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historyIn 2008 Radio Prague covered the publication of a new Czech book about Jean-Paul Belmondo (1933-2021, he passed away a few days ago). Their brief report described Belmondo’s unique standing in the old Soviet-bloc country; the only major, western action star to gain a foothold behind the iron curtain during the Cold War. Through him a generation of Eastern Europeans got to experience capitalist action flicks. Among hipsters around the world today Belmondo is sometimes elevated to a rugged icon of snobbish intellectualism, through the early films of the Nouvelle Vague-movement. But in Eastern Europe he is remembered as B-movie royalty, the macho man with a twinkle in his eye. Of course, it was Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle (1960) that became his break-through, but in many ways his collaboration with Phillipe de Broca (1933-2004) was just as important for his future career. De Broca had been a film photographer during the war in Algeria, and became so disillusioned by the events he witnessed that he decided to make more cheerful and uplifting movies. He started out as an assistant for a few Nouvelle Vague directors, but changed paths and made comedy farces when he established himself as a director. His two producers, Alexandre Mnouchkine and Georges Dancigers, suggested Belmondo for the role of the brash swashbuckling Robin Hood-character Cartouche. A few years earlier they had produced the adventure classic Fanfan la Tulipe (1952) with the legend Gérard Philipe in the lead, and now de Broca bet on Belmondo to revive the swashbuckling genre. Cartouche (1962) was an instant box-office hit, and two years later that success was followed by L’homme de Rio (1964) – an action-packed contemporary adventure about a soldier (played by Belmondo) who pursues the men who kidnapped his girlfriend from Paris to the Amazonian jungles. The Oscar-nominated movie features a series of spectacular action-scenes, and de Broca declared in an interview that the movie was made because “he needed a hit”. His producers had only been reluctantly swayed, and he had spent five months finishing the script. The result was satisfactory, even to himself, but the film was by no means a favorite for de Broca among his own productions. He said: “This was the kind of movie I longed to see when I was 14”. As a director, de Broca often took a hands-off approach to his actors, and Belmondo tended to follow his instincts. “Belmondo will always be Belmondo. You cannot change him. You cannot hide his personality. When he plays a drunkard, he is a drunk Belmondo. When he is in love, he is Belmondo in love.” (de Broca in Gardner 1969-70: 153-157). Belmondo’s charismatic self shone through, especially in B-movies like Tendre voyou (1966), Flic ou voyou (1979), Le cerveau (1969) and L’as des as (1982). The two latter were action-comedies by Gérard Oury, France’s pre-eminent comedy director, most famous for his collaboration with the hilarious genius Louis de Funès. In the 60s and 70s, Belmondo became affiliated with the commercial side of French cinema. Godard and Truffaut ruled the film festivals and the student-bodegas, but ordinary Frenchmen rushed to the cinemas to experience the shenanigans of Louis de Funès and the hazardous stunts of Jean-Paul Belmondo, his broken nose and seductive smile. To critics like Pierre Maillot, however, Belmondo represented the “disillusionment” of French identity because so many of the models for genre movies were American. Two of the great “golden ages” that have supported the self-esteem of French cinematic culture have been the poetic realism of the 30s and 40s and the Nouvelle Vague (“New Wave”) of the 50s and 60s. As a major star and the leading man of the Nouvelle Vague Belmondo therefore became the natural successor to Jean Gabin, the icon of the 30s. But where Gabin had acted tempered and cool – often under dire circumstances – Belmondo would burst with joie de vivre. There was a generational gap between parents in the 1950s and the new rebellious youth. The young wanted more than traditional French values, they needed happy endings. The vulgar neon-lights of Hollywood and Las Vegas beckoned in the distance. Belmondo grew out of the Nouvelle Vague into a new commercial reality. The Armenian-born Henri Verneuil (1920-2002) was a director unconvinced by new wave-ideology. The Belmondo we witness in Verneuil’s movies was rougher, the soldier in the second world war, the tough criminal and the uncompromising cop. The inspiration for Peur sur la ville (1975) was probably Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry. Belmondo plays a policeman pursuing the serial killer Minos through the streets of Paris – in stylish cinematography. The Belmondo we see in this movie is not his usual careless self, the lives of young women were at stake. A contemporary reviewer called it “a tough and ruthless movie”. The newspaper stated that “It was impressive to see Belmondo dangling in a rope from a building, jumping between roof-tops several floors above the asphalt and making subway journeys on top of the cars. Because Belmondo has no stuntman…” (Aftenposten, 06.02.1976) Belmondo also kept a serious face in the gangster movies Borsalino (1970) and Le voleur (1967). The latter was directed by Jacques Cousteau’s old cameraman, Louis Malle, today one of the major names in the history of French cinema. In Le Voleur (1967) Belmondo shines as an actor. He penetrates the mind of a professional thief. He persuasively portrays nerves of steel and deliberate theft. According to the contemporary press Belmondo used all his tricks, “his whole range of charm”. Like Belmondo, Malle would transcend Nouvelle Vague conventions, and create a memorable genre movie aimed at the masses, based on a novel, quite contrary to contemporary ideas about the “auteur”. Belmondo was therefore not only an actor who drifted from art into commercialism, he was a personification of a suppressed part of French cultural history. There existed another France alongside Godard and Truffaut and the other Cahiers-directors, a cinematic culture unashamedly modeled on Hollywood. Belmondo, that first ingratiating face of the Nouvelle Vague-movement, became the major box-office draw of this “other” France. He was just as charming as Roger Moore, and – at his best -adventurous to the level of Harrison Ford. by Michael Wynn editor * Sources: Philippe de Broca and Paul Gardner, «Philippe de Broca: talking to Paul Gardner», The Transatlantic Review, no. 33/34 (winter 1969-70), p. 153-157 Aftenposten (a major Norwegian newspaper), 06.02.1976, s. 6 (signed O.T.) Note: This article was originally published in the Norwegian movie review by Michael Henrik Wynn 30. januar 2014. It has been translated by him and published at this site with the consent of   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... [...]
short story“The Rose Of Sokna: Another Adventure in the Sahara” by Karl May (1842-1912) (Published here with the permission of the translator Marlies Bugmann and the editor Reinhard Marheinecke) returned to Murzuk from an excursion into the mountains of Soudah. The city gardens with their palm trees, the pomegranate, olive, fig, peach and apricot trees already lay in front of us. My servant Ali stopped his horse, a brave bay, to unfurl the lion skin he had strapped behind the saddle so that the inhabitants of the place could see we had dared to challenge the lion, the ‘lord with the big head’ as the Arab called the animal, to a battle. I let him have his way because I was lucky to have the courageous, if a little vain Ali as my servant. He was steadfast and strong, wily like a fox, loyal to his master and familiar with all dialects and customs of the desert nations so that I could rely upon him in any situation. Ali had been recommended to me by the proprietor of the famous Hotel d’Orient in Algiers, had accompanied me from there via Tunisia, Tripoli and Sokna to Fezzan, and was determined also to travel with me to Augilah, Siwah and then on to Cahira. He was truly devoted to me and would probably have accompanied me to Siberia, had such a journey been on my mind. He puffed himself up in no small measure when he noticed the half shy, half admiring glances that the by-standers cast upon our hunting trophy. “Do you see the kahshef who is approaching there, sihdi?” he asked me. “Look how the eyes are popping out of his head. Yes, I have a sihdi, a master who is a great taleb and effendi and he is unafraid of Assad the terrifying, the lion! But I, Ali el Hakemi Ebn Abbas Ebn er-Rumi ben Hafs Omar en Nasafi, have received the rifle of the wise sultan Solomon, who spoke with the animals, from the father of my brother and am not even afraid of the black panther who is more dangerous than the lion whom we call abu el salssali!” I couldn’t help but admire the subtlety, with which he artfully accomplished to place his own courage just above mine, and let him carry on until we got to the house of my host, the Jewish trader and businessman Manasse ben Arahab. I tossed the reins of my horse to Ali and entered my quarters to get changed, then went to find the master of the house. I was curious why I had not encountered any of the servants yet and received a shock when I entered the divan. The honourable Manasse didn’t sit, as he usually did, with crossed legs in the rahat oturmak pose, as the Turks called it, but, instead, he lay outstretched on the cushions with his face buried in them and his hair in disarray. “As-salaamu alaikum, peace be with you!” I greeted him. “Salaam—peace? How could there be peace in the house of Ben Arahab, when the fountains cry and the walls wail about…ah, it is you? Praised be God the Almighty for leading you back to the place of the tragedy! Be welcome, effendi, and hear the anguish that has come over us!” “What has happened?” I asked, shaken by the expression of desperation that I read in his features. “What has happened? The god of my ancestors has turned his face away from me and took the child who was the greatest happiness on Earth in my old age.” “Your child! Rahel?” I was stunned. “Has she died?” “Died? Oh, if only she had, that would have been preferable! I would say thanks to Jehova Elohim that he had at least left me with her grave, above which I could cry my tears and comfort the woman who gave me my only precious child! Why didn’t I stay in Sokna where there are no desert robbers and no murderers of our daughters; why did I move to Murzuk and attempt to increase my wealth by trade with the kaffila! You knew Rahel, the daughter of my heart, the child of my soul and the pride of my life. She was young like Sulamith, beautiful like Bathseba and proud like Judith, the heroine from the city of Bethulia. She was the light of my eyes, the star of my days and the sun of my existence. Now the star is extinguished and the sun has gone down; I will die of a broken heart, like Jacob almost did when Joseph was sold!” Heavy teardrops streamed down into his grey beard during this genuinely oriental, heartrending outburst. He tried to dry them and continued: “She painted kohl around her beautiful eyes and donned her golden dress to stroll along outside the eastern gate, the ain el shemms. That’s when two huge riders came with long guns and sharp chandjars, long daggers, pulled her onto the horse and raced away with her into the desert.” I was just about to ask how long ago that had happened when one of the previously invisible servants entered, bowed humbly down to the ground and announced: “There is a man in the courtyard who wishes to speak to you, master.” “I won’t speak—won’t talk—won’t see anyone. Tell them I’ve gone away—tell them I’m dead, I’ve died of a broken heart!” “I have told him,” the man knew his master very well. “But he wants to talk about a large deal that could be worth many pouches.” “Large deal—many pouches? What good is a deal and what should I do with the pouches full of money, now that Rahel, my only heiress, has gone! Who is the man?” “An Arab with a golden clasp on his burnus and silver-inlayed pistols.” “Golden clasp—silver…? Show him in!” The sound of the precious metal obviously had the same power over him as his pain. After a few moments, a stranger with a proud and dignified bearing entered. “As-salaamu alaikum!” he greeted without lowering his head. He was a free son of the desert and came to see a giaur; he the orthodox visited a Jew. “Peace be with you! What is your name and what do you want from me?” “My name is as feared as the name of el timsach and you shall hear what I want from you, Manasse ben Arahab!” He spoke with a confident, deep voice and although he had the end of the turban fabric folded down as a lisham, a veil, I still noticed that his dark eyes keenly observed the room. “You have a daughter?” he continued. “A daughter! Do you know her—have you seen her—do you know of her, the one I’ve sent all my servants out to search?” Manasse cried and tensed up. “Neither your servants nor the bei with his soldiers, the one you went to see, will find her, not even the pasha of Tripoli. Send all your sheitans, your devils out, it will be for naught, because—she is with me!” “With you?” The Jew jumped up entirely and approached the stranger. “How did you get her and who are you?” “You are familiar with my name; I am the Kofla Aga.” “The Kofla Aga!” Manasse recoiled and even I received a shock. It was the name of the infamous and feared leader of a gum, a robber caravan that appeared here and there, ambushed and destroyed other caravans, whereby the people and animals vanished without a trace. Every trade caravan not accompanied by a substantial military escort, fell prey to the gum. Neither the angry orders of the pasha nor the efforts of the bei had been effective in combating the terrible state of affairs. The deplorable and reckless man stood in front of us and explained that Rahel was in his hands. He had undoubtedly robbed her for a ransom, because Ben Arahab was known as a very rich man. “Yes, habihb, the Kofla Aga!” he repeated proudly. “Allah kerihm, God is merciful! What is she doing with you?” “Do you wish to have her back?” “Yes, yes—as soon as possible—now, immediately! You found her. You will bring her back — hamdulillah; you’re an honest man!” “Help him, oh God; he’s delih, gone mad!” the robber mocked. “You shall have her, hale and untouched, as soon as you pay me ten pouches in gold.” “Pay…?” Manasse flinched away from him as if bitten by an adder. “Then you’ve robbed her? You villain, I’ll have you arrested immediately!” “You will not do that,” the Kofla Aga retorted with a dismissive gesture. “Because I swear by the beard of the prophet that your child will die if I don’t return by a pre-determined hour! I give you three weeks to gather the pouches, and then I will tell you where to deliver them.” “Ten pouches of gold! I can’t get that together!” “Then the girl will become my wife and the wife of my men, Allah knows it, and then she shall die! Now keep your mouth shut. Because the Kofla Aga always keeps an oath he swore by the beard of the prophet. As-salaamu alaikum, peace be with you!” Without having looked at me once, he left. Distraught Manasse ben Arahab collapsed onto the cushions. Never before had he been offered a worse deal than the one by the man with the golden clasp and the silver-studded pistols. *** We were three days into our journey from Murzuk to Augilah. Although I had advised against it, Manasse had gone ahead and fitted out the goods transport caravan, to which Ali and I were attached, and hadn’t waited until the kafilat could merge with a larger one. However, the goods had been expected since a long time and Manasse believed the Kofla Aga was occupied with the prospect of the ten pouches and we didn’t have to fear an attack even though the bei had been unable to give him a protection escort. That was because those of the two hundred and fifty men strong Turkish garrison at Murzuk, intended for that purpose, had already been dispatched into all directions of the compass. I had a different opinion. It was a certainty that the robber had Ben Arahab’s house watched and, therefore, was bound to find out about the caravan’s departure. Regardless of the situation, I informed the old, loyal shech el djemali, the oldest of the camel drivers, that I would accompany them. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get myself to be afraid of the Arab highwayman and, besides, I had the urge to be of use to my host. I had seen Rahel often. She was one of those beauties only the Orient could produce. For that reason, and because she originated from Sokna, she was deservedly called ‘the Rose of Sokna’ by the people of Fezzan’s capital. I lost count of how often I had been sitting near her, quietly fascinated by her appearance, how many times I had received the small coffee cup from her hands, how often I had listened to her songs, of which I had made her repeat the Arabic pilgrimage song lubecka Allah hameeh the most! As I said, we had been on the move for three days and hadn’t noticed anything suspicious. It was the time of assr, the breaking camp and heading off, for all true Arabs, two hours before sunset. I rode my hedjihn at the head of the caravan next to the shech el djemali who told me about the dangers of travelling in the desert, because he took me to be a rhashim, a newcomer, with some justification. I listened to his superlative depictions, which he delivered with typical oriental mannerism, although I knew that the greatest dangers weren’t to be found in the Libyan Desert but only later in the actual Sahara. “See the stones lie about here as if the bad djinns, the bad spirits had scattered them, sihdi? They fell from the sky when the archangel fought with the devil, who held onto the walls of Heaven and tore a piece of it down with him.” “Ama di bacht, what luck that you didn’t stand under it right at that moment, or else no balsam could have helped your skull!” “Don’t you believe me? Yes, you’re a Nemsi, a German, and no mullah or dervish can help a Nemsi! Once upon a time came the brave uelad Arfa and conquered the wide land. Two sunrises from here…” he pointed south “…some of the wall pieces fell onto the rras, a single mountain; the uelad Arfa built a kasr, a mountain fortress from them; but sheitan, the evil one drove them out. Now the bad djinns live in the castle and those travellers who get too close when they travel through the region will be trapped in tjehenna. In the name of the all-merciful, believe what I tell you; I was told by a devout marabut who is five thousand years old and was present when it happened!” I made no attempt to set him right and stopped my hedjihn to let the train pass, the rear of which was brought up by my brave Ali. The pack camels only moved slowly; it tired me more than the fast ride on a slim bisharinhedjihn that was capable of covering between fifteen and twenty-five kilometres at a trot, without interruption. My mount was from that excellent breed; therefore I decided to make camp for a while together with Ali to completely soak up the impressions of the overwhelming desert wasteland for once, and then quickly catch up to the caravan again on our agile animals. “Have you ever heard of el kasr?” I asked my servant after we had dismounted. When the shech had mentioned the ghost castle to me before, a thought surfaced in my mind that could perhaps be justified. “El kasr, effendi?” he stretched out all ten fingers in a defensive gesture. “Help us, oh Lord, bless us with your mercy, because that is the cursed building over which not even our birds of paradise, the swallows, can fly without plummeting! I have heard of it in Murzuk. Only el budj, the powerful bearded vulture may circle above it because he has to devour the hapless ones who stray off their path and fall prey to the bad djinns.” “Then you’re afraid of these ghosts?” “Allah icharkilik, may God burn you to ashes if you believe that I, the invincible Ali el Hakemi Ebn Abbas Ebn er-Rumi ben Hafs Omar en Nasafi run away from a man or an animal! You are a great taleb and effendi, but Allah hu akbar, God is even greater and if you insult me with cowardice, then I leave you lying here and go back to where I came from! But say, who can fight these ghosts?” “What if those ghosts were people?” Dear Ali dropped his chin almost to the ground; he couldn’t comprehend in what way a ghost could be human, until I gave him the necessary explanation. “Be issm Lillahi, sihdi, you are wise like sultan Solomon when he wanted to cut the child in half! But what sort of men would possibly live on el kasr?” “Perhaps the Kofla Aga with his robbers!” “The Kofla Aga…the Kofla Aga…the caravan robber?” he repeated a few times to make his ingenuous mind more receptive for the daring thought; then he stretched out on his bast mat and closed is eyes. I knew that he wouldn’t broach the subject again until he had completely digested it. He only once interrupted his contemplations for a short time when the sun dipped into the ocean of sand. He rose to his knees and exclaimed: “Now is the time when the call of the mueddihn re-sounds from all the mosques of the faithful: ‘hai aal el sallah!’ Turn away, sihdi, because I wish to wash and look towards Mecca!” He prayed the prescribed paragraph from the Quran and instead of water, of which there was a dearth of in the desert, scooped up some dry sand and let it run through his fingers. After he finished he returned to his previous position. I stretched out as well and rolled into my blanket to shield myself as best as possible against the heat that radiated from the sun-drenched ground. While I had earlier decided to follow the caravan after a short rest, I, subsequently, changed my mind and decided to stay where I was because the others would make camp as well in any case and not continue on until daybreak. I would be able to follow their tracks much easier in the morning rather than during the night. Despite the brighter light of the southern stars, I still wasn’t going to be able to see into the distance. I ordered my hedjihn to lie down; Ali did likewise. A few durrha cakes from pearl millet and water from our kirba, the small goat skin water bags for the personal daily rations, made up our frugal evening meal, after which we sought to go to sleep. The spacious distances of the oceans and the wide plains of the American prairies or savannahs, pampas and llanos have much in common with the extensive plateaus of the desert, however, the oceans and prairies didn’t create an impression of desolation, loneliness and hopelessness such as the Sahara did, of which Freiligrath so aptly said: “It lies before God with its emptiness like the empty fist of a beggar.” The farther away from human contact someone was the more overwhelming that impression became; it gave the feeling of being tossed into a deadly forlornness and oblivion, like a tiny grain of sand into the unfathomable ocean of rock and rubble where the grin of the ugly mask of death continuously surrounded the daring traveller. I shut my eyes. The last dying glows of daylight kept burning behind the closed lids, and I only slowly fell into an uneasy slumber that conjured up jumbled images of Ali, Rahel, the Kofla Aga, the old shech el djemali and el kasr the ghost fortress with el budj, the mighty bearded vulture, as well as the little thiuhr el djinne that fell dead from the sky. I even witnessed the wall of Heaven plunge and shatter together with the devil who was clinging to it, and tossed back and forth until deeper sleep mercifully engulfed me shortly before sunrise. It didn’t last long because Ali’s voice woke me. He knelt, faced east and prayed al-Fatiha, the dawn prayer no good Muslim would miss. After we ate a few mouthfuls of durrha cake and drank a little water, we broke camp. Anyone who had tracked buffalo, bear or Indians in the Wild West of North America, didn’t find it hard to read the tracks of the caravan on the gravel-covered ground. Yet I recognized that it was going to be obliterated within a short time. We would have gone almost two kilometres when we reached the place where they had obviously camped. The ground formed an almost circular, small, plate-shaped enclosure that consisted of fine sand and was framed by lar-ger boulders. To my surprise, it contained an unusually large number of footprints, which caught my attention. I dismounted to inspect the conspicuous tracks. Great confusion, perhaps even a fight, albeit a bloodless one, had caused them. I looked for clues and found one that gave me complete clarity: a kofla of almost twenty animals had sneaked up from the south, ambushed our caravan while the people were asleep, and had then taken them away in the same direction. No sign had been left behind, not even a camel halter, a tent peg, strap, not even the tie of a rauie, a pack frame, or of an old serdj; no trace of the crime was going to be left behind after the alternating gebli and behari, the south and north winds had wiped out the footprints. “Ali, are you really as loyal to me as you always say you are?” “Why do you ask, oh sihdi? I am as loyal to you as the drop to the water and the warmth to the fire!” “And you go with me where I lead you?” “Hamdulillah, I have found you, the good effendi from Nemsistan that you call Germany. You are the best master of all blad el rumi, Europe and I am the best servant in mehr, mogreb el ausath and mogreb el aksa, which to you means Egypt and North Africa. Why should I not follow you? I’ll go to the end of the world with you and a thousand days’ travel farther!” “Even to the Kofla Aga, Ali?” “Even to him, if you wish. What’s so special about that? He lives here in the bahr billa ma, in the ocean without water, the desert!” “He lives on el kasr.” “Do you know that precisely, effendi?” “Yes. He was here with his kofla and took our caravan with him to his ghost castle. There, he will murder the men and keep the animals and goods.” “God damn the dog! Shall I go there and tear him apart, sihdi?” “Did you know Manasse ben Arahab?” “Why shouldn’t I? Didn’t I eat the best cuscus in his place?” “And have you ever seen Rahel, his daughter?” “I have seen her. She has eyes like leikum saaide and her fingers are full of grace and kindness. But she has disappeared. I believe a bad djinn became mesmerized by her and has carried her away through the air.” “Yes, it was a bad djinn, not one of those you’re talking about, but one of flesh and blood. His name is Kofla Aga.” “The Kofla Aga? Who told you, effendi?” “I know it. He has imprisoned her on el kasr.” “Imprisoned? Sihdi, I know someone who will go there and free her!” “Who is that?” “His name is Ali el Hakemi Ebe Abbas Ebe er-Rumi ben Hafs Omar en Nasafi.” “Are you serious, Ali?” “Do you believe I wish to joke around with the Kofla Aga?” “Very well then, I’ll go, too. Many men’s lives are at stake as well as the freedom of Ben Arahab’s daughter. If you do as I tell you, the reward the bei of Fezzan has put on the Kofla Aga’s head is yours. Let’s follow the trail!” “Be issm Lillahi, sihdi, but permit me first that I pray al-Fatiha. Allah helps those who turn to him when they are in danger!” He knelt in the saddle on top of his calm animal, faced the sunrise and prayed the first verse of the Quran as prescribed to all faithful before an important undertaking. Following that, I urged my bisharinhedjihn to stride out in order for us to reach the ghost castle as soon as possible. *** We had travelled south for almost two days. Our small rations and water reserves, which had only been calculated to last a day, dwindled away despite our frugality and it was getting time for us to reach the destination of our ride. If anybody imagined the desert to consist only of a large, sand-filled plain, he was mistaken. The sharply defined, fantastic contours of a mountain chain rose in front of us and the trail we followed led between the foothills. It had gradually become more defined, hour upon hour, and we were just about to turn a rocky corner when Ali stopped his animal and with the customary ‘e—o—a!’ gave the command for it to lie down. I followed his example immediately; he had to have good reasons for wanting to remain hidden. “Allah kerihm, God is merciful! Can you see the gum there, sihdi?” I looked along the direction his outstretched arm indicated. Before us lay a broad valley surrounded by steeply rising mountainsides; precisely opposite our position, about three quarters of an hour’s ride away rose a peculiar stone structure on top of a mountain. A long file of riders headed directly towards it. I looked through my telescope and recognized our caravan, flanked and led by the robbers, and watched it gradually disappeared inside the old, collapsed gate. We hastily devised a plan. We had to stay out of sight and, therefore, needed to ride around the open valley. “Back, Ali; that’s el kasr; we must reach it by a detour!” We were forced to follow a terrible route, but had to hurry if we wanted to reach our destination before nightfall. Our race went through narrow side valleys and one wild, naked gorge after another, and then across jagged ridges as if we were chased towards the ghost castle by a thousand djinns. It really was a rash undertaking; but, as I said earlier, I couldn’t get myself to be afraid of the Kofla Aga, and truth be told, I looked forward to the adventure ahead of us and relied completely upon our excellent weapons and my good luck, which had thus far not abandoned me even in the most critical of circumstances. I could also count absolutely upon Ali’s courage. When he found out that people, not ghosts, inhabited the castle, it had lost its hold of terror over him completely. We rode into a narrow wadi, the bottom of which was covered with dry, razor-sharp halfa grass. There had to be water nearby, and there was; when we followed the bend of the valley, the much sought-after element glistened its greeting at us. It was a birket, a rare, small desert lake. They held water only for a short time, and then remained empty and dry for the rest of the year. But I also noticed something else: we had arrived at el kasr. The wadi had a side arm, only a few metres wide but its cliffs rose almost vertically up to the castle walls. We couldn’t be spotted from above especially because of the steep angle and rode into the gorge. We hadn’t gone far when Ali pointed into the air and whispered: “Can you see el budj the great bearded vulture with his wife and children, effendi?” An entire flock of vulture had taken to the sky above us and a few steps farther along we found the ground of the gorge covered in gnawed and bleached bones. They were human bones—I shuddered at the thought—and, undoubtedly, the remains of the hapless camel drivers who had been captured in the desert, led to el kasr, and then sent plum-meting to their deaths into the chasm. That’s why folklore told of el budj, the mighty bearded vulture, which circled above the ghost fortress! The birds could reveal our presence; we had to wait until they settled back down again. I led my animal to a cleft I had noticed in the cliff wall, dismounted and was just about to inspect the opening when a man walked out who held two kirba in his hands. He was obviously on his way to fetch some water from the birket. I grabbed him by the throat immediately and squeezed it so that he couldn’t call out and a minute later he lay tightly bound on the ground. Then I held the tip of my dagger onto his chest. “Listen, ja radjal, to what I tell you: if you try to resist, or utter even one single word of a lie, this steel will send you down into tjehenna! The Kofla Aga lives on el kasr?” “Yes, sihdi,” he moaned full of fear. “He has Rahel, Manasse ben Arahab’s daughter with him?” “Yes.” “This cleft leads to the castle?” “Yes.” “How many men are up there?” He hesitated with his answer, but a tickle with the blade helped him along. “Twenty-four.” “Where is the aga at present?” “In his divan, his best room.” “And the others.” “With the loot.” “All of them?” “Yes!” “Where?” “Not far from here.” “Swear by the head of the prophet that you told me the truth!” “I swear!” “Get up and show me the way. If you obey, nothing will happen to you; but if you make the slightest attempt at betraying us, you’re lost! Where are the prisoners?” “Locked up.” “Good. Climb ahead of us!” I grabbed the rope, the other end of which held his hands tied behind his back. After Ali had tethered the camels, we stepped into the cleft. The Arab was unarmed. Ali and I carried a dagger, a double-barreled gun and two double pistols each. In addition, I carried two six-shooter revolvers, all loaded. The cleft led straight into the rock initially, and then gradually upwards. The inhabitants of the castle had helped it along and turned it into a passable corridor. By my reckoning, we had arrived at the top of the cliff. I heard voices. We reached a door, cautiously stepped closer and took a peek into the room behind it. I immediately recognized it as the storage area of the robbed goods. It was filled almost to the ceiling with bales of merchandise and articles of the most diverse nature, such as a caravan would haul. In the dim flickering light of camel dung torches, I counted over twenty men, some of whom were busy and some were idle. I threw the heavy ancient door shut and placed the surely unbreakable, wall-anchored bolts across it. Luck was on my side: the gang of the Kofla Aga was captured. “Show me the men who arrived a short time ago!” I ordered the Arab. He climbed a few more steps and then stopped in front of another door. I handed the rope to Ali, and then oriented myself in the dark. There were also heavy bolts in place. I opened them. “As-salaamu alaikum, you people! Step outside, you’re free!” “Hamdulillah! Is it really you, sihdi?” the old shech el djemali exclaimed with joy. “It sure is. I wanted to see for myself whether or not the five-thousand-year-old marabut had told you the truth, and then I caught the bad djinns.” I led him and half of his people to the door of the store-room and handed the responsibility of guarding it to him: I continued to follow our Arab leader together with the other half. We finally stepped out into daylight. “Lubecka Allah hameeh!” I heard a familiar song and voice straight above us. It was Rahel. “Where is the aga’s divan?” I asked the Arab. “Walk up these steps and through two rooms; you will find him in the third!” “Follow me and wait in front of the door!” I directed Ali. The short dusk of the south had already fallen when I stepped into the divan, but I was still able to recognize the splendour with which the room in the old ruin had been fitted out. The Kofla Aga sat on a precious Beni-Snassen carpet, woven by the women of Berbers in East Morocco, which must have weighed at least two hundred kilograms, was engrossed in smoking his narghile, and hadn’t noticed my approach. “As-salaamu alaikum!” I greeted. “Has the caravan robber gone deaf that he didn’t hear my footsteps?” He jumped up at the sound of the unexpected voice and rushed up to me. He obviously recognized me and reached for the yatagan, a Turkish curved sword. “Allah akbar. Who has led you from Murzuk to el kasr, stranger, and how did you get here unnoticed?” “I’ve come to fetch Rahel, Manasse ben Arahab’s daughter.” “She isn’t here. Have you got the ten pouches?” “She is here, you father of murder and robbery, the pouches are in Murzuk.” “Then go and get them!” “Bah! You will not let me leave here because the den of the Kofla Aga would then be revealed, but, instead, you will have me thrown off the cliff just like all the others!” “By the beard of the prophet, giaur, you’re correct! Give me your weapons!” “You shall have a look at them!” I pulled the revolver. He had, in all likelihood, not seen one of those small instruments before. “Are you trying to make fun of me? I swear to you by Muhammad and all holy caliphs that you will die if you don’t put down your weapons immediately!” “And I swear to you by Isa ben Marryam, the one we call Jesus, the son of Mary, that I will smash your hand if you don’t immediately throw your blade on the ground!” “Then die, kelb, you dog!” He lunged at me; I pulled the trigger—he dropped his hand and the sword rattled to the ground. Immediately, he picked it up with his left and kept coming at me with a furious yell. I pulled the trigger a second time; his left hand was hit as well and he collapsed. “Amahl, amahl, Ali, come her!” I shouted. The loyal ser-vant rushed into the room and threw himself onto the injured man who writhed under his clinch like a wounded panther. It didn’t help him. The freed camel drivers rushed up as well. The Kofla Aga was overpowered and bound. *** Once again we rode into Murzuk. We had only taken the Kofla Aga along, the leader of the robber gang, while his men had remained on el kasr, guarded by the camel drivers who had stayed at the castle for that purpose. The soldiers of the bei were going to pick up the rest of the gum. The ‘robber of caravans’ was firmly tied onto his camel and rode between Ali and the old, brave shech el djemali; I followed behind them together with Rahel, who excitedly greeted the fragrant gardens of the city from within the tachterwan. The booty we brought the second time around was more precious than the skin of abu el salssali, which had graced Ali’s horse on our previous arrival. My servant was proud of our catch in no small measure and came to my side when we reached the first houses. “Sihdi, do you see the fundukih, the guesthouse owner standing in his doorway and how he is curious about our prisoner? You are a great effendi and taleb; but your servant Ali Hakemi Ebn Abbas Ebn er-Rumi ben Hafs Omar en Nasafi held the Kofla Aga down, and then bound him like el thibb, the cowardly jackal, or el tabaa, the stinking hyena. He is a brave hero and will get the bei to pay him the reward — tefattelan, if you don’t mind!” published by Karl May in 1879. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyArchaeologists have discovered a treasure deep in the jungles of meso-America more valuable than any city of gold: a Mayan writing system that developed in isolation from Europe or the ancient cultures of Africa and Asia. However, due to the passage of time and our own brutality as colonizers only fragments remain. But what do we know about these sophisticated, urban people and their hieroglyphs?  As always, language offers rare glimpses into the minds of the defeated. contacted Brown University’s Anthropology department, and talked to Mallory Matsumoto, a Ph.d. student who is a specialist on Maya culture and writing. The Maya were one of the very few literate cultures in ancient meso-America, how common was reading and writing among their people? Did everyone know how to read and write? Mallory Matsumoto: As far as we can tell—from the quantity of texts we have, their contents and contexts, archaeological evidence for scribes, and comparison with other cultures—only a small minority in pre-Columbian Maya society would have been able to read or write. Moreover, these people probably would have been elites; some lower-status persons or commoners, who were the majority, may have been able to recognize the hieroglyphs as writing or even interpret a few signs, but probably did not engage with the writing system much more than that. Did the Maya use literature for personal entertainment like we do today? Mallory Matsumoto: For the most part, we don’t have direct evidence indicating in what context or for what purposes the Maya used their hieroglyphic texts—we must deduce this largely from text content and context, including where and when it was created. For example, some monumental texts were positioned to be clearly visible to people, in a space that would have been accessible to many; thus, these may have been intended to serve a broadcasting function. Their texts often record historical or biographical information about the dynasty and appear with images of the king or his allies. The relatively few surviving murals, like those at Bonampak, Rio Azul, or Xultun, would have only been visible to those who were able to enter the building or tomb in which they were painted, and in some cases, the hieroglyphs were small enough that the viewer would need to come up to the wall to read them. In contrast, writing on portable objects, like ceramic vessels or ornaments, is thought to have been intended for more restricted or even individual use. These texts may more directly address the object itself or a mythological narrative, for example, rather than political events. Do we know anything about what sort of literature they had? Is it possible to talk of any Maya literary style, for instance? Mallory Matsumoto: Unfortunately, it’s not clear to what extent the texts we have represent the entire breadth of Maya hieroglyphic writing as it was used in pre-Columbian times. Most hieroglyphic texts have not survived, because of a combination of preservation bias that favors materials more durable than bark paper or (probably) palm leaves, (intentional or otherwise), and random chance. Nonetheless, one key stylistic feature of Maya writing and orality for which we have ample evidence is parallelism, a strategy of articulating two or more comparable elements (words, grammatical forms, etc.) to add nuance or communicate additional meaning. In its most basic form, this strategy juxtaposes two elements (words, grammatical forms, etc.) in a couplet. But more elaborate examples can combine three or more elements to convey very subtle levels of nuance. We have examples of parallelism in hieroglyphic texts from pre-Columbian times, as well as in alphabetic writing and oral traditions recorded since the early colonial period, and it remains an integral component of Maya expression through the present. Many of the books were of course destroyed during the Spanish conquest by people like Diego De Landa? Do we know anything about what was lost? What do the sources tell us about what Landa destroyed? Mallory Matsumoto: Almost all pre-Columbian books have been destroyed or lost. Some simply decayed; painted and plastered bark paper would have needed extraordinary conditions to survive, especially in the hot, humid Maya Lowlands. In this context, it is unsurprising that the four books that we do have all date to within a few centuries of European contact. Archaeologists have found eroded remains of much older, pre-Columbian books, but they are illegible because they are so fragmentary. Most of those books that did manage to survive the stress of time, the elements, and general wear and tear, were abandoned or confiscated by colonial officials as part of cultural persecution under European colonialism. Because these books were written in a writing system completely foreign to the colonizers and many books were integral components of Maya spiritual and ritual practice, they were seen generally as threats to the Europeans’ civilizing and evangelizing mission. We do have records of Europeans seeing these books, but for the most part, their descriptions have proved to be unreliable for reconstructing the original books’ contents. More frequently, they refer to the documents in passing as exotic and impenetrable, if not outright threatening, objects. What about the remaining manuscripts, what sort of text are they? Mallory Matsumoto: Only four books or codices are known to have survived into the present. These books contain hieroglyphs and images painted on bark paper, and their contents are, as far as we can tell, largely calendrical, religious, or astronomical. However, many passages are still opaque, so there is plenty that these codices have left to tell that we don’t yet understand. Are there any significant literary texts inscribed in stone? Mallory Matsumoto: Almost all known hieroglyphic writing is preserved on more durable media, like stone or ceramic, although a handful of surviving texts were recorded on wood, bone, shell, or other, more fragile materials. Hence, texts inscribed in stone have been critical in decipherment efforts and in the ongoing development of our understanding of pre-Columbian Maya political history, among other issues. However, they are not, as far as we can tell, representative of all genres of Maya writing: those on stone monuments typically deal with politically, historically, or dynastically relevant information, whereas those on portable stone objects like jade celts or earspools are, necessarily, briefer, and tend to