the business. The age of queen Victoria was now drawing to a close, and new and more challenging cultural movements were taking hold in the thriving cities. Decadence, for instance, dismissed contemporary moralism and socialism challenged the aristocracy and the upper class. Workers and women marched, and the tabloid press constantly pushed the boundaries of what what could be submitted to the newspapers. Allen was caught up by these new movements. In 1892, Allen moved from Dorking to a larger house at Hindhead. His old student friend Edward Clodd was a frequent visitor, and Allen was popular among the people of the press. Even if he suffered from chronic chest pains, he and his wife, Ellen, seemed like the perfect couple. Every Sunday he went for bicycle rides with his neighbor, Arthur Conan Doyle, and every Tuesday he would lunch with Frank Harris, the infamous tabloid editor. Spencer popped in now and again, but he eventually understood that Allen had outgrown him. There was no love lost between Spencer and the Fabian socialists. There was an unspoken disagreement between Spencer and Allen that would not become known until they were both dead. From a distance Spencer observed the developments that would transform the man who had been his closest ally into the most controversial man in Britain. Scandal It all started when Allen, at the end of the 1880s, began to take an interest in the question of women’s rights. Women’s liberation had created a new kind of female who did not care for traditional values and who was often shunned by the elite. She was often an intellectual, something which, in the eyes of the establishment, reduced her femininity and made her sterile. When Allen wrote an article about «The Woman of the Future» the responses were immediate. Both female socialists and conservative Christians reacted to his many references to biological science. Even an ardent socialist like Wallace thought it was too much, and argued against Allen’s view of women because, as Wallace put it, sensuality was an important cause for the downfall of civilizations. Allen had taken an interest in Darwin’s theory of sexual selection already in the 1870s. In his own articles he tried to show that emotions served an important function in the evolutionary process. This resulted in a deep-seated fear of any tampering with traditional gender roles and anything that might upset the natural order. In 1893, Allen went on one of his many trips to the North of Italy. He spent the spring writing a novel called The Woman Who Did, a short but controversial story about a woman who refuses to marry the man she loves because she sees marriage as an oppressive institution. She is brought down by her own convictions, and sacrifices her own biological needs. In the end, not even her only daughter respects her, and she commits suicide. Financial success On his return to England Allen tried in vain to find publisher. He was about to burn the manuscript when John Lane, who had an eye for controversy, decided to take a chance. There was a huge commotion from the get-go. Was his protagonist realistically portrayed, or perhaps the writer was insane? The novel was a bombshell. Did the writer try to defend women’s rights as he himself claimed, or was he a conservative? Was he defending promiscuity or marriage? Or did he, as one reviewer claimed, try to undermine the very foundations of civilized society? The debate continued as new editions were printed. Booksellers in Ireland wanted nothing to do with the infamous blasphemer. Then the novel was published in America, and Grant Allen became an international celebrity. Also, he became wealthy. Satirical parodies such as The Woman Who Wouldn’t by Lucas Cleeve and The Woman Who Didn’t by Victoria Cross were published. In a very awkward way, Allen made himself a public enemy at the same time as he finally achieved a little prosperity. One of his closest friends, the historian Fredrick York Powell, lost patience with him: «Is Allen still frightened over his book? I tried to reassure him. There is nothing new or startling in it, but he has managed to catch the Philistine’s ear: it is silly to bother about answering his critics and he does not do it well. He is such a good fellow and so earnest, and so deaf to the comic side of things that he always has an open place to be attacked in- and it hurts him» The hardworking Grant Allen was never able to rest on his laurels. The disease that had haunted him throughout his life gradually worsened. After a long illness with chronic pains Grant Allen dies in October 1899. He left behind one of the most talked about and least understood novels in English literature. Michael Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