focus on the immediate context of the object itself and its user. What about the oral traditions of the Maya people, do they in any way reflect what you have discovered in manuscripts and in texts? Mallory Matsumoto: Many narratives known from later oral traditions probably would have been recorded in books and other media that have not survived into the present. We see hints of this in texts from the colonial period, most famously the Popol Wuj, that record community histories and cosmology. However, it’s likely that much content of known oral traditions would not have readily been written down during the colonial period, at least not in documents that were made available to those from outside the local community, because they could have been seen as incompatible with European (especially Christian) values. We have a small number of comparable texts from the pre-Columbian period as well, including the four surviving codices, but most known hieroglyphic texts are different in content and style from oral traditions that have been recorded since European contact. The Maya language system seems very difficult, does it bear any resemblance to any other language found in meso-America or elsewhere? Mallory Matsumoto: Mayan languages form their own linguistic family and are not known to be related to other languages in Mesoamerica, but there has been a substantial amount of contact and borrowing between Mayan languages and those spoken by their neighbors, including Mixtec, Zapotec, and Nahuatl. The language primarily recorded in hieroglyphic texts, now referred to as Classic Mayan, is no longer spoken today. Even at the time, it was probably an elite, literary language that was not spoken by most of the population. Around 30 Mayan languages are spoken now by several million people, although most of them are not directly descended from Classic Mayan. Do you know if the rediscovery of the Mayan script has influenced any modern mexican writers, or literary movements? Mallory Matsumoto: Research on pre-Columbian Maya contexts has certainly influenced contemporary literary and artistic movements. Artists are incorporating elements and motifs from pre-Columbian Maya culture into their paintings, sculptures, prose, poetry, etc. Growing interest, both locally and internationally, in (especially pre-Columbian) Maya society and culture has also generally inspired more pride and association in some contemporary Maya peoples with the heritage of the more distant past. One important, recent development in this context has been the revitalization of the hieroglyphic script itself, led by local and international intellectuals interested in reclaiming the ancient writing system in the present. In addition to hosting workshops to disseminate knowledge of the script, they have also created new murals, paintings, books, and monuments with hieroglyphic writing. What is the most surprising thing you have discovered after the Mayan scripts were deciphered? Mallory Matsumoto: One key realization, catalyzed by the work of Tatiana Proskouriakoff and Heinrich Berlin in the mid-20th century, has been that the content of hieroglyphic texts, especially on monuments, is overwhelmingly historical and biographical, rather than singly focused on esoteric, spiritual themes. This advancement had consequences for our view of pre-Columbian Maya civilization as a whole—as scholars have become able to read more and more and have interpreted them as historical sources, they have developed a more dynamic view of Maya politics and warfare, among other aspects of society. It continues to drive much current epigraphic and archaeological research as we have been able to reveal more of the complexities of pre-Columbian Maya society. For me personally, one of the more surprising aspects of studying the Maya hieroglyphic script has been the sheer diversity of the corpus—of the text forms and contents, of the objects on which they were created, of the manner of presenting the texts, of the materials used to produce them, of the contexts in which they were made and used, among other aspects. It continues to remind me just how many perspectives and corners of Maya epigraphy there are to be explored. Are there any remaining mysteries concerning the Mayan scripts? Mallory Matsumoto: Despite decades of intense and insightful epigraphic work, the Maya hieroglyphic script has not yet been fully deciphered; a number of glyphs cannot yet be interpreted, phonetically, semantically, or both. The early and late hieroglyphic texts remain some of the most enigmatic—to really understand the history and development of the script, we need to be able to read them, which will require the discovery of additional texts and more concentrated effort from scholars. We also know relatively little, for instance, about how much linguistic diversity that the hieroglyphic script records. Most texts seem to have been written in a relatively standard variant, now called Classic Mayan, but this elite literary language would not have been the primary language of everyone, certainly not most non-elites across the region who spoke any of many different Mayan languages. Scholars have found some evidence of local, vernacular influence on hieroglyphic texts, but we still do not fully understand the relationship of the writing system to spoken languages(s), and work on this topic remains ongoing. And these are just a few examples—there certainly plenty of issues waiting to be addressed by future generations of Maya epigraphers. Every discovery or advancement in Maya archaeology or epigraphy raises more questions. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyA story set in 1980s Nigeria Muhammed lay quiet in the corner of his cell when police chief Chuwungu and his deputy passed by. They stopped by the door and smiled at his bruises. After all, Muhammed was a muslim, and what they internally referred to as a “B-citizen” in the station. A B-citizen was a person who had been arrested, but for whom they had yet to come up with a charge. Usually, this was done within a few months. But it was not easy because Chuwungu had limited imagination. Sometimes, he claimed they had attacked the police unprovoked, but most of the time he claimed that they were fundamentalists. This was very convenient, because it was both very serious, there were bombings elsewhere in the country quite often, and most importantly, it was impossible to disprove. After all, not even the judges had access to the man’s mind? And most of his criminals were so starved, unclean and agitated when they arrived in court that the judge – who was a neat well-kept and well-fed academic educated somewhere in Europe – frowned with disgust when they took the stand. Chuwungu always smiled at this. Once, however, the judge had sent him a suspicious and irritated look, and after that Chuwungu always wore his fake Ray-ban glasses court, and pulled his cap a little down. Muhammed was one of those ruffians who became so cocky in their teens that they stood on street corners laughing at the police. Then, of course, he had no choice but to put him in his place. He got some of his men to pick him up one evening while he was out drinking, gave him a real good beating and dumped him in a cell overnight. When he woke in the morning Muhammed was thirsty and bruised. They let him go with a warning.However, next week, he looked at them with even more spite, and it was then Chuwungu decided that Muhammed was a B-citizen. This was some years back. Of course, the local shop owners would be ordered to be very rude to Muhammed, and he would not be allowed to visit certain areas in which there were girls or entertainment. Chuwungu also made sure that the taxi company in which Muhammed worked cut his salary. And that his girl friend did not offer him sex more than once a month. This was the ultimate insult to any African man, and Chuwungu thought Muhammed would beat her senseless. But he did nothing, which was even more contemptible. There were many things that B-citizens would not be allowed to do. Chuwungu and his deputy used to sit and brainstorm in order to come up with ways of limiting their options. Someone suggested that they would deny them chicken, or even bush meat, leaving only pork. But this was very impractical because there was no way to keep track of such things. So, he simply dismissed the idea.Even if Chuwungu was feared by ordinary people, he was not disliked by his own, that is, the other police. He was a tall muscular man with a round face, balled and black as coal. He had teeth, which – by contrast- glittered like ivory when the roar of his laughter was heard. He had six children, and a very proud wife, and who was sometimes seen in the town square in her flowery red robe, negotiating for the price of vegetables. She was not the sort of person who downplayed her position. She looked at you with determination, and she ordered her children about like a true deputy – and she obeyed her husband in everything. For after all, he was the police chief known locally as the Lion of Edo state. Chuwungu almost never beat his wife. He was a man who appreciated loyalty. And she was loyal in every sense of the word. But, if any shopkeeper was late with their payments, he had no qualms about bringing them in, then locking himself in a cell with the unfortunate later payer, who afterwards almost never repeated the offense. Muhammed had never been a major concern for Chuwungu. He was muslim, but one of the nameless characters who sometimes drifted into town from the large shanty suburb north of the center. He lived there with his ailing mother and his younger sister. Little is known about his mother’s past. No one in such places had any identification. Those in the center at least had a local id. Very few, except for academics like the judge and people like himself, and the rich tycoons, owned a passport. Chuwungu had never used his passport, it just lay on his office shelf next to his golden bracelet, his sunglasses and the keys to his car. Muhammed’s mother was fat and frail, and quiet. She had always been this way. 20 years ago she had arrived with some refugees from the north. She married another muslim and they settled in a very modest house in town, and she had her babies. Then suddenly the man left her. Some say they argued and some say he had found another woman. But Chuwungu suspected that he had gone off to join the militants in the jungle. It did not matter because this was ages ago, and all these years Muhammed’s mother had scraped by in a run down shed with her two children. The house she had once lived in had been renovated and extended, and now belonged to Chuwungu’s preacher. There was no bitterness on Chuwungu’s part against Muhammed and his family. But Chuwungu needed to be respected and feared. If teenagers and twenty year olds were allowed to look him directly in the eye that would not be possible. When Chuwungu drove through the gravel covered streets at night, they appeared in his head lights, dancing in front of women – showing off. When he heard the music from portable radios he often wondered why it was that he had never been this carefree himself. He had been destined for something else, for keeping control and for assuming power. He had always been a large man, and when he entered a room, all murmur had always fallen silent. Chuwungu had really only begun thinking about Muhammed two years ago when a young muslim from arrived from the north selling cheap Japanese walkmans. Because he was a man from the other side, he ignored Chuwungu’s warnings and struck up a friendship with Muhammed. They were both muslim, but sometimes drank a little alcohol. Chuwungu had begun pondering about how he could drive a wedge between the two so that Muhammed would be kept in his place. After all, a B-citizen should never rise above his station. One day while Chuwungu was sitting in his office, he was notified of a car crash north of town involving two young men. At first, he did not react. Nobody was seriously hurt, but the car hit a tree and was now a wreck. The officer had been paid on site and Chuwungu would receive his share, so the matter almost slipped by unnoticed.But upon his return to the station the officer mentioned in passing that the men in the old blue Ford were Muhammed and his new friend. “Really?” said Chuwungu. “I have had enough! It is time I had a talk with this electronics seller, whoever he might be. Bring him in. Let him understand that we don’t like drunk driving in our town. Leave him in a cell overnight, I will talk to him in the morning alone”. The next morning Chuwungu entered the cell, and the following week the seller moved back north. The dry season had now arrived. The nights were cold, the stars clear and the cracked ground twice as dusty in daylight. Muhammed was often seen in town, in back alleys drinking cheap alcohol. He avoided those areas where he was not welcome, and kept to himself. But he was not sober, and there were rumors that his aging mother was ill. When Muhammed was fired from his job, his sister took up whoring to pay for his mother’s treatment. This made him feel even worse. For earning money was a man’s duty in life. And what sort of man had he become? Then one day Chuwungu was notified of a robbery. There was no one on call. They had been summoned to the scene of some exploded oil pipe. So, chief Chuwungu answered and drove to the crime scene himself. An old man was waiting for him. He showed visible signs of a beating, and seemed very agitated. “Calm down, old man!” Chuwungu began. “Tell me what happened – very slowly.”“A young lunatic appeared out of nowhere, took all my money and fled.”“Do you have any idea who he was?”“Yes, I know him well. It was that drunk, Muhammed.”“Muhammed? Are you sure?” Chuwungu almost smiled.“Yes. I know him well by sight.”“I see. Don’t worry. We will leave no stone unturned and find him. Get your money back.”“There is no need to search. He entered that shed over there. He has not come out”. He pointed to a rotting wooden shed, hidden in the shade of some trees a few hundred meters away.“How long ago?”“An hour or two.”“Have you spoken to him?”“No, he is mad”Chuwungu nodded, left the old man and slowly and silently made his way towards the shed. There was no sound, only night crickets, but the flicker of a small light could be seen through the window, probably an oil lamp. Chuwungu checked the back. There was only one entrance.He approached the door, stopped and listened. All quiet. Then he tore the door open quickly and stuck his head in. The shed had been used for storage for old scrap metal, and rods and rusty bars were lying about among heaps of paper and plastic trash. In a clearing on the ground sat Muhammed – drunk as hell. He was alive, but only glanced up indifferently at Chuwungu.“You know what your problem is, Muhammed. You have no respect for authority. You never had”.“My mother died last night. I could not pay for her treatment.”Their eyes met, and then suddenly Chuwungu smiled and even laughed. He was a huge man towering above the drunk Muhammed. “So now you finally realize that you cannot change the way things are in this world.”‘Chuwungu went to the window, and looked out to wave at the old man 200 meter away. As he turned he heard a swish and felt a sharp pain in his ankles. The huge policeman tumbled over, and fell to the ground with a thump. He was not unconscious and realized that Muhammed had swung at his leg with one of the rusty iron bars. It had been a tremendous blow, for Chuwungu felt blood on his hands. He looked up and saw the insane and frightened stare of Muhammed looking down at him. In a flash, the mad man had opened the door and fled into the dense dark forest. It goes without saying that Muhammed never returned to his old town. He walked till morning, slept by a river and started to make his way north. He thought maybe there would be a better life for him somewhere where there would be more Muslims like himself. He stayed clear of major cities, ate bush meat, drank water from creeks and wells and consumed berries. In the open areas he hitch hiked with lorry drivers and called himself Ali instead of Muhammed. When he eventually arrived at a mid-sized northern town, he first lived on the street. Then he got a job as a cleaner at a mosque, and he rented a room. It was only 11 square meters, but it was something. A year passed, and Muhammed had the feeling of a new beginning. He had no friends, but he never had anyway. One evening, after he had received his paycheck and was walking home, he took a shortcut via a long poorly lit alley. He was half way through the alley, when a shadow rushed upon him out of nowhere. He felt a sting in his arm, and before he knew it all his money had vanished. He had been robbed. Returning to the light of his room, he noticed a bad stab wound on his arm. There was blood and pain. At first he wanted to deal with it himself, but eventually he walked 4 kilometers under the crescent sky to the hospital. They cleaned and dressed the wound, put on some bandages, and then he sat waiting till morning in the corridor. At dawn the nurses, the doctor and finally a policeman arrived. The policeman was an elderly man, wise in the ways of the world. He told Ali not to worry, the culprit had already been caught. Unfortunately, he had bought alcohol for the entire amount.“Alcohol?” said Ali.“Yes,” the old man replied. “He was one of those drunk infidel Christian pigs.”“I see.”Even if these were cruel words, there was an immediate connection between the officer and the man now calling himself Ali. The old man bought Ali sweet tea, and then they smoked and talked for an hour.At one point, the man said: “I hear you work at the mosque. That is noble work.”“I am only a cleaner”.“But still. It is something. I make an OK living as a policeman. The pay is not much, but it is steady, and there are extra sources of income. My children depend on these, you see.”“Yes”“We are actually looking for new recruits. You need a few courses. But the state provides them one by one. You are spoon fed.” He smiled.“I am not sure if this is my thing…”Before the old man left, their eyes met again, and there was another moment of unspoken understanding. The next week, Ali did contact the recruiting office, and the story goes that he eventually did become a policeman. And some years later even the police chief of a small town. There he became known for his violent temper, his cunning and his ruthlessness. Because of the way he compensated for his feeble stature and his utter lack of mercy, they called him “The Hyena”. They say he referred to all his Christian criminals as “C-citizens”. Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureIn the 1980s, a new academic discipline became popular in western academia: Postcolonial Studies. New theories emerged from the former colonies around the world about how they would deal with their shared past. Postcolonial Studies emerged from an attempt to give a voice to writers and thinkers that had been marginalized. Suddenly the original ideas of the colonial diaspora and the African universities became visible. As it turned out, even in places as far afield as Papua New Guinea intellectuals had something to say. This new branch of studies became immensly influential, and the first textbook on the subject was called The Empire Writes Back (1989). We contacted one of the authors of that work, professor Bill Ashcroft, and asked him a few questions about what postcolonial studies is and how he and his co-authors came to write this first book. You have worked with postcolonial theory all your career, how and when did you become interested in the subject? Professor Ashcroft: My interest in postcolonial studies originates in the field of Commonwealth literature, which began with the establishment of the Association for Commonwealth Language and Literature Studies (ACLALS) in the 1960s. By the 1970s new terms were emerging such as “New Literatures” and by the late 1970s I became increasingly dissatisfied with the untheoretical and New Critical approach of Commonwealth literature. In 1978 I edited and issue of New Literature Review (later New Literatures Review) on postcolonial literature. By the 1980s the term postcolonial had taken over from other descriptions of the field and my focus at this time was on the transformations of language particularly in African literatures.  You published the first textbook on postcolonial theory in 1989. Why did it take so long before postcolonial studies appeared as an academic discipline in the West? Professor Ashcroft: During the period after WWII when colonies were gaining independence ‘post-colonial’ meant post-independence. The emergence of Commonwealth literary studies dominated the field of English literature in the 1960s until the term ‘postcolonial’ began to gain strength in the 1970s. The Empire Writes Back was written to bring together the textual attentiveness of Commonwealth literature and sophisticated approaches to contemporary theory that could evolve a way of reading the continuing cultural engagements of colonial societies. In fact the conversations in which the book began occurred in the early 1980s. Where did you meet your co-authors for The Empire Writes Back? Professor Ashcroft: We had had known each other in the late 1970s but the project took shape when we met at an AULLA (Australian Universities Language and Literature) conference in 1980. You must have done a careful selection of thinkers to reference. Which ones would you say were the most important ones for you? Professor Ashcroft: Our aim was to highlight thinkers from the colonized societies as much aspossible. Of course Colonial Discourse theorists such as Bhabha, Spivak and Said were prominent in the landscape at that time but contrary to popular belief they were not a major influence on the book. Said’s Orientalism was a well known analysis of Europe’s representation of its others but none of these theorists had a prominent place in our work at that time. This is surprising to most people since I later wrote a book on Edward Said with Pal Ahluwalia, but at that time he featured very little in the book. Our aim was to distil the theoretical insights from postcolonial writers themselves. Postcolonial Studies became quite popular in the nineties. Has it lead to any improvements for the cultural life in the former colonies? Professor Ashcroft: I was struck by the statement by a Dalit woman at a conference in 2006 that The Empire Writes Back “gave us a voice.” Any ‘improvement’ in colonized cultures is represented in this statement through the voice that colonized people were able to use. However a greater and more important improvement has been made by postcolonial writers themselves, who appropriated English, the language of the coloniser, and used it represent their own culture and society to the world. To choose a language is to choose an audience and choosing English ensured a world audience.  Isn’t there a point in history when the colonial period becomes irrelevant, when too much time has passed for it to be used as an excuse? Professor Ashcroft: This question is based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the postcolonial. The idea of a chronological stage ‘after colonialism’ was the way the term was used in the 1960s, after the surge of independence. But from the publication of The Empire Writes Back the situation changed radically. ‘Postcolonial’ refers to neither a chronology nor ontology but a way of reading. It is a way of reading the cultural resistances and transformations of colonised and formerly colonised cultural producers. Sometimes this was anti-colonial but more often it was transformative as transformation proved to be the most powerful and productive form of resistance. Postcolonialism has continually transformed itself to provide strategies with which to analyse global power. We live after colonialism but never without it. There is a local scholar here in Norway, Dag Herbjørnsrud, who recently wrote a book in which he argued for the establishment of a new global Canon. Is this in line with what you were trying to do in the 90s? Professor Ashcroft: I don’t think so. Postcolonial studies have always been suspicious of canons, which arise when those with cultural power determine what is best. Postcolonial studies rejected the idea of a canon of ‘great works’ because these invariably marginalized the non-European writers. If we dispense with the idea of a canon, however, then certainly the significance of writers around the world needs to be recognised.  There has been some debate here in Norway about epistemology, and alternative ways of acquiring knowledge. This may seem harmless in literary studies and philosophy, but it would seem to contradict much of what has been achieved in the natural sciences. In what way was postcolonial theory, as it appeared in the 90s, relevant for the hard sciences? Professor Ashcroft: In our next edition of The Postcolonial Studies Reader we are including a section on Postcolonial Science. Postcolonial theory is relevant for the hard sciences because it proposes that indigenous and non western ways of knowing the world, and particularly ways of knowing and caring for the natural world, are of equal importance. As the climate crisis approaches the need to consider alternative ways of knowing the world is increasing. You have read many postcolonial novels in your long career as a literary scholar. Which one would you say was most influential for postcolonial studies? And why? Professor Ashcroft: This question smacks a little of canonical thinking, but one book that stands out is Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children written in 1980. This is because it deconstructs so many forms of imperial discourse – the discourse of nationalism, the discourse of history itself within which nations come into being; the discourse of language; those of race and ethnicity and their embedding in language. All these offer a picture of the range of Rushdie’s radical dismantling of the myths of identity that surrounded that fateful midnight when India became a nation, taking over the architecture of the colonial state. What Rushdie is dismantling is not so much the idea of nation as the wider ranging tyranny of borders within which such concepts come into being. The book reminds us of the many ways in which societies unthinkingly take on the model of western society.  Sometimes when you read literary text from around the world, there are great surprises. Is there a literary culture today that you feel is neglected, that is just waiting to be discovered and recognized? Professor Ashcroft: At this stage of my career there are few surprises. I don’t know of a culture that’s being neglected, especially since publication, and particularly publication in a world language is a form of recognition. There are many books that could be better recognised by critics. I will mention just one: Agaat by the South African writer Marlene van Nierkerk. You have traveled the world as an academic. What sort of issues are universities in Africa and elsewhere concerned with today? Professor Ashcroft: Universities in Africa face the same issue as those around the world, only to a greater degree: the marginalization of the humanities and the struggle for funding. Corrections: the introduction to this interview has been edited due to some technical problems during publication.  Further reading: Ashcroft B;Griffiths G;Tiffin H, 2013, Postcolonial Studies: The Key Concepts (3rd ed), 3, Routledge Press, London Dag Herbjørnsrud, “Beyond decolonizing: global intellectual history and reconstruction of a comparative method” in Global Intellecural History Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureDiscuss WWII in our Forum In 1943, an 84 year-old Nobel prize winner made his pilgrimage to the lair of Adolf Hitler in Germany. The writer Knut Hamsun was received by the Nazi dictator, who was a fan. He shook the Fuhrer’s hand and two years later he would still praise Hitler as “a warrior for mankind”. Like the philosopher Heidegger in Germany and the poet Ezra Pound in the US, Hamsun was an intellectual tainted by World War II. Like these he would inflict a trauma upon the national culture of his country, and raise many ethical concerns. We talked with professor Frode Lerum Boasson from The Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Ane Helga Bondahl, two specialists on Hamsun, in order to discover the truth about the controversial author, by some still regarded as Norway’s finest novelist. Hamsun was arrested after the war, but deemed unfit to stand trial. But was he really senile, or was he simply a Nazi? Bondahl & Boasson: The short answer to this question must be: No; Hamsun was not unfit to stand trial, but yes he was, or rather, he became, a Nazi. But in order to give a proper answer we must take a wider perspective. We need to start with the trial against Hamsun after WWII. Hamsun was like many others investigated in connection with what we call «the legal purge» in Norway following WWII. During the war Hamsun had written pro-German articles and had expressed sympathy and support for the Nazis. All through the war he wore a Nazi pin on his lapel, and it was speculated that he was a member of Quisling’s National Socialist Party. The trial was, however, far from straightforward, and it has often been emphasized that Hamsun’s prestige as Norway’s most important and most popular writer made any prosecution difficult. How should the state treat a beloved writer who had expressed sympathy for the enemy? In October 1945, the attorney general stated that he wanted an expert assessment in order to decide whether Hamsun should be placed under judicial psychiatric observation. At the start of the trial Hamsun was shipped off to a psychiatric institution and evaluated by senior doctor and professor of psychiatry Gabriel Langfeldt. The conclusion, which was published as The legal psychiatric assessment of Knut Hamsun (1978), was clear. Several strokes in recent years as well his advanced age had diminished his mental abilities, and Langfedt recommended that he be sentenced to legal observation. Hamsun therefore spent almost four months in a psychiatric clinic in Oslo, and was submitted to thorough examinations. It was concluded that he was not to be regarded as insane, but as a person with “permanently impaired mental faculties” and that there was little if no chance of his crimes being repeated. (Langfeldt & Ødegård, 1978:101). Hamsun was deemed unfit for trial and on the basis of this recommendation, all charges were dropped. In stead, Hamsun was sentenced to pay a fine of 320000 NOK,-. Hamsun describes his trial and the process against him in his final work On Overgrown Paths (1949), which has been regarded as his defense and an apology for his treatment after the war. Both his diagnosis and his trial has been much debated in Hamsun research. Many have argued that the writer was both sane and completely aware of his actions during the war. His own apology, in which he blames both his limited hearing and a total isolation during the war years, has been subject for much discussion. Many biographers have examined the process against Hamsun, and in one of the more recent books, Jørgen Haugan speculates whether the diagnosis, as well his commitment to a psychiatric institution, was directly ordered by the Norwegian PM at the time, Einar Gerhardsen. In order to save the country’s honor. If Hamsun was sentenced for treason and shot, it was feared that it would harm Norway’s standing in the world. A diagnosis and a judicial acquittal was a far better solution. The debate over Hamsun’s sanity ended with the publication of On Overgrown Paths (1949), in which he describes the period following the war, his case and his psychiatric examination. The book is both brilliant and scandalous, and leaves no doubt: The writer was fully aware of what he was doing and admits nothing: «What I was writing was not wrong. It was not wrong when I wrote it. It was right, and what I wrote was right». In spite of the fact that Hamsun wrote Hitler’s obituary and described the dictator as «a reformist of the highest order» , a «warrior for mankind and prophet of the gospel of right for all nations». In spite of the fact that he awarded Goebbels his Nobel Prize and allowed himself to be used for various propaganda purposes, the issue of whether he actually was a Nazi has never been settled by Hamsun researchers. However, following the works by Ståle Dingås and by Tore Rem, the apologists have dwindled in number. Today it seems fairly settled, however: Hamsun was a Nazi by any measure. But the most important issue still remains. How should we approach Hamsun’s works? Are there traces of antisemitism in the literature he wrote? Hitler was a fan of The Growth of the Soil, I have been told? Bondahl & Boasson:  Scholarly examinations of the issue of antisemitism in Hamsun’s writing have been a hot potato, and have a long history. But systematic studies are few, and for the most part center on the portrayal of the Jew Papst in his Vagabond-trilogy (1927-1933). There is little doubt, however, that Hamsun expresses antisemitism in his letters, in his journalism and in Wonderland (1903). That Hamsun is both stereotypical and racist in his descriptions of the Sami, the Kven, Africans and others is also quite clear. Hitler’s alleged fascination for The Growth of the Soil is more uncertain. Hitler is supposed to have left The Growth of the Soil on his nightstand, and he must have read it. However, it is propaganda minister Goebbels who was Hamsun’s most avid fan among the senior Nazis. Goebbels even made sure that The Growth of the Soil was handed out as Christmas present to 250000 soldiers in order to remind them about what they were fighting for. Should we perhaps, as a matter of principle, distinguish between an artist and his work? Bondahl & Boasson: This question strikes at the heart of Hamsun research and points to the issue often referred to as «the Hamsun-problem»: How do we relate to the fact that one of the really great writers was a Nazi? The question has proven divisive. For the most part researchers have tried to distinguish between Hamsun the individual and Hamsun the writer, between his ideologies and his fiction, between his literature and his politics. These are the ways researchers have tried to avoid the politics of writing and the specter of Nazism. By doing so, we have ignored the unspoken contract between reader and writer, Hamsun’s ideological subtexts and the moral dimension. This is, however, a complex reading and several researchers have in recent years stated that such an approach neither benefits Hamsun nor literature in general. Why and how should such a distinction be made? We cannot escape the fact that Hamsun was both a Nazi and one of the greatest writers in Norway. This is not an answer, it’s a beginning. The question is how politics emerges in Hamsun’s writing and how we should relate to it. Great art is often immoral and will continue to be so, even if we distinguish between artist and art. There has been some debate on this issue in a Norwegian literary journal, Vagant. He was married to Marie Hamsun, and she was more friendly toward the Germans than most. How did the two of them meet? Bondahl & Boasson : Marie Hamsun was an enthusiastic member of the Norwegian National Socialist Party. She supported the Germans and the Nazi ideology during the war. Hamsun had a turbulent marriage, and he often argued with his wife. After the war, he wanted nothing to do with her, and for a while the two were separated. After his trial, however, when he returned to his farm Nørholm i Grimstad, she was again embraced, and she took care of him in his final years. The two first caught each other’s eye on the 17 of April 1908 at the theater. This has been mentioned in many biographies. Anne Marie Andersen was known as Marie Lavik at the time. She was an actress and was living with a much older man, Dore Lavik. They were not married, but Lavik had helped Marie achieve her dream to become an actress. She met Hamsun this day because she wanted to play the character Elina in one of Hamsun’s plays. She hoped the author might help her. They met and the first thing Hamsun said was «My God, how pretty you are, my child!» Like many of his fictional characters, Hamsun fell head over heels in love with Marie and invited her to Theatercafeen, a writer’s hang-out in Oslo. One meeting became several, and they were both swept off their feet. Hamsun traveled a lot and wrote love letters that not only make you blush, but which almost seem to form part of his fiction. They were engaged, but had to wait for Hamsun’s divorce from his first wife before they married. They were married on the 25 of June 1909 at the city magistrate in Kristiania (now Oslo). Marie was 27 years old, and he was 49. Initially, they had a passionate relationship. However, it soon became apparent that Hamsun was a jealous and controlling man. He was afraid her life as an actress with all its attributes, as well her lengthy relationship to Dore Lavik, would cause her to leave him. Marie consequently left her profession and became a full-time house wife. It has often been noted that Marie too, was jealous, and that she couldn’t stand the fact that her husband met other women. They were both jealous. There is little doubt, however, that they had artistic temperaments and strong personalities, and that this fueled their married life. They were even so married until Hamsun’s death. Hamsun is very attached to Nordland, and the magnificent local scenery. In some ways Hamsun is a man who finds something universal in the familiar. Is this a requirement for writing great fiction, do you think? Bondahl & Boasson : Yes. Finding the universal in the familiar is a hallmark of great art. And you find this in Hamsun’s writing, sometimes at least. And not only in his descriptions of nature, but also in his exaggerated sensibility and his humor. Hamsun opposed  the previous generation of Norwegian writers quite strongly. Tell us a little about his rebellion? Bondahl & Boasson : Like all great artists Hamsun distanced himself from his predecessors by attacking them head on. And it was the giant among them who would suffer the most: Ibsen. According to Hamsun Ibsen barely counted as a writer, at least not in his later years. The younger Ibsen who wrote Peer Gynt, was, however, a master craftsman. The older Ibsen who concerned himself with social issues after 1870 was as mysterious as the Sphinx, according to Hamsun. Hamsun felt his predecessors failed to describe the psychology of the individual. Realism was, in his view, neither adequately sensitive, vivid or sufficiently aristocratic. The realists represented a materialist and bourgeois simplicity, while Hamsun’s sought to portray the complex, attentive and refined minds that we encounter in his famous essay “From the Unconscious Life of the Mind” (1890). Realism was poetry about society for the public, adapted for «the least developed among us». Hamsun, on the other hand, would demonstrate that we were beings of flesh and blood consumed by sex, desire and psychological drives. This was not a moral issue for Hamsun. He simply wanted to portray life the way he saw it, the way it actually was. We should «frame all aspects of life in art». Hamsun visited the US, and was inspired by Mark Twain. Tell us a little about his relationship to Twain? Bondahl & Boasson: To my knowledge, Hamsun never met Mark Twain, but he both admired and was influenced by him. When Hamsun writes about American journalism, he mentions Twain as one of his preferred reads. He also contributes a text to a book written to honor Twain. Hamsun writes: «I smile at the mere mention of Mark Twain because his humorous spirit overwhelms me. But he was not only a humorist, there is a depth to his jokes, he was both a teacher and an educator. His wit communicated fundamental and valuable truth». Hamsun was clearly thrilled, and he was probably very influenced by Twain’s humor and linguistic prowess. Hamsun began playing with words in a new way and to create funny situations, exaggerations and subtleties that are influenced by Twain’s popular caricatures and descriptions of ordinary folk. Hamsun plays around in a similar way. What would you say is Hamsun’s great strength as a writer? He is not a social commentator on the level of Ibsen? Bondahl & Boasson : Hamsun’s greatest strength as a writer is undoubtedly his style. His refined sensibility is both tender and awkwardly ironic, sometimes with flashes of humor and sometimes as harsh satire. He was, it must be said, also a social commentator, both in his fiction as well as in his articles. The difference is that he was often wrong, unlike Ibsen. Hamsun was a very old man during WWII, and he lived at the same time as another Norwegian Nobel laureate, Sigrid Undset. Did the two of them have any sort of relationship? Bondahl & Boasson: Hamsun and Sigrid Undset were on opposite sides during the war. Undset’s son was shot by the Germans, and she was as much opposed to Germany as Hamsun was opposed to Great Britain. Except for the fact that they were both Nobel Laureates they had little in common. They disagreed on most issues. Their different views become apparent in the so-called discussion over «child killings» between 1915-1917. Hamsun initiated the debate by focusing on the increasing number of infanticides. Hamsun felt that such crimes should be punished by deterrence and lengthy sentences, that is, by hangings. He also felt that orphanages should be improved so that young mothers with unwanted children could place them in care in stead of killing them. But only the healthy. These were the only ones with a claim to life, while the blind, the sick and the handicapped were worthless: «I want to exterminate and purge the hopeless in favor of lives that may assume value.» He also treats the subject in his Nobel Prize winning novel, The Growth of the Soil (1917). Undset was shocked by Hamsun’s views and felt that there was a social dimension to the increasing number of infanticides. Undset had a handicapped daughter and Hamsun’s purge was met with disapproval. The Norwegian intelligentsia was in turmoil, and many followed Undset in distancing themselves from Hamsun’s anti-humanism. Hamsun and Undset faced each other on another more political issue, the Ossietzky scandal of 1936 in which Hamsun attacked the Polish-German writer and journalist Carl Von Ossietzky, who at the time was in a Nazi prison camp. Ossietzky was awarded the Nobel prize, much to Hamsun’s dislike. Undset led the charge against Hamsun. The two writers disagreed and represented different political traditions. Bjørn Fontander has written extensively on this issue. Hamsun is well-known as a novelist, but he tried his hand as a dramatist and as a poet. How did that go? Bondahl & Boasson : Hamsun re-invented the novel, and this is not only an exaggeration by literary scholars. It is actually the case. At least if we accept the testimonies of the next generation of writers, Kafka, Joyce and Thomas Mann, who all claim to be influenced by him. However, his dramatic efforts were not as successful. In his own day, he was noted, but today? Nobody remembers that he wrote 6 plays as well as one in verse. And to be honest- they aren’t very memorable. Hamsun has a special place in the hearts of Norwegians, but how do foreigners regard him? Bondahl & Boasson: In Norwegian literature Hamsun’s legacy as the modernist re-inventor of the novel is assured. He is almost modernism personified- and he was a Nazi. He is still the only one among the greater Norwegian writers, who, with the exception of Ibsen, continues to be read by everyone. Not only researchers. Hamsun seems to have maintained his standing abroad, especially in Germany. Still, his esteem is perhaps less in the Anglo-Saxon world, especially since the increased focus on his Nazi views after the 1960s and 1970s. In spite of this, the official Hamsun commemoration in 2009 was celebrated all over Europe. New translations continue to appear and he might even see a new wave of popularity. After all, Hamsun was «the father of the modern school of literature», according to Isaac Bashevis Singer. 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... [...]
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... [...]
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... [...]
short storyby Juza Unno (Translated by J.D. Wisgo) “Mysterious Spacial Rift” was first published in Science: Hopes & Fears : Juza Unno: The Father of Japanese Science Fiction, available on Amazon here. y friend Hachiro Tomoeda is a peculiar fellow. Sharing with you a few dreams he’s told me about is the quickest way to give you a sense of just how peculiar he is. Hachiro loves talking about his dreams. These tend to be extremely odd and surprisingly detailed, but as someone who rarely dreams myself, I found them intriguing and, at times, even disturbing. “In my dreams, I visit the same city, again and again,” he said, vacant eyes glaring at me. “…So I get this feeling that I’ve been to this city before. Before I know it, all these people I’ve met in dreams are coming out of the woodwork: old men, young women, you name it. I talk to this strange group of people about what happened before, hoping to continue the long series of events from previous dreams. But, more often than not, the same thing happens in every dream, and whenever I get the feeling something is going to happen, it generally turns out that way. It sounds crazy, but my hunches often turn out to be right. However, there’s another odd thing about these dreams: my face. In these dreams I always have the same face, and it’s completely different from what you see now. My face isn’t pale like this, it’s more of a reddish copper color. Even its shape is completely different: longer, with a well-defined nose, larger mouth, and eyes aglow with a passion you’d never believe, not to mention a wonderful head of hair and a stately beard. That imposing man in my dreams is me. What do you think? Pretty strange, right? That’s why I often have these strange thoughts. Could this city, and these people in my dreams, actually exist? Could I possess two bodies with different faces, sharing a single soul? Stuff like that. Oh, I can see you’re having trouble believing me. It’s written all over your face. Alright then, I’ll tell you an even stranger, more disturbing story–one that will wipe that smile right off your face. It’s a true story of something that just happened to me.” 1. One day, I had this dream. I was walking down a long hallway. Oddly enough, there wasn’t a single window. Everything was a yellow color–walls, ceiling–and at regular intervals on both sides of the extremely long hallway was a set of identical doors. I stood there, motionless except for my eyes inspecting each of the doorknobs, one by one. They all shared a dull brass color except for a shiny gold one on the fifth or sixth door down, on the left side if I remember correctly. “A golden doorknob!” When I came to the door with the shiny doorknob, my hand spontaneously reached out for it. Grabbing the golden doorknob, it twisted and pushed inward. Needless to say, the door opened easily each time I had this dream. I entered the room as if sucked in by some invisible force. Inside was a bare living room, measuring roughly thirty square meters. A bright red carpet dominated the center, set under a light blue table and set of chairs. On the table rested a green, Spanish-style flower vase that always contained a pink carnation. The room had a very unusual design. I took quite a liking to it, especially the large mirror hanging on a far wall. The full-sized mirror stretched from floor to ceiling, larger than the kind you find in barbershops. It was over 3 meters wide, framed on both sides by a narrow curtain made from an ornate, heavy-looking fabric that hung down from a rod at the top. Unfortunately, the room’s dim lighting obscured the curtain’s color, although it appeared to be a dark shade of indigo. The mirror faithfully reflected the contents of the room, just as you would expect. Whenever I entered that room I was always eager to walk straight up to the mirror and see my reflection. Because the mirror was at the far end of the room, angled away from me, I had to be directly in front of it to see myself. I had a habit of staring into that mirror, fascinated by my stately visage. Thrusting my chest out, I would imagine this is what Victor Emmanuel the First must have looked like. My image in the mirror followed suit, his chest raised triumphantly. But just as I was enjoying myself making funny faces and idiotic gestures into the mirror, a voice suddenly called out from behind. “Would you like something to drink, sir…?” It was the voice of a young man. I turned around to discover a silver tray on the table with a liquor bottle and a drinking glass upon it. A handsome, athletic teenage boy–who had presumably just spoken–stood with his back to the door. But there was someone else: a young woman standing dangerously close to him. How did these two get here so quickly? The woman, her eyes downcast at first, gradually raised her head and glared at me. (What the…) I suddenly averted my gaze as if struck by some great force–the woman had been a lover of mine. Watching her waltz into the room with a young guy in tow, I was anything but calm. However, getting hysterical now would only embarrass me. Maintaining perfect composure, I approached the table and sat down, facing away from the couple. I filled the glass with alcohol and silently raised it to my lips. Behind me, I heard the frantic whispering of those two engaged in a private conversation. Their faint voices, intensified if as by an amplifier, thundered in my ears like a metal washbasin being pounded next to my head. (Those two are far more than friends. I’m sure they’ve gone all the way!) I struggled to hold back my emotions, but nothing could stop the rising anger. I shut my eyes, grabbed the glass, and gulped down the whole thing, then slammed it down on the table. The whispering died instantly. I stayed calm and maintained my composure. Did those two come here just to show off? Did they really think I wouldn’t notice? If so, fine with me. I know–I’ll return the favor and pretend they don’t exist. Legs trembling, I planted my feet firmly on the floor and stood up from the chair. I walked quietly to the large mirror at the far end of the room, making sure to avoid looking in their direction. Before I knew it, I was standing before the mirror. I watched the couple’s reflection, their bodies all over each other, practically making love. The girl was taking the lead, trying to seduce him, but I detected a hint of hesitation in the boy. Blood rushed up from my legs into my head. I looked at my face in the mirror and discovered my expression had completely changed. I saw my shoulders shaking uncontrollably. Oblivious to me observing them through the mirror, this indecent couple was in the middle of committing a depraved act. Panic began to creep in. I tried to scream, but nothing came out of my dry throat. I had to calm down… I thought to enlist the aid of tobacco and pulled my cigarette case from my pocket. I tried to gently open the lid, keeping it hidden in the shadows of my body to avoid being seen, but for some reason it wouldn’t open. Realizing I should be careful about what my face revealed, I shifted my eyes to look at the reflection of my hand in the mirror. Then I looked at the cigarette case. (Huh?) I was a little startled; the thing in my hand was not a cigarette case but a… (…pistol!) My hand gripped none other than a small, boxy Browning pistol. A wave of vertigo washed over me. That’s when it happened. The reflection of my hand, still holding the pistol, quietly floated up to the level of my chest. Defying logic, the hand crept upwards against my own will. Equally strange was seeing my hand’s reflection inch up slightly higher than my actual hand. It was incredibly disturbing–the hand in the mirror was somehow moving ahead of my own hand. I couldn’t bear to stand here and do nothing; if I stayed still like this in front of the mirror, I would surely go insane. After all, the movement of my reflection–even as I stood frozen before the mirror–would be certain evidence that I could no longer be counted among the living. (…) A tremor ripped through my body, nearly tearing it apart. I quickly raised the arm holding the pistol, chasing after its reflection, and it soon caught up with the image in the mirror. (My, that was horrific!) My body was completely drenched with sweat. The pistol had risen a good ways above my chest, where its muzzle pressed firmly into my left shoulder. I twisted my shoulder back gradually. I squinted and aimed the gun. Once my target was fixed, I continued to rotate my body back, ever so deliberately. My attempt to speak only resulted in a pathetic stutter. The couple continued their flirting, completely unaware of what I was about to do. “Y-you bitch!” Detestable slut! I glanced at the mirror to see a few teeth exposed as I bit down hard on my lower lip. Time slowed to a crawl, my tormented expression urging me to the only natural conclusion: my two fingers on the trigger retracted… Bang. Oh shit, I really did it. “…Ugggghhhhh…” The girl bent over backward as if struck by a bolt of electricity. One hand clutched her chest while the other flailed wildly in the air; a moment later, she collapsed there on the spot. “I killed someone. In the end, I’ve committed murder with my own hands!” I approached the girl sprawled on the floor, so still I would have sworn she was in a deep sleep. Her clothes had a gaping red hole near the chest where fresh blood gushed out, trickling over her partially exposed breasts and down her neck. The boy was nowhere to be found; I assumed he had darted out of the room without me noticing. “Shit, I just killed someone…” I mumbled. Just then, I heard a derisive laugh in an all-too-familiar voice: my own. “Oh…I get it. I’m having a dream where I murder someone…But if I’m not careful I’ll wake up in the middle of the best part. My hands should be trembling more, like I’ve actually killed someone. And I should be scared. Very scared…” Unfortunately, something happened and I lost my memory of everything after that. I only remember up to the point where I shot and killed the girl. 2. I must have bored you to tears with so much detail, especially considering I was only talking about a dream. But I wanted you to understand just how vivid and strange my dreams are. My talk about dreams isn’t over yet. Now I’d like to tell you about an even more mysterious dream. I really hope you’ll listen to what I have to say. Let’s see…I don’t remember how many days had passed, but eventually I had another dream. Just I was making my way down a long hallway, I realized something. “Another long hallway. The walls and ceiling are yellow, and…” “I remember! I’ve been in this hallway before!” I thought to myself. But that quickly led to another, less desirable, realization. “…Oh, I’m dreaming now. I’m really dreaming!” As I walked down the hall, I tried to imitate my gait from the other day because I felt that otherwise I’d ruin a potentially wonderful dream… Just like last time, I glanced at the doors one by one. I noticed a golden doorknob on the left side, five doors down. “This is it,” I said with a smile. I turned the golden doorknob and slipped into the room. Needless to say, things looked exactly the same as before: a red carpet in the center, above that an elegant table and chair set in blue, and on the table, a green vase holding an identical pink carnation. I chuckled under my breath as I made my way to the room’s center, trying to keep from breaking out into laughter. From there, I inspected the far end of the room and found the large mirror. It was a great relief to see that mirror. (I can imagine how in some occupations like acting, where each day the same movements are acted out with the same props, performances tend to get progressively easier after the first day–just like what I am experiencing now.) Thoughts like this popped into my head. The next moment, I found myself once again before the large mirror. The same stately appearance was reflected in it: a bold mustache surrounded by a storm of unkempt hair. “Sir, would you like a…” I looked behind me to see who had spoken and found the same handsome young man standing there. Beside him was the same young girl, eyes downcast, another character in this performance who hadn’t changed at all. Adhering to the proper order of events, I returned to the table. I opened the liquor bottle and filled up the glass. Right then, as if on cue, I heard the hushed whispers of that couple behind me. Infuriated, I chugged the entire drink in a single breath. I slammed down the glass, sprung to my feet, and staggered towards the mirror… An uncomfortable feeling came over me, triggered by the vivid recollection of that terrible incident the other day. The thing that happened next was utterly terrifying. No, I don’t mean the part when I murdered someone; I mean when, standing before that large mirror, my reflection moved before I did. That uncanny sight, etched deeply in my mind… “That was truly horrifying.” My body trembled uncontrollably. I carefully watched my every move reflected in the mirror, afraid of what I might see. I withdrew from my pocket not a cigarette case, but a pistol… Yes, now is my chance! I raised the pistol to my chest ever so slowly…ever so deliberately… “Well, well…it seems my reflection is following me well today.” I sighed, relieved to see no sign of the expected abnormality today. And yet, our movements could diverge at any moment… “Whew, I’m safe…” I was so happy, so relieved, that I nearly cried out. Nothing abnormal had occurred. I even tried flailing my arms up and down, but, like a film with perfectly synchronized audio and video tracks, my reflection stayed in lock-step with its counterpart, moving the same way at the same time, without even the slightest gap. (Perhaps that terrible separation I witnessed the other day was simply a hallucination?) This thought came to me, but then I realized there was no need to think so deeply about it. After all, this was just a dream; there was no rule stating everything had to make sense. If, for example, I stood in the middle of a field and wished for a desk, it might appear out of nowhere, like magic. In dreams, things like that would be perfectly normal. I held the gun tightly against my left shoulder, took aim, and slowly twisted my shoulder back. The girl and boy whispered to one another excitedly, panting as if out of breath. I heard the young girl’s sensual whine, you know the kind that can drive you crazy. “Take this, asshole!” I pulled the trigger. Bang. The girl’s piercing shriek tore through the room. Clutching her shoulder with one hand, she toppled over onto the carpet as her other arm twitched, clawing wildly at the air. “Why is she still moving?” I suspiciously approached the girl who was supposed to be dead from my gunshot. She was barely hanging on. But as I watched, her life faded away before my eyes. The bloodstained hand that had been clutching her shoulder gradually slid down, revealing a gaping wound that spurted fresh blood, a blooming flower. Her arms and legs twitched a few more times before collapsing to the floor, and her body finally went still. “You put on quite a show in those final moments!” Sneering, I approached her body and gave it a kick. It didn’t budge, as if she was in a deep sleep. I circled around to her head and gazed at her face from the side. “Huh?” I had been certain this woman was my old girlfriend, but I was shocked when I saw her face. “It’s…not her.” The realization struck me like a massive weight. I cradled her limp head and angled her face towards me. “Oh no, this is…” I’ve made a terrible mistake. I was so sure it was my old girlfriend, but I couldn’t have been more wrong; the woman’s corpse before me was unmistakably the wife of a close friend who was like a brother to me. “D-damn it!” My teeth clenched. Why hadn’t I realized this sooner? Clearly, murder was a terrible crime, but to shoot dead the wife of a good friend…how could I ever make it up to him? She had been a truly admirable woman. Her husband was a good friend of mine, but strange rumors about him had been circulating lately. Apparently he was making a great profit by loaning out money at an exorbitant interest rate but rarely returned home to see his wife waiting there alone. She would often visit me, worried sick, prostrating herself teary-eyed and begging that I help repair her relationship with her husband, seemingly gone sour due to her inadequacies. I had never met a nicer, more good-natured woman in my life, and I failed to understand how any man could pretend to know nothing of this woman and neglect his duties as a husband. Thus, I began to pity this woman, consoling her whenever the opportunity arose. After visiting me she would always return home in a better mood. However, it seems that lately my friend had an odd suspicion of something going on between his wife and me. He was worried about us being alone frequently together in the same room, a concern I found both idiotic and maddening. How truly unfortunate. “And now I have murdered that woman with my own hands. What am I going to do…” I was too ashamed to face my friend; but I was even more remorseful toward his wife, whom I had shot dead. But at the same time, I would no longer be able to prove my innocence of the alleged relationship between us. I lied down beside her body, tormented by an excruciating pain like my intestines were being ripped apart… “…How could have I been such a fool? I’m crying in the middle of a dream!” I suddenly heard the sound of my own voice. Oh, it’s all just a dream. The entrance burst open and a crowd clamored into the room. At its head stood the attractive young man I had seen with my friend’s wife, but when he saw me he backed away and disappeared into the crowd. “You’re under arrest!” A group of people wearing police officer uniforms rushed at me and restrained my arms. Just as I was thinking about how I would be executed soon, handcuffs were slapped on my wrists. I have no memory of what happened after that. Well now, what do you think of these two dreams? Pretty strange, huh? Aren’t they’re almost too vivid? 3. It was a quiet winter morning. A high fence obscured the sun but the sky was clear for miles, the air refreshing like citrus. Enclosed by the plain, white walls of the square room, my friend Hachiro Tomoeda was telling me once again about his dreams. Sometimes my mind gets all messed up and causes me a great deal of trouble. I know it’s not because of my age, but my life is often thrown into disarray by my tendency to mix things up. I think I was telling you the other day about two similar dreams where I killed someone, but I don’t remember how far I got. Most likely I stopped around the part where I was thrown in jail, awaiting a trial. Yeah, that sounds about right. I remember talking about those dreams in earnest, unaware of my absurd misconception, but perhaps things didn’t happen like that. To be honest, during that conversation I was convinced you were not a person from a dream, but the real world. However, after being implicated in a murder and then talking to you in this jail cell, it’s clear that you’re also from the dream world. Why did it take me so long to realize this? This is not easy for me since I’m hopelessly poor at explanations. But if you don’t mind, I’ll try once more. I told you about that murder incident; after that, I was jailed as a suspect. Sometimes you would come to visit me in jail–proof that the world where the murder occurred and the world you live in is one and the same. I spoke to you about the murder in my dream. Also, if you ask me, you yourself are from the same dream world. The way I see it, that murder took place in my dreams; to you, it took place in the world that you live in. But, you see, this is the dream world now where I am speaking…When a dimwit like me tries thinking about this stuff, I always get totally confused. Maybe I should just let someone else figure it all out. Anyway, I’ll tell you what happened next. Like I said, at some point I discovered myself, jailed and awaiting trial. I was astonished to learn it was related to a murder in that room with the big mirror. “My, what a terribly long dream I’m having…” I didn’t find this out until later, but at the time I was apparently about to be put into a mental institution. So I’m really glad I figured everything out when I did. After that they investigated me at length, and one of the court officials was a kind-hearted magistrate by the name of Sugiura. One day he came to me and started telling me a story. It was a mysterious tale skillfully crafted by a true creative genius, filled with uncanny events like you often find in short stories. While clearly a fabrication, I was intrigued to see how everything was woven together, so I’d like to tell you about it. “Do you think those two dreams were really dreams? Even assuming they are, don’t you see an inconsistency between them?” the judge suddenly asked me, his tone reserved. I kept quiet; these questions irritated me. He continued babbling, even more sure of himself. This is what he told me: “You said you killed an old girlfriend in your first dream, and a friend’s wife in the second. If, as you say, you are seeing the same events repeatedly in dreams, then shouldn’t the victim be the same each time? Don’t you think it’s odd that the person you murdered was different?” “Anything is possible in dreams,” I objected. “Characters can switch around arbitrarily.” The man’s questions continued. “In your first dream, when you killed your girlfriend, there was a simplicity, a surreal beauty. And yet, your second dream–where you killed your friend’s wife–wasn’t it painted in colors that seemed almost too vivid? Didn’t you detect something deliberate about this disparity?” he said, a deadly serious expression on his face. The moment I heard this, I thought he really was on to something. The murder in the second dream did have a much deeper sense of realism. However, once I thought about it a little more, I realized he was badly distorting minor details just to argue his point, and this disgusted me. “You’re quiet, but I think you understand what I’m saying, at least a little,” Judge Sugiura added, delivering another one-sided statement. “Listen–I’ll tell you a few more discrepancies. First, what do you think of that room? What a truly unusual place. When you walk in, you’re greeted by a large mirror covering the wall, like in a barbershop, and an oddly remarkable red carpet. Even the plain colors of the table and chair set, their placement, and the flower on display were unusual. If someone was actually living there, you would expect a clutter of items; but those were nowhere to be found, and the room’s remarkable simplicity made it hard to forget once you saw it. Like the handiwork of a magician, it had the appearance of a room, yet was totally unfit for human habitation. Nothing more than a prop in a trick.” “Come on, dreams are supposed to be remarkable and simple,“ I wanted to say, but I kept quiet. “So what do you think? I bet all of this is starting to make sense to you,” the magistrate said, increasingly confident. “Now there’s one final, truly great contradiction. I’m sure you remember the terrifying part of your first dream. That’s where the contradiction was. You grabbed the pistol and saw it in your reflection in the mirror. Then, strangely enough, you watched your hand raise above your chest, stopping somewhere near your left shoulder. Yet your actual hand hovered there unmoving, gripping the pistol you’d withdrawn from your pocket. In short, you had observed a gap between your actual body’s movements and your reflection in the mirror, a sight which terrified you to no end. By witnessing a mysterious rift between the spatial region encompassing your body, presumably possessing a single soul, and that of your body’s