animation / literatureRobert E. Howard (1906-1936) created a sophisticated sword and sandal fantasy more than  decade before Tolkien published his stories. In novels like The Jungle Book (1894), the late victorian writer Rudyard Kipling stripped away the trappings of civilization from man. In Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan (1912), man stripped of his culture became a realistic hero. But in Conan and the works of Robert E. Howard, this primordial force becomes a driver of history, affecting the rise and fall of civilizations.  Conan comes drenched in blood and gore. talked to Mark Finn, Howard’s biographer, in order to understand the continuing attraction of the muscular barbarian. Robert E. Howard only lived till he was 30, yet he created a new genre before he committed suicide. Was he a very hard-working writer?  Like most pulp writers, Howard was serious about his craft. He also needed the money. It wasn’t uncommon for him to put in a twelve-hour day at the typewriter, working on stories and poems. He also wrote letters to his friends and correspondents, including H.P. Lovecraft, and some of those letters are thirty pages long. Despite all of that, he wrote over 300 short stories and around 700 poems in a ten-year period. He was a Texan. Do we know how and when he came up with this prehistoric character? It seems so remote from the kind of life he would have led? Howard has a famous quote that Conan was an amalgam of various gambler, oil field roughnecks, boxers, etc. that he’d met. Remember, too, that Howard was a student of history, and he read about the subject extensively. So even though Howard had never killed a panther with a spear, it was easy for him to imagine what that would be like. How was it that he ended up as a writer in the first place? He had an early aptitude for words and language. When he was fifteen, he decided to try his hand writing stories. It took him three years to get published, in Weird Tales, no less. We should all be so lucky. After that it was a lot of long, hard hours writing at a breakneck pace. He published his first work in magazines. How important were these magazines to literary culture at the time? Pulps weren’t important to “literary culture” at the time, even though they sold tens of millions of copies and fostered generations of writers, and gave us so much in terms of American Literature. But at the time, pulps were considered trashy, beneath the notice of certain folks.  There wasn’t really anyone like Conan at the time. That’s not to say there weren’t other rough characters, but part of what makes Howard’s work so unique is that it straddles genres and slips out of any easy labels.  The Viking sagas may have had some influence on the creation of Conan. Yet, few of the Vikings looked like bodybuilders. Where do you think he found the inspiration for the physical look of Conan? Howard himself mentions boxers and roughnecks and the like. The bodybuilding aspect is part of “pop culture Conan,” which includes the comics, the images of Frank Frazetta, and of course, the movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Howard is known as one of the first great world builders. How particular was he about the details of the Conan universe? His details were intended for the reader to picture clearly what was going on and when and with whom. His world itself was based on the idea of a forgotten epoch in recorded history, and so Howard wrote lots of indicators to the readers that this was supposed to be a precursor to, say, India, or Britain. Those choices he made were actually very deliberate. Given that Conan is a violent, sometimes ruthless, killer, why do you think he is so attractive as a protagonist? Conan is a killer, but not without reason. He keeps his own moral compass on who dies and when. This is something that grows throughout the Conan stories. But any character willing to do the right thing, apart from the popular or expected thing, will always be attractive to readers.  What sort of literary style would you say Howard uses? He was a muscular writer, to be sure, but his language was quite poetic, leading to a style that looks effortless, but is actually quite difficult to master. And no one has been able to do so since. “Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars ………… Hither came Conan the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.” (“The Phoenix on the Sword”, 1932)  There was a psychological subtext to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Does Howard’s writing have any literary qualities beyond entertainment? Is there a message in the Conan stories?   Oh, yes. Lots of messages. Most of them relating to the arguments he was having with H.P. Lovecraft about Barbarism versus Civilization. The Conan stories are all about Howard’s concept of what a barbarian would be like in a civilized world. He felt that our world, in the 20th century, had peaked, and was due for a downward slide, so that the new barbarians could come over the walls and kill everyone. Then they would build their civilization up, up, up, until THEY became fat and lazy, and the new barbarians would come and tear them down. That was Howard’s view of history and it plays out in several Conan stories. What, in your opinion, is the best Conan story that Howard wrote? My all time favorite is “Beyond the Black River,” but I also love “Rogues in the House,” “The Tower of the Elephant,” “Red Nails,” and “The God in the Bowl.”   Pulp refers to inexpensive fiction magazines that were published between 1896 and the late 1950s. They were printed on cheap wood pulp paper, hence the term pulp fiction. The publications were the successors to the penny dreadfuls, dime novels, and short-fiction magazines of the 19th century. Although many respected writers wrote for pulps, the magazines were best known for their lurid, exploitative, and sensational subject matter. Modern superhero comic books are sometimes considered descendants of “hero pulps”; pulp magazines that often featured illustrated novel-length stories of heroic characters (source: wiki)     Listen to “Gods of the North” (a.k.a “The Frost Giant’s Daughter”) by Robert E. Howard. Like this:Like Loading... [...]