reflection, you were thrown into complete–and needless–confusion. Had you been an ordinary person with a sound mind, you would have surely realized the truth. This point is critically important. What would an ordinary person think? How strange…I’m not in a haunted house, but the reflection in this mirror before me is moving separately from my body. This can’t be right. The image in the mirror isn’t my reflection! Just like that, you should have figured it out. In other words, the large mirror before you was not actually a mirror; behind that panel of glass stood a person disguised as you, trying to make you believe he was your reflection. You should have picked up on that immediately–if you were an ordinary person, that is.” This was a shock to even someone as dull as me, as if a hammer had suddenly struck my skull. But shock soon became anger as I began to question whether such an absurd thing was even possible. “After all, the entire room’s interior was reflected in that mirror: the chairs, the table, and the bottle of liquor. But that’s not all. Even the girl and her handsome companion were reflected in the mirror. Is something that absurd actually possible?” I objected. “It’s like I’ve been telling you. That room was specially prepared for the deception. What you thought was a reflection in the mirror was, in actuality, a separate room visible through a large pane of glass, made to appear identical to the room you were in. They just needed to put everything in the same location, turned to face the pane of glass. Same thing with the people. There were two different couples, one in each room, so each person appeared to have a reflection. In fact, there was another man in the far room. As I said, he was dressed just like you. In any case, not in your right mind, you mistook the faces of the two couples to be identical. After that point, it would have been easy to deceive anyone, even an ordinary person. Well now, let’s consider why someone would create dual rooms and make them appear to represent a single space. That couldn’t be any more obvious. The man disguised as you suggested your next action: aiming the pistol and shooting the girl behind you. The gunshot sound was probably from a blank cartridge and, as planned, she collapsed on the spot. Finally, in dramatic fashion she triggered the release of red iron oxide concealed in something like an eggshell, giving the impression of having been shot dead.” “If that’s true, then why would he make me do such a thing?” I cried out. “That’s obvious. They planned to lure you to the place of your second dream and have you actually murder your friend’s wife. They fooled you, a weak-minded man, into believing you were reliving the same dream, making you fire the pistol again in the second dream, just like the first. But the second time, the pistol was loaded with live ammunition and the second room was not used. By darkening that room, the pane of glass functioned like a mirror. It’s a trick commonly employed in circus attractions; everyone knows about it. But in any case–you have, unintentionally, murdered a woman.” “But why me?” I shouted back at the judge. “I investigated and found out the reason. It was the woman’s own husband who plotted to kill her–in other words, your friend. He was the one who orchestrated it all.” “No, my friend would never do something so horrible,” I said. “There’s no use defending him. We’ve already gathered sufficient evidence. Your friend is quite a despicable fellow. His failed business venture demanded a great deal of money, and there was a life insurance policy on his wife for an enormous sum. He couldn’t just kill his wife with his own hands, so he tried to use you instead. Apparently he even fabricated an excuse to lure his wife to that room. She was brought inside and saw you who had, according to the rumors, gone insane. Then you shot and killed her. In any case, I’m glad your mental state has recovered so quickly since arriving here.” As I listened, I was nearly fooled by his well-crafted story. Could my friend really have plotted such an elaborate scheme? I felt there was something wrong with the judge’s logic. “But Mr. Magistrate, something doesn’t seem right. How did my friend manage to manipulate me so easily?” “Isn’t that obvious too? Did you not have the habit of explaining your dreams to him in great detail? He used that to take advantage of you.” So you see, my friend, that’s what I was told. I really pity the magistrate for wasting so much time fretting over these minute details, because he’s claiming that you used me to kill your own wife to avoid dirtying your own hands. I can’t believe he has the audacity to say those things about you. Fortunately, everything happened in a dream so it doesn’t really matter. Had it actually happened, we would be in some serious trouble. But, you see, that magistrate just wouldn’t give up. What a pain in the ass. “You’re mistaken about those things happening in a dream. If you still believe that, then I’ll just have to prove to you how wrong you are…” the magistrate said. When I asked him what he had in mind, he lead me to a mirror. “So which is it?” he asked. “Is the face you see reflected here the one from your dreams, or the one from the real world?” When I looked in the mirror, a sickly pale, very round face stared back at me. It was nothing like the stately visage I’d seen in my dreams. “It’s my face from the real world,” I answered honestly. With that, the magistrate continued, an unspoken I told you in his eyes. “Now isn’t that strange. You’ve been saying this is all a dream. But if the face you saw now was your real face, that’s really strange. Am I wrong? Now listen up. You’ve got to think hard and remember everything. This dream world that you believe in has never existed. There’s only one reality. You claimed there was an alternate reality where you had a different face, but in the end your two faces are one and the same. Are you following me? When your mental condition deteriorates, you become like a comselftaughtjapanese.completely different person. You stop combing your hair, let your beard grow out. There are even times where you’ve run around half-naked outside, eventually hiding somewhere in the mountains. You get a sunburn there and your appearance drastically changes. Let’s try one more thing while I have you here. First, ruffle your well-combed hair and make it stand up all over. Next, put on this fake beard I have here. Then we’ll apply some brown facial powder…Now take a look at your face in the mirror. Does it ring a bell? I bet it’s exactly like the face you thought you had in the other reality,” he said with a chuckle. I was utterly shocked. The magistrate was right…But wait a minute, something was still fishy. His skill in solving this case appeared impeccable, yet the truth was far from that. He knew practically nothing about math, and his logic was completely off. In other words, he had secretly retouched my face in the dream world with makeup to make it look identical to my real face. Then he had undone that disguise to return my dream face to its prior state. This by no means proves the magistrate’s one-sided story. I knew it–I’m definitely dreaming. That sure was a close call. It’s like I’ve been saying, my friend: we’re both in the middle of a dream now… Just then, the steel door opened with a creak. As I expected, the head prison guard silently entered carrying handcuffs, followed by the warden, skinny as a bird, and the prison chaplain who resembled a large potato wrapped in a gold brocade vestment. “If you’ll pardon me for interrupting you…” said the prison guard. “The time has come to execute the prisoner’s sentence, so Mr. Tomoeda, I’d like to ask you to leave.” My friend stood up abruptly from his chair. He embraced me, glaring at the others. “You mustn’t be afraid. Whatever anyone says, this is all part of a dream, even if you are about to climb the gallows. You mustn’t believe you’re actually going to die, because ultimately, you’re just dreaming about being executed. There’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of…As soon as you get too uncomfortable, just wake up from this dream. I’m sure a moment later you’ll find yourself in a warm bed, hearing your children in the next room switching on the radio to listen to the morning calisthenics. Don’t stay there mulling about the terrible dream you just had; quickly jump out of bed so you aren’t late to work. Well then, if you’ll excuse me…” And with that, he left my prison cell. Yes, yes! I knew it was a dream! Gallows…bring on the gallows! === (English translation Copyright © 2019 by J. D. Wisgo) Please see for more information about J.D. Wisgo and his translations. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyI have suspected my neighbor of using my garden hose without my permission for many years, perhaps even 20. Of course, I have never asked him about it, even if he sometimes comes to dinner in my own home. In stead, I have begun watching him. I sit by my window in the evening observing him as he goes about his business. My thought was that if I could catch him in the act then I would rush out and finally have my theories proven. I am retired, and I don’t have much else to do. After having been at my post every morning some years, I discovered that someone else, the neighbor one house up, was in fact using my neighbor’s garden hose in his absence, most certainly without his permission. Clearly, this was extremely immoral, and I would not stand for it. So, I got the idea that if I informed my long hated Nemesis about the fact that his neighbor was taking liberties, the two of them would bring about each other’s downfall. So, one morning I casually walked up to my dishonest neighbor and mentioned, almost in passing, that I had seen the neighbor one house down entering his house that morning. My neighbor did not say anything, but his eyes revealed a total shock. I was very pleased, and returned to my lookout post. The next day, I could see my Nemesis peering through his curtains, obviously trying to verify my gossip. He also began walking down the road, looking up at his neighbor’s house in disbelief. The two passed even each other in the street, and my Nemesis gave the neighbor a very nasty look. I almost had to smile. But what happened then was not what I expected. My Nemesis told me over dinner that he had discovered that the matter was related to a use of a garden hose, and that he had talked with his neighbor one house down, and that the garden hose would be placed in the shed, where they both could get to it with ease. The matter was settled, he said. This was not what I wanted, so I had to come up with something else in the spur of the moment. “And what about your car?” I asked. “My car?” said my neighbor. “Yes, I have seen your neighbor driving your car while you are away? I thought you had an agreement?” My neighbor was wonderfully shocked, threw down his dinner napkin and ran out the door. The next morning the two of them were shouting it out on the front lawn. I was hidden behind a semitransparent curtain in front of an open window. I could not see their faces, but I saw the distinct silhouettes of their waving arms and heard their mutual accusations and insults. I almost laughed when my long held Nemesis struck his neighbor in the face. Now it would be a matter for the police, and the courts would be involved. And I was quite right. I wandered down the road to the neighbor one house down. I have never known him very well. Still, I feel some connection to him because his sister is the ex-wife of my own brother. She is a very nice person, but I have kept my distance out of respect for my brother. They quarreled, you see. I found him frantically dialing something on his mobile phone. He had a black eye, and was very agitated. “Hello”, I said. “Have you been in an accident?” I pointed to my own eye to indicate what I meant. “No! I most certainly have not,” he said. “My neighbor has gone absolutely insane and has started to accuse me of using his car. It all started with me using his garden hose without his permission. I thought it would be no big deal.”“No big deal!!” I exclaimed. “Taking liberties with others is a huge breach of trust. And now he has struck you in the face! You must take legal action!”“I was planning to, but then I thought my credibility would be ruined by the fact that I had used his garden hose. I have admitted this in front of witnesses. But using a garden hose is not the same as using his car. Which is what he is now claiming.”“Well”, I said. “Your neighbor might not be as morally upright as he is pretending to be. In fact, I may be willing to testify in court to this fact. And as you know, I may be retired. But I have impeccable credentials after spending almost 40 years as a clerk in the legal department of the town property registry. No one will doubt my word”.“Really? You would do such a thing for me? But we hardly know each other?”“We do in a way. Many years ago, your sister was married to my younger brother. I have never mentioned it because they argued so terribly, and I kept my distance out of respect for my brother. But I have always liked your sister much better than my own brother.”“I see,” he said and thoughtfully scratched his ear. “Will you give me a week to think about this. I will do as you say. But I must find a good lawyer. Some are very expensive?”“Of course”, I said and smiled confidently. “I understand completely”.I then returned to my home, and had a full bottle of wine to celebrate. Finally, I would be given a chance to confront my best friend about his illegitimate use of my garden hose. The whole world would be able to read the court transcripts a hundred years from now. If there is one thing a legal clerk knows, it is that history does not remember things that are not written in black and white.A week later, I was informed that a date for a trial was set. Of course, the case was not given priority, so we all had to wait half a year. But it was worth the wait because matters of principle cannot go unsettled.The two of them appeared in court on opposite sides with each their own suited lawyers. I was seated at the back, and would appear as a witness later. They both knew this, but I had not been too specific about what I was going to say. I had mentioned the hose, but I thought I would air some other flaws in my Nemesis’ character that had annoyed me over the years.First, there was some legal mambo-jumbo, but then finally the man was on the stand telling the horrific story of the unmotivated violence to which he had been so unfairly subjected. I smiled as he recounted the unsubstantiated car story to the court. “But of course, this is nothing compared to the man who is about to appear as a witness. He always uses this man’s lawnmower when he is gone. And he also sometimes steals his mail.”“WHAT!!” I shouted from the back.“Yes, I can confirm this” my Nemesis said. “I have seen this many times. He is always taking liberties. He is not honest. I am very sorry for having struck you. Will you forgive me?”Then the two of them met in front of the judge, and hugged. The judge sighed. Then, he lifted his gavel and, almost in dismay, struck at the table as he said: “case dismissed”. My two neighbors and their lawyers then left, almost without looking at me.I sat alone at the back utterly confused. But then I got up and shouted at the judge: “I have NEVER EVER used someone else’s lawnmower without their permission. These are all lies, I tell you!”. by Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyby J.-H. Rosny published and translated by Santa Fe daily New Mexican. September 22, 1894. y first marriage, said Jacques Ferveuse, was of but a few hours’ duration and did not break my betrothal to her who afterward became my true wife. It was nevertheless a legal wedding and without doubt the best action of my life. I have pardoned myself for many faults on account of the happiness I gave to her who was my bride for a day. At the time of which I speak I used sometimes to dictate notes on a philosophical work to an old copyist who lived in Rue de l’Estrapade. He was one of the best men in the world, but had been brought to poverty by an unusual series of misfortunes which he had a weakness for recounting to all comers. I used to listen to him willingly, for his voice was charming and his words well chosen. While he spoke his daughter, a timid blonde, would sit near us copying papers. I found her alone two or three times and could not help remarking that she semmed greatly agitated in my presence. As she was quite pretty and I saw a look of infinite tenderness in her beautiful eyes when they met mine, I felt some vague inclination toward her, but I quickly stifled it. Yes, I often spoke kindly to her that she might see I did not think her displeasing. My gentle words impressed a soul so profound that I would have shrunk back afrightened could I have guessed its depth. We had known each other for some time when I was suddenly called away from the city, and during my absence I fell in love and became betrothed. The very morning of my return to Paris some one knocked at my door, and my old copyist entered. His thin figure was yet more meager, his face pale, his temples hollow and his eyes red with weeping. “Sir,” said he, “I trust you will excuse my coming thus, but you have always been so good – my daughter – she – I fear she is about to die.” “Indeed!” I responded with more politeness than emotion. “She is at the hospital, sir. I have come to ask you – to say to you” – He interrupted himself, stammering, incoherent, his eyes full of entreaty, and said abruptly, without further prelude: “My daughter loves you! Before her approaching death I believed you might be able” – And without giving me tim eto recover from this strange declaration he commenced a story of love which, though prolix, was so strange and pathetic that, when he ended, my eyes were wet with tears. “Will you see her? It would make her so happy! She has but a few weeks to live.” Three-quarters of an hour I was at the young girl’s bedside. Her face shone with that ineffable beauty with which coming death sometimes transfigures the features of the young. At seeing me there her great dark eyes lighted up with a joy that touched me to the heart. Almost at once she guessed that her father had revealed her girlish secret, and she commenced to tell me the sad, sweet story of her love; the pathetic romance of a poor little maiden resigned to death – a tale of infinite tenderness; how first she had known she loved me, then her fear that her love was not returned, then her illness and her wish to die. For an hour she talked thus., her blond head lying upon the snow white pillow, her beautiful eyes gazing into mine. Finally she asked in a trembling voice: “And you – Did you ever – ever?” What should I say? Should I play the cruel executioner by telling her the truth or mercifully console her with a lie? Pity moved me: “I? I have loved you long!” “Is it true?” “It is true indeed.” A look of joy such as I will never see again in this world – the joy of the despairing – overspread her face, and in that moment, if I loved her not, there was something very sweet in my soul- an atom of that boundless compassion which is the closest kin to love. I know not what led her during the following days to doubt me, but one afternoon she asked: “But will you ever marry me?” I swore to her that I would. She smiled up at me with adoration. She prayed aloud, thanking God for his great goodness. One day I was so moved by the depth of her love for me that I wished to give yet more happpiness, it would cost me so little. Alas! Was she not irredeemably condemned? “I am going to publish the banns,” I cried. Her joy was almost terrible in its intensity. Her face shone with a marvelous splendour, and while she drew down my face to hers, while she laughed and cied in reciting to me in broken words the prayer of her love while she spoke to me as fervent devotees to God, I felt that I had given to one human being the equivalent of a lifetime of happiness. I will not tell you how I arranged to obtain the consent of my guardian. I did not ask that of my fiancee I knew she would pardon me afterward. The banns were published, and I made all the preparations for a regular marriage. During the weeks which followed she lived in ecstasy. Her malady seemed relenting. A miraculous beauty seemed to shine about her like an aureole. She dazzled me; she filled my heart with a sad love, like that of mothers for frail, beautiful children who cannot live. I had her placed in a special room at the hospital, where she received the care of the best physicians and had a sister of charity to watch over her night and day. I passed the greater part of my time with her. I could not satiate myself with that adoring gaze, with that beatitude with each word, each gesture of mine bestowed. How well I remember the twilight hours when I would sit beside her, watching her pale face blend harmoniously with the shadows, while she murmured to me her words of love like the verses of a song: “Better than God! Better than the Virgin! Better than my life and the life of the universe!” Thus time flowed by, and the wedding day came. After the civil marriage they set up an alter in her chamber and dressed her in rich bridal robes. She seemed to live in an atmosphere of perfect bliss. She was as beautiful as a day in springtime when it draws toward sunset and a misty glory rises over the hills and lakes and the drowsy flowers droop their heads in sleep. She lived 20 years in that hour. I have but to close my eyes, and I see her again. Her eyes were so large and bright that they seemed to efface her pale visage. A saintly smile played upon her lips. Her little hands were clasped as she listened to the voice of the priest. Our fingers joined, and she trembled when, at last, she prnounced the great “Yes,” for she put in it all her religion, all the force of her being; then sank back, her strength exhausted. But what delicious fatigue, what blissful weariness! Tenderly she whispered as she dreamed and drew me near her lips. The murderous shadow of death crept rappidly onward. Her spirit wandered in the faroff land of twilight. I saw her cheek grow leaden hued and her temples hollow. She felt not the approach of death, but continued to love, to be happy, to forget herself in her dream divine. Her head was pillowed on my arm, and I watched her dark eyes grow wider, wider yet. Her hair shone upon her pillow like a mesh of gold. The silken bridal robe envoloped her like a cloud. The sun had set, and the daylight was fading, when she murmured: “Thou lovst me, Jacques? Thou lovest the poor girl? Mon Dieu! We will live long. I feel that I cannot die. I cannot die now.” Her voice sounds as if she had turned back at the entrance of that mysterious land to call to me once more – it is like bells heard far off upon the sea. Her body grows cold in its rich winding sheet, but she no longer suffers. She repeats: “I cannot die!” A vague smile hovers over her face, which always wears that look of infinite love, of happiness without a shadow. My heart is still. At that moment I am all that loves in the world – I am a mother, a father , a lover. She murmurs again: “I love thee. We will live in the country – the violets” – Her lips part with a smile of ineffable joy, and she is at rest forever. It is evening, and I gaze through the gathering shadows at the outline of the slender figure in its bridal robe. My sorrow is as profound as it is sweet, for I feel that much will be pardoned me because I have soothed one poor, loving little heart and sweetened with happiness the bitter cup of death. 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... [...]
short storypublished  in All-Story Weekly September 7, 1918 Francis Stevens (real name Gertrude Barrows Bennett, 1884–1948) t was upon the waterfront that I first met her, in one of the shabby little tea shops frequented by able sailoresses of the poorer type. The uptown, glittering resorts of the Lady Aviators’ Union were not for such as she. Stern of feature, bronzed by wind and sun, her age could only be guessed, but I surmised at once that in her I beheld a survivor of the age of turbines and oil engines—a true sea-woman of that elder time when woman’s superiority to man had not been so long recognized. When, to emphasize their victory, women in all ranks were sterner than today’s need demands. The spruce, smiling young maidens—engine-women and stokers of the great aluminum rollers, but despite their profession, very neat in gold-braided blue knickers and boleros—these looked askance at the hard-faced relic of a harsher day, as they passed in and out of the shop. I, however, brazenly ignoring similar glances at myself, a mere male intruding on the haunts of the world’s ruling sex, drew a chair up beside the veteran. I ordered a full pot of tea, two cups and a plate of macaroons, and put on my most ingratiating air. Possibly my unconcealed admiration and interest were wiles not exercised in vain. Or the macaroons and tea, both excellent, may have loosened the old sea-woman’s tongue. At any rate, under cautious questioning, she had soon launched upon a series of reminiscences well beyond my hopes for color and variety. “When I was a lass,” quoth the sea-woman, after a time, “there was none of this high-flying, gilt-edged, leather-stocking luxury about the sea. We sailed by the power of our oil and gasoline. If they failed on us, like as not ’twas the rubber ring and the rolling wave for ours.” She referred to the archaic practice of placing a pneumatic affair called a life-preserver beneath the arms, in case of that dreaded disaster, now so unheard of, shipwreck. “In them days there was still many a man bold enough to join our crews. And I’ve knowed cases,” she added condescendingly, “where just by the muscle and brawn of such men some poor sailor lass has reached shore alive that would have fed the sharks without ’em. Oh, I ain’t so down on men as you might think. It’s the spoiling of them that I don’t hold with. There’s too much preached nowadays that man is fit for nothing but to fetch and carry and do nurse-work in big child-homes. To my mind, a man who hasn’t the nerve of a woman ain’t fitted to father children, let alone raise ’em. But that’s not here nor there. My time’s past, and I know it, or I wouldn’t be setting here gossipin’ to you, my lad, over an empty teapot.” I took the hint, and with our cups replenished, she bit thoughtfully into her fourteenth macaroon and continued. “There’s one voyage I’m not likely to forget, though I live to be as old as Cap’n Mary Barnacle, of the Shouter. ‘Twas aboard the old Shouter that this here voyage occurred, and it was her last and likewise Cap’n Mary’s. Cap’n Mary, she was then that decrepit, it seemed a mercy that she should go to her rest, and in good salt water at that. “I remember the voyage for Cap’n Mary’s sake, but most I remember it because ’twas then that I come the nighest in my life to committin’ matrimony. For a man, the man had nerve; he was nearer bein’ companionable than any other man I ever seed; and if it hadn’t been for just one little event that showed up the—the mannishness of him, in a way I couldn’t abide, I reckon he’d be keepin’ house for me this minute.” “We cleared from Frisco with a cargo of silkateen petticoats for Brisbane. Cap’n Mary was always strong on petticoats. Leather breeches or even half-skirts would ha’ paid far better, they being more in demand like, but Cap’n Mary was three-quarters owner, and says she, land women should buy petticoats, and if they didn’t it wouldn’t be the Lord’s fault nor hers for not providing ’em. “We cleared on a fine day, which is an all sign—or was, then when the weather and the seas o’ God still counted in the trafficking of the humankind. Not two days out we met a whirling, mucking bouncer of a gale that well nigh threw the old Shouter a full point off her course in the first wallop. She was a stout craft, though. None of your featherweight, gas-lightened, paper-thin alloy shells, but toughened aluminum from stern to stern. Her turbine drove her through the combers at a forty-five knot clip, which named her a speedy craft for a freighter in them days. “But this night, as we tore along through the creaming green billows, something unknown went ‘way wrong down below. “I was forward under the shelter of her long over-sloop, looking for a hairpin I’d dropped somewheres about that afternoon. It was a gold hairpin, and gold still being mighty scarce when I was a girl, a course I valued it. But suddenly I felt the old Shouter give a jump under my feet like a plane struck by a shell in full flight. Then she trembled all over for a full second, frightened like. Then, with the crash of doomsday ringing in my ears, I felt myself sailing through the air right into the teeth o’ the shrieking gale, as near as I could judge. Down I come in the hollow of a monstrous big wave, and as my ears doused under I thought I heard a splash close by. Coming up, sure enough, there close by me was floating a new, patent, hermetic, thermo-ice-chest. Being as it was empty, and being as it was shut up air-tight, that ice-chest made as sweet a life-preserver as a woman could wish in such an hour. About ten foot by twelve, it floated high in the raging sea. Out on its top I scrambled, and hanging on by a handle I looked expectant for some of my poor fellow-women to come floating by. Which they never did, for the good reason that the Shouter had blowed up and went below, petticoats, Cap’n Mary and all.” “What caused the explosion?” I inquired. “The Lord and Cap’n Mary Barnacle can explain,” she answered piously. “Besides the oil for her turbines, she carried a power of gasoline for her alternative engines, and likely ’twas the cause of her ending so sudden like. Anyways, all I ever seen of her again was the empty ice-chest that Providence had well-nigh hove upon my head. On that I sat and floated, and floated and sat some more, till by-and-by the storm sort of blowed itself out, the sun come shining—this was next morning—and I could dry my hair and look about me. I was a young lass, then, and not bad to look upon. I didn’t want to die, any more than you that’s sitting there this minute. So I up and prays for land. Sure enough toward evening a speck heaves up low down on the horizon. At first I took it for a gas liner, but later found it was just a little island, all alone by itself in the great Pacific Ocean. “Come, now, here’s luck, thinks I, and with that I deserts the ice-chest, which being empty, and me having no ice to put in it, not likely to have in them latitudes, is of no further use to me. Striking out I swum a mile or so and set foot on dry land for the first time in nigh three days. “Pretty land it were, too, though bare of human life as an iceberg in the Arctic. “I had landed on a shining white beach that run up to a grove of lovely, waving palm trees. Above them I could see the slopes of a hill so high and green it reminded me of my own old home, up near Couquomgomoc Lake in Maine. The whole place just seemed to smile and smile at me. The palms waved and bowed in the sweet breeze, like they wanted to say, ‘Just set right down and make yourself to home. We’ve been waiting a long time for you to come.’ I cried, I was that happy to be made welcome. I was a young lass then, and sensitive-like to how folks treated me. You’re laughing now, but wait and see if or not there was sense to the way I felt. “So I up and dries my clothes and my long, soft hair again, which was well worth drying, for I had far more of it than now. After that I walked along a piece, until there was a sweet little path meandering away into the wild woods. “Here, thinks I, this looks like inhabitants. Be they civil or wild, I wonder? But after traveling the path a piece, lo and behold it ended sudden like in a wide circle of green grass, with a little spring of clear water. And the first thing I noticed was a slab of white board nailed to a palm tree close to the spring. Right off I took a long drink, for you better believe I was thirsty, and then I went to look at this board. It had evidently been tore off the side of a wooden packing box, and the letters was roughly printed in lead pencil. “‘Heaven help whoever you be,’ I read. ‘This island ain’t just right. I’m going to swim for it. You better too. Good-by. Nelson Smith.’ That’s what it said, but the spellin’ was simply awful. It all looked quite new and recent, as if Nelson Smith hadn’t more than a few hours before he wrote and nailed it there. “Well, after reading that queer warning I begun to shake all over like in a chill. Yes, I shook like I had the ague, though the hot tropic sun was burning down right on me and that alarming board. What had scared Nelson Smith so much that he had swum to get away? I looked all around real cautious and careful, but not a single frightening thing could I behold. And the palms and the green grass and the flowers still smiled that peaceful and friendly like. ‘Just make yourself to home,’ was wrote all over the place in plainer letters than those sprawly lead pencil ones on the board. “Pretty soon, what with the quiet and all, the chill left me. Then I thought, ‘Well, to be sure, this Smith person was just an ordinary man, I reckon, and likely he got nervous of being so alone. Likely he just fancied things which was really not. It’s a pity he drowned himself before I come, though likely I’d have found him poor company. By his record I judge him a man of but common education.’ “So I decided to make the most of my welcome, and that I did for weeks to come. Right near the spring was a cave, dry as a biscuit box, with a nice floor of white sand. Nelson had lived there too, for there was a litter of stuff—tin cans—empty—scraps of newspapers and the like. I got to calling him Nelson in my mind, and then Nelly, and wondering if he was dark or fair, and how he come to be cast away there all alone, and what was the strange events that drove him to his end. I cleaned out the cave, though. He had devoured all his tin-canned provisions, however he come by them, but this I didn’t mind. That there island was a generous body. Green milk-coconuts, sweet berries, turtle eggs and the like was my daily fare. “For about three weeks the sun shone every day, the birds sang and the monkeys chattered. We was all one big, happy family, and the more I explored that island the better I liked the company I was keeping. The land was about ten miles from beach to beach, and never a foot of it that wasn’t sweet and clean as a private park. “From the top of the hill I could see the ocean, miles and miles of blue water, with never a sign of a gas liner, or even a little government running-boat. Them running-boats used to go most everywhere to keep the seaways clean of derelicts and the like. But I knowed that if this island was no more than a hundred miles off the regular courses of navigation, it might be many a long day before I’d be rescued. The top of the hill, as I found when first I climbed up there, was a wore-out crater. So I knowed that the island was one of them volcanic ones you run across so many of in the seas between Capricorn and Cancer. “Here and there on the slopes and down through the jungly tree-growth, I would come on great lumps of rock, and these must have came up out of that crater long ago. If there was lava it was so old it had been covered up entire with green growing stuff. You couldn’t have found it without a spade, which I didn’t have nor want.” “Well, at first I was happy as the hours was long. I wandered and clambered and waded and swum, and combed my long hair on the beach, having fortunately not lost my side-combs nor the rest of my gold hairpins. But by-and-by it begun to get just a bit lonesome. Funny thing, that’s a feeling that, once it starts, it gets worse and worser so quick it’s perfectly surprising. And right then was when the days begun to get gloomy. We had a long, sickly hot spell, like I never seen before on an ocean island. There was dull clouds across the sun from morn to night. Even the little monkeys and parrakeets, that had seemed so gay, moped and drowsed like they was sick. All one day I cried, and let the rain soak me through and through—that was the first rain we had—and I didn’t get thorough dried even during the night, though I slept in my cave. Next morning I got up mad as thunder at myself and all the world. “When I looked out the black clouds was billowing across the sky. I could hear nothing but great breakers roaring in on the beaches, and the wild wind raving through the lashing palms. “As I stood there a nasty little wet monkey dropped from a branch almost on my head. I grabbed a pebble and slung it at him real vicious. ‘Get away, you dirty little brute!’ I shrieks, and with that there come a awful blinding flare of light. There was a long, crackling noise like a bunch of Chinese fireworks, and then a sound as if a whole fleet of Shouters had all went up together. “When I come to, I found myself ‘way in the back of my cave, trying to dig further into the rock with my finger nails. Upon taking thought, it come to me that what had occurred was just a lightning-clap, and going to look, sure enough there lay a big palm tree right across the glade. It was all busted and split open by the lightning, and the little monkey was under it, for I could see his tail and his hind legs sticking out. “Now, when I set eyes on that poor, crushed little beast I’d been so mean to, I was terrible ashamed. I sat down on the smashed tree and considered and considered. How thankful I had ought to have been. Here I had a lovely, plenteous island, with food and water to my taste, when it might have been a barren, starvation rock that was my lot. And so, thinking, a sort of gradual peaceful feeling stole over me. I got cheerfuller and cheerfuller, till I could have sang and danced for joy. “Pretty soon I realized that the sun was shining bright for the first time that week. The wind had stopped hollering, and the waves had died to just a singing murmur on the beach. It seemed kind o’ strange, this sudden peace, like the cheer in my own heart after its rage and storm. I rose up, feeling sort of queer, and went to look if the little monkey had came alive again, though that was a fool thing, seeing he was laying all crushed up and very dead. I buried him under a tree root, and as I did it a conviction come to me. “I didn’t hardly question that conviction at all. Somehow, living there alone so long, perhaps my natural womanly intuition was stronger than ever before or since, and so I knowed. Then I went and pulled poor Nelson Smith’s board off from the tree and tossed it away for the tide to carry off. That there board was an insult to my island!” The sea-woman paused, and her eyes had a far-away look. It seemed as if I and perhaps even the macaroons and tea were quite forgotten. “Why did you think that?” I asked, to bring her back. “How could an island be insulted?” She started, passed her hand across her eyes, and hastily poured another cup of tea. “Because,” she said at last, poising a macaroon in mid-air, “because that island—that particular island that I had landed on—had a heart! “When I was gay, it was bright and cheerful. It was glad when I come, and it treated me right until I got that grouchy it had to mope from sympathy. It loved me like a friend. When I flung a rock at that poor little drenched monkey critter, it backed up my act with an anger like the wrath o’ God, and killed its own child to please me! But it got right cheery the minute I seen the wrongness of my ways. Nelson Smith had no business to say, ‘This island ain’t just right,’ for it was a righter place than ever I seen elsewhere. When I cast away that lying board, all the birds begun to sing like mad. The green milk-coconuts fell right and left. Only the monkeys seemed kind o’ sad like still, and no wonder. You see, their own mother, the island, had rounded on one o’ them for my sake! “After that I was right careful and considerate. I named the island Anita, not knowing her right name, or if she had any. Anita was a pretty name, and it sounded kind of South Sea like. Anita and me got along real well together from that day on. It was some strain to be always gay and singing around like a dear duck of a canary bird, but I done my best. Still, for all the love and gratitude I bore Anita, the company of an island, however sympathetic, ain’t quite enough for a human being. I still got lonesome, and there was even days when I couldn’t keep the clouds clear out of the sky, though I will say we had no more tornadoes. “I think the island understood and tried to help me with all the bounty and good cheer the poor thing possessed. None the less my heart give a wonderful big leap when one day I seen a blot on the horizon. It drawed nearer and nearer, until at last I could make out its nature.” “A ship, of course,” said I, “and were you rescued?” “‘Tweren’t a ship, neither,” denied the sea-woman somewhat impatiently. “Can’t you let me spin this yarn without no more remarks and fool questions? This thing what was bearing down so fast with the incoming tide was neither more nor less than another island! “You may well look startled. I was startled myself. Much more so than you, likely. I didn’t know then what you, with your book-learning, very likely know now—that islands sometimes float. Their underparts being a tangled-up mess of roots and old vines that new stuff’s growed over, they sometimes break away from the mainland in a brisk gale and go off for a voyage, calm as a old-fashioned, eight-funnel steamer. This one was uncommon large, being as much as two miles, maybe, from shore to shore. It had its palm trees and its live things, just like my own Anita, and I’ve sometimes wondered if this drifting piece hadn’t really been a part of my island once—just its daughter like, as you might say. “Be that, however, as it might be, no sooner did the floating piece get within hailing distance than I hears a human holler and there was a man dancing up and down on the shore like he was plumb crazy. Next minute he had plunged into the narrow strip of water between us and in a few minutes had swum to where I stood. “Yes, of course it was none other than Nelson Smith! “I knowed that the minute I set eyes on him. He had the very look of not having no better sense than the man what wrote that board and then nearly committed suicide trying to get away from the best island in all the oceans. Glad enough he was to get back, though, for the coconuts was running very short on the floater what had rescued him, and the turtle eggs wasn’t worth mentioning. Being short of grub is the surest way I know to cure a man’s fear of the unknown.” “Well, to make a long story short, Nelson Smith told me he was a aeronauter. In them days to be an aeronauter was not the same as to be an aviatress is now. There was dangers in the air, and dangers in the sea, and he had met with both. His gas tank had leaked and he had dropped into the water close by Anita. A case or two of provisions was all he could save from the total wreck. “Now, as you might guess, I was crazy enough to find out what had scared this Nelson Smith into trying to swim the Pacific. He told me a story that seemed to fit pretty well with mine, only when it come to the scary part he shut up like a clam, that aggravating way some men have. I give it up at last for just man-foolishness, and we begun to scheme to get away. “Anita moped some while we talked it over. I realized how she must be feeling, so I explained to her that it was right needful for us to get with our kind again. If we stayed with her we should probably quarrel like cats, and maybe even kill each other out of pure human cussedness. She cheered up considerable after that, and even, I thought, got a little anxious to have us leave. At any rate, when we begun to provision up the little floater, which we had anchored to the big island by a cable of twisted bark, the green nuts fell all over the ground, and Nelson found more turtle nests in a day than I had in weeks. “During them days I really got fond of Nelson Smith. He was a companionable body, and brave, or he wouldn’t have been a professional aeronauter, a job that was rightly thought tough enough for a woman, let alone a man. Though he was not so well educated as me, at least he was quiet and modest about what he did know, not like some men, boasting most where there is least to brag of. “Indeed, I misdoubt if Nelson and me would not have quit the sea and the air together and set up housekeeping in some quiet little town up in New England, maybe, after we had got away, if it had not been for what happened when we went. I never, let me say, was so deceived in any man before nor since. The thing taught me a lesson and I never was fooled again. “We was all ready to go, and then one morning, like a parting gift from Anita, come a soft and favoring wind. Nelson and I run down the beach together, for we didn’t want our floater to blow off and leave us. As we was running, our arms full of coconuts, Nelson Smith, stubbed his bare toe on a sharp rock, and down he went. I hadn’t noticed, and was going on. “But sudden the ground begun to shake under my feet, and the air was full of a queer, grinding, groaning sound, like the very earth was in pain. “I turned around sharp. There sat Nelson, holding his bleeding toe in both fists and giving vent to such awful words as no decent sea-going lady would ever speak nor hear to! “‘Stop it, stop it!’ I shrieked at him, but ’twas too late. “Island or no island, Anita was a lady, too! She had a gentle heart, but she knowed how to behave when she was insulted. “With one terrible, great roar a spout of smoke and flame belched up out o’ the heart of Anita’s crater hill a full mile into the air! “I guess Nelson stopped swearing. He couldn’t have heard himself, anyways. Anita was talking now with tongues of flame and such roars as would have bespoke the raging protest of a continent. “I grabbed that fool man by the hand and run him down to the water. We had to swim good and hard to catch up with our only hope, the floater. No bark rope could hold her against the stiff breeze that was now blowing, and she had broke her cable. By the time we scrambled aboard great rocks was falling right and left. We couldn’t see each other for a while for the clouds of fine gray ash. “It seemed like Anita was that mad she was flinging stones after us, and truly I believe that such was her intention. I didn’t blame her, neither! “Lucky for us the wind was strong and we was soon out of range. “‘So!’ says I to Nelson, after I’d got most of the ashes out of my mouth, and shook my hair clear of cinders. ‘So, that was the reason you up and left sudden when you was there before! You aggravated that island till the poor thing druv you out!’ “‘Well,’ says he, and not so meek as I’d have admired to see him, ‘how could I know the darn island was a lady?’ “‘Actions speak louder than words,’ says I. ‘You should have knowed it by her ladylike behavior!’ “‘Is volcanoes and slingin’ hot rocks ladylike?’ he says. ‘Is snakes ladylike? T’other time I cut my thumb on a tin can, I cussed a little bit. Say—just a li’l’ bit! An’ what comes at me out o’ all the caves, and out o’ every crack in the rocks, and out o’ the very spring o’ water where I’d been drinkin’? Why snakes! Snakes, if you please, big, little, green, red and sky-blue-scarlet! What’d I do? Jumped in the water, of course. Why wouldn’t I? I’d ruther swim and drown than be stung or swallowed to death. But how was I t’ know the snakes come outta the rocks because I cussed?’ “‘You, couldn’t,’ I agrees, sarcastic. ‘Some folks never knows a lady till she up and whangs ’em over the head with a brick. A real, gentle, kind-like warning, them snakes were, which you would not heed! Take shame to yourself, Nelly,’ says I, right stern, ‘that a decent little island like Anita can’t associate with you peaceable, but you must hurt her sacredest feelings with language no lady would stand by to hear!’ “I never did see Anita again. She may have blew herself right out of the ocean in her just wrath at the vulgar, disgustin’ language of Nelson Smith. I don’t know. We was took off the floater at last, and I lost track of Nelson just as quick as I could when we was landed at Frisco. “He had taught me a lesson. A man is just full of mannishness, and the best of ’em ain’t good enough for a lady to sacrifice her sensibilities to put up with. “Nelson Smith, he seemed to feel real bad when he learned I was not for him, and then he apologized. But apologies weren’t no use to me. I could never abide him, after the way he went and talked right in the presence of me and my poor, sweet lady friend, Anita!” Now I am well versed in the lore of the sea in all ages. Through mists of time I have enviously eyed wild voyagings of sea rovers who roved and spun their yarns before the stronger sex came into its own, and ousted man from his heroic pedestal. I have followed—across the printed page—the wanderings of Odysseus. Before Gulliver I have burned the incense of tranced attention; and with reverent awe considered the history of one Munchausen, a baron. But alas, these were only men! In what field is not woman our subtle superior? Meekly I bowed my head, and when my eyes dared lift again, the ancient mariness had departed, leaving me to sorrow for my surpassed and outdone idols. Also with a bill for macaroons and tea of such incredible proportions that in comparison therewith I found it easy to believe her story! 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... [...]
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... [...]
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... [...]
short storymagine traveling through space at lightening speed, exploring the deep recesses of the universe to unveil her deepest secrets. “Are we really alone?” is one of the most fundamental questions that future generations must explore. The questions really makes my heart beat. Somehow the notion of that grand future, of all those limitless possibilities makes me relax, bringing balance to a boring life. I am a social worker, you see, for a private company. I make rounds helping old people, geezers, hags and cripples. Perhaps they need something. Then I will provide it for them. I will even wipe their bottoms if they need it. Naturally, I often hate my job and like most people I sit on my couch and dream of becoming a millionaire or I get completely wasted and pretend to be one. Sometimes I feel as if I would care for anything or anyone provided the pay was satisfactory. Science Fiction writing is therefore a great passion of mine. When I write about the future, a world of possibilities and probabilities opens up to me and I can mould it into a format I can accept. I will become the next Arthur C. Clark. In the meantime, I will, for a modest fee, remove your excrements and make your bed. In January a few years back, I was given a new patient to take care of, a certain Mrs. Jackson whose husband had died suddenly in a horrible accident a few years earlier leaving her all alone with failing memory. She lived a nice house on the west end of town, with a patch of grass outside and a white fence to match. It would have been a paradise for someone healthy. What it was for Mrs. Jackson, I cannot say. She sat in a wheelchair as I entered, but I don’t think she was physically dependent upon it. When she saw me she was immediately disgusted. “Who are you?” she said. “I am Michael, your new social worker? Don’t you remember?” “No.  Will you be taking care of me?” “Yes.” “Well you damn well better. Crazy old cow like me, sitting here all alone!” I soon found out that Mrs. Jackson had many needs that needed to be fulfilled. She had a schedule to keep and if it was not kept to the letter, she would become hysterical and utter words I have never heard from people her age. Other times – I think this was in her best periods- she would get flashes of clarity and her eyes gleamed of doom and tragedy. “I am so lonely”, she would say. One day she was looking for her glasses in the living room. “Michael! Michael Michael” she shouted as she paced across the room. I ran down the stairs from the upstairs bedroom where I was making the bed thinking that she had suffered some form of injury. When I arrived she said “I cannot find my glasses. I know they are here. Perhaps they have taken them from me?” “Who?” I replied. “Don’t get funny with me! You know very well who I am talking about. Anyway it’s 3 o’clock and you haven’t finished the bedroom yet. That means that you will be late for cleaning the kitchen at 4 like we normally do. I always have the kitchen cleaned at 4. Why can’t I find my glasses”, she said as she sunk down in her chair. I could see now that she was crying. I was going to her side, but something held me back. Then she made it easy for me as she said “Go away!”. “I know what I want”, the old woman said. “I want to be human. You all want me dead. That is what you really want. Actually, if you are going to continue with that sort of attitude, I don’t see how we can work together. I honestly don’t. Where are my glasses? I want my glasses, damn it” The old woman had turned mean on me. Her face was stone cold, even her wrinkles seemed inanimate. I studied her expressions, but I could not find a hint of compromise. “Do you want me to leave Mrs. Jackson?” “Yes” I sighed and gathered my things. As I was leaving, I heard her shout after me: «And don’t bother coming back». The next day I returned to have the matter settled. I expected that she simply didn’t like me and that she would prefer to have someone else in her house, perhaps a woman. Surprisingly she seemed cheerful in her chair by the window. She greeted me and smiled. I sat down, began politely by saying that I understood her situation, that it was her choice and that I was willing to have the company find a replacement within the month. She looked at me and laughed “My dear, what are you rambling about?” “Don’t you remember that you shouted at me and called me a liar?” “No” “You said I had a bad attitude.” “My dear young man, I have never seen you before in my life. I bear grudges to no one, especially not a complete stranger such as yourself. Now be a dear sweetheart and give my pills, will you.” At first, I thought she was playing with me, but her act seemed so natural and her expression so innocent that I discarded the idea. “Mrs. Jackson, do you remember my name?” “John?” “No, it’s Michael.” “Such a nice name too,” she said and touched my hand. I now began wondering what she really remembered from our past encounter. What did it matter what I did, if she would never remember it. Normally I bring some cake every Friday to my patients, but in view of recent events it would seem a waste of time. She always asked me if we had cake on Friday, and having assumed that she simply needed to have the obvious confirmed; I thought she remembered. From that day on I brought no more cake on Fridays. Certainly there was no reason to bring the actual cake. When she asked me if we had cake, I told her we had and she was just as happy as if she actually did. Pretty soon other changes occurred. I no longer needed to follow her stringent rules. She would always ask me if I had done the kitchen at 4 like she wanted it done, and I replied yes, and that was that. I had no qualms about what I was doing because it meant nothing to her now. I started wondering whether there was even any need for kindness. I thought I could insult her one day and come back the next as if nothing happened. But, such deliberate cruelty was beyond even me. Things were bad enough. There was no need to rub it in. The situation with Mrs. Jackson soon started to depress me. Somehow I blamed her for her effect on me, and I am afraid I at times was not as polite to her as she deserved. Seeing her sit there, asking me every time who I was and what I was doing there, got to me in a way that I didn’t understand. It was as if I saw in her my own situation magnified. I began searching for something to do, something that could take my mind of the job. I found it in a newspaper ad. A local writer was organizing a course in creative writing. But it was too expensive for me, a 1000 dollars. The opportunity that presented itself to me at the end of May that year now fills me with shame, although there are parts of me that think I deserved something in compensation for the way she made me feel. Mrs. Jackson’s failing memory had brought more of her practical affairs to my attention. When there was something that needed to be fixed, local taxes or gas bills, I stepped in to pay them for her. Naturally she had given me all her papers and permission to withdraw any amount from the bank. Legally she was in need of a guardian, and in the absence of relatives, the system left those tasks temporarily to me. I now realized that Mrs. Jackson was a very rich woman. In fact, I was told that she owned as much as a million, and that there were no close relatives to inherit the money. In fact, the money would probably be donated to charity when she died, or even worse, it would confiscated by the government. 1000 dollars to her was nothing. It was a drop in the ocean. I would get my writing class, and then I would be a better nurse to her. She might actually want that. Surely, in the end this was something that I did for her too, seeing that she was helpless and needed constant assistance from strangers. I was a tip. Yes, that’s what it was. The next day I withdrew the 1000 dollars from her account and enrolled in the writing class. I was very excited at first. I never thought that I would have any kind of talent for writing. I never compared myself to great writers, but I thought that might actually be able to write for the mass marked rather than for the sophisticated critic, who it was impossible to please anyway. The classes took place every Friday at some shabby downtown haunt. Unfortunately the classes took place at the same time as my Friday appointments with Mrs. Jackson, but I discovered that if I arrived 2 hours later and stayed a few minutes longer, she would never even notice that I was gone. There were about 10 of us and our teacher was just as eccentric as I hoped he would be. Everybody knows that anyone who tries to teach writing to others must be certifiably insane. He was a tall skinny character with bushy hair and a wild staring gaze. Apparently he had published some novels himself, although I had never heard of any of them. There were several people who considered themselves artists in the true sense of the word. They quoted Russian novelists and spoke of literary theory with great insight. Naturally, none of them had ever published anything and in my opinion they were all idiots. When I announced my intention to write about aliens for the mass marked, they said I was insincere. “Don’t you know”, I said, “that the future is a very exciting subject? New developments in biotechnology will revolutionize our treatment of disease and new information technology will bring all the knowledge of the world into our living rooms. In the future, I believe, all humans will learn faster because they can take drugs to improve their memory. We will all become geniuses.” “Interesting”, the teacher said, and stared at me with his crazy eyes. “Very interesting. What do the rest of you think, will there be a brave new world of tomorrow? Hm Hm Tell me.” His eyes searched the room for an opinion. “Well, I think he is on to something”, a girl replied. “I can sort of see the sense of it”. She looked at me with deep brown eyes and smiled. I felt my heart skip a beat. I don’t get many smiles from women. Next time the class gathered, the teacher was late and I got her into a conversation. She was very pretty, too pretty for me actually. She had quiet, subdued manner about her, she never looked straight at me. It occurred to me that she was painfully shy, even delicate. “What do you do?”, I said, “I mean when you are not writing” “I’m a psychologist”, she said. “Really”, I replied, “I am a social worker.” We soon discovered that we had much in common. A few minutes later we talked about personal matters, things that we both seemed concerned about. She had some oddities though, but I easily forgave them considering how beautiful she was. For instance, she would always ask me if I thought she was fat, even though she was extremely skinny. When I told her that I thought she could well gain a few pounds, she gave me a very irritated look, as if I was lying to her. However, most of the time we talked about other things, such as the best Sci-Fi movies and who founded modern science fiction, Mary Shelley or H.G. Wells. Very soon I realized that I was in love with her. This blessing was a tragedy in disguise. I could hardly work anymore without having all sorts of plans for our future in my head. Her face seemed to haunt me constantly, even when I worked with Mrs. Jackson. Once Mrs. Jackson eyed me suspiciously and said “Michael, are you in love?” “Of course not”, I said. “Don’t be silly.” After that I decided that I should not talk to her the rest of the week. After all, I could start talking to her in a week when I had calmed down and she wouldn’t remember a thing. That weekend Lisa and I went up to a cottage she had in the country. It was one of those perfect moments that are forever imprinted in your memory. We drove into her valley and we felt happy. The cottage lay on the bank of a slow moving river that glittered where the landscape opened up into a wide-open space. I think I told myself that this was too good to be true, fearing that I could wake up at any moment. The following week we met regularly, and it goes without saying that I partly neglected my duties with Mrs. Jackson. However, she did not suffer any distress in the sense that her physical needs were ignored. She had food, her house was clean and she never complained. Lisa and I had now become intimate and I cherished the memory of her naked body, elegant and dexterous as it was. I could sit by myself and think about it for hours on end. Sometimes I would catch myself in red-handed apathy and at those occasions I would humour myself with the idea that the senile Mrs. Jackson and I after all were not much different, comfortably seated in our chairs, staring into oblivion. My writing classes were now drawing to a close. I think we had about a week left. To be honest I had not produced much. Lisa had found an expression for her obsession with dieting and produced the first draft of a book for overweight women. I had only produced the first draft of a story about time travel. Our teacher, however, now declared the course a complete success. Some day, he predicted, several people in our class would win the Nobel prize and then we would be grateful for the advice he had given. I think he was just making excuses for our obvious lack of talent, but I went along with it because I wanted to close on a good note. Lisa and I had made plans for a travel to Europe. It was kind of a honeymoon for us. We wanted to travel in France and make love like they do in all the clichés. However, the journey was quite expensive. I had not told her any details about my financial situation. I barely got by on my present salary. The truth was that not only did I not make enough money to live in the dream world we wanted, my house was heavily mortgaged. I therefore asked for extra hours at work. I would stay with Mrs. Jackson the whole week and help her in any way I could. It would be much easier if she had one person to relate to instead of all the people that she had coming and going all week. Perhaps then she would remember my name. I assured my employer that that would be very unlikely. One day Mrs. Jackson came to me and asked me to get her some medicines from the pharmacy. They were very expensive, but she would give me the money like she usually did. I was surprised to find that she had large sums of cash stored in a box in her closet. She handed me a roll of notes, and as I held them in my hand, I could not help thinking what would happen if I took some of it. After all, I had done it before and gotten away with it. Was I stealing from her? She was wealthy and had no one to inherit her money. If I didn’t take it, the money would simply go to waste. I decided to steal yet another time. On the way from pharmacy the remaining notes found their way into my pockets. That evening I called Lisa and told her I bought the tickets. She laughed and said we would have the time our lives. I repeated that phrase over again as I went asleep that night “the time of our lives”. As the morning broke the next day I felt alive for the very first time. It was as if everything was clearer now. I noticed the slow movements of the morning mists and watched the dewdrops on the windowpane. I made my sandwich and prepared for my final day at the writing class. It was, ironically, Friday and we were having a cake baked by our mad teacher. I took the bus through the city as usual, but found that traffic was especially annoying this morning. Cars, streetlights and sirens seemed to conspire against us in a futile attempt to nag me. But nothing could touch me now. I got off the bus and made my way through the crowded park to the building and classroom. As I entered the classroom I found everyone in a strange, almost quiet mood. “Hi guys,” I said defiantly, “guess what”. “Michael, you’d better sit down. Something has happened. Have you not heard about the accident? They are dead.” “What do you mean, ‘They are dead?’ Who is dead? When did they die?” “This morning, in a car crash. Lisa and her sister.” “You are lying? They are not dead” “Yes, they are, ask anyone. I looked at their faces and they all nodded “But I have made plans. We are going to Europe. I have bought tickets. The worst thing about it is that I can’t get a refund now. They don’t give refunds on cheap tickets. It’s funny really because I seldom travel. And I know they like traveling. Most people like traveling. It’s not like I am an astronaut or anything. Imagine going on a spaceship to the moon or something. I just like to see new things you see.” They all gave me a strange look, my hands suddenly started shaking. I was unable to control them, so I stuffed them in my pockets. I began laughing at my own clumsiness. Those damn hands, I thought. Well I have something to do, I said, got up nodded reassuringly to them and left. I shall not bother you with the details of my sorrow. It is, after all, not much different from that which most people experience at some point in their lives. It took me about a month to compose myself. I then took up my job for Mrs. Jackson, who still sat in her chair by the window. “Who are you?” she said as I entered. “I am your social worker. Michael is my name”, I said. “Don’t you remember?” “No” Michael Henrik Wynn (written at the end of the 1990s) Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyAn anonymous translation of the story “Le Hanneton” by J.-H. Rosny. The original was published in La Revue De Paris Et De Saint-Petersbourg, and this translation appeared in The Omaha Daily Bee, 30. September 1888. burst of shrill laughter rang through the court-yard. A girl’s face looked from the barred window of a cell. It was beautiful face – set in a glory of golden hair- the parted lips were like the petals of a young rose! But the laughter was the wild, terrible laughter of the mad. “I have it?’ she screamed, exultantly. “What?” asked the keeper. The keeper was made of gross material. He had a loose skin, full of large, dirty pores like an old sponge – a thick, brutal nose, pierced by narrow nostrils and a wide mouth – red-lipped and cruel. His eyes were small, hard, brilliant and singularly opaque. They looked like little bits of blue china. The girl’s eyes were blue also, but with the tender blue of turquoise, yet full of clear, liquid, changing lights like the sapphire. She was pale, delicate, exquisite! A beautiful casket bereft of its precious treasure – the mind. “What?” asked the keeper. “The May Bug!” Tho keeper grinned and winked his blue china eyes. He had heard before of this May Bug – a chimerical insect which troubled him little. He was not a bad man – taking him altogether – a trifle over-fond of turning the cold shower on the poor wretches intrusted to his tender care – not averse to using a stout leather strap in the interest and welfare of the more refractory – and he often exercised a little judicious economy at their expense, in setting before his family the bread intended for his patients. Not a nerve lodged amidst the bone and brawn of his gigantic body! The most frantic struggles of the maniacs filled him with amusement. The most furious ravings brought a smile to his great lips. Oh! He was very good-natured! He approached the window. “”Where is it?” he asked, curiously and idly. “It is here! here!’’ cried the girl, full of excitement. And she pointed to a hole in the wall of her cell. A hole in the wall! The excellent keeper was annoyed. He frowned blackly. He entered the cell and struck the woman on the face. “See that thou makest no more holes in the wall!” he said roughly. She trembled violently. Her eyes darted strange lights but she said nothing. She did not even cry out, although the blow was a cruel one. She only watched, with jealous, angry eyes, as the keeper thrust three fingers into the hole. There was no insect there. He stood ruminating a moment, after the manner of beasts. Presently he began slowly to scratch his head. The woman made a sudden movement toward him. “Give it to me!” she cried imperatively. “It is mine! I will have it! You shall not put it in your head! Give it to me! Give it to me!” “Hush, fool’ he said, and he raised his hand threateningly. She cowered away from him and crouching in the corner of the cell, began to cry bitterly, wiping her eyes, now and then on a strand of the long yellow hair that lay on her shoulders. As the keeper opened the door to go out a ray of sun light fell on his rough hair which curled thickly over his temples. The girl bounded suddenly after hin like a tiger. “Is it there!” she shrieked, shrilly. “Ah! the pretty thing! Do not crush it!” for the man raised his hand involuntarily to the spot she indicated with her outstretched fingers; then, recollecting himself, he turned on her fiercely, and advancing deliberately, as she retreated from him, until he had driven her again to her corner, he stood a moment quelling her with the cold power of his eyes. It was an instant’s silent struggle! The force of reason prevailed. She sank shuddering – conquered – -in the angle of the smooth stone wall. “Good!” he said, gruffly. “And no more of holes in the wall, Dost thou hear? I shall look tomorrow and see if the hole grows larger in the night. Tomorrow – aye! and again the next day and the next!” He thrust his ugly face down to hers. She shivered and shrank nearer the wall. “”Good!” he said again. His tone was fatherly. It was pleasant to him to see his power. Ah! they feared him -these poor, helpless, hopeless, miserable creatures. He left the cell, turning his face toward her as he closed the door. At last, trembling ray from the setting sun died on the matted hair above his left temple. A tremor shook the delicate body huddled in the corner. More than two hours passed, and still the girl crouched there. Her little white fingers worked nervously. Her eyes were never still. Her brow was drawn in deep, painful lines, as though the poor disordered brain beneath made some great physical effort to form thought. And so the darkness fell. With morning came the keeper. “Is there a hole in the wall?” He laughed maliciously. “Then we can have no bread to day,” and the excellent man passed on well satisfied. Had ho not inflicted punishment when punishment was due? And, moreover, his family lived on the bread which cost him nothing. June passed and July – long summer days when the sun lay in the court-yard and there was always a warm corner in cell No. 80, where the beautiful insane girl was kept. The keeper liked to go there and lounge in the afternoons. She was afraid of him, and he found her terror diverting. It pleased him to see her standing with downcast eyes sending out those strange gleams from under the deep-fringed lids – with heaving breast from which the breath labored heavily – with trembling fingers locked so tightly together that the little nails grew white with the cruel pressure. It was a tribute to his power. A more observant person might have seen something here to suspect – might have analyzed this fear and found in it a trace of danger – might have declared this attitude to be that of a person detected – or in fear of detection in wrong-doing. But the keeper, good man, was not one to analyze. He examined all the cells daily. It may be that his examination was sometimes clumsy. But why should he suspect this child? Or suspecting, why should he fear her? A slender, white-faced cowering thing who could only pick a hole in the wall to hunt for an imaginary May Bug! A poor, weak imbecile creature who shook at the sound of his voice! The keeper would have called your analyst a fool for his pains! There were times when the girl did not shrink from him, but, instead, greeted him with her charming, childish smile. Then, were he in a good humor, he would talk with her. Truly a strange duet, this, between the man without intellect and the woman without reason. An interesting study of chiaroscuro, where the ideal subtlety of the maniac stood out intensely against the brutish, unimaginative stolidity of the keeper. Often his rough voice, like the bellowing of a bull, frightened her, but she listened to him with her adorable smile, and only when he turned his eyes away did that strange expression leap into her, the greedy, jealous light burn in the eyes which, stealthily, she raised to the ragged clumps of hair which lay upon his temples. Once he surprised the glance. He laughed loudly, derisively. He had not altogether forgotten the May Bug. “Aha!” he laughed, “dost seek thy treasure? Oh! Oh! the fool! the idiot! the lunatic! Oh! I have it! Here” tapping his forehead suggestively, and blinking his blue, china eyes, “here: I keep it safely!” The girl made a sudden, uncontrollable movement as if she would spring upon him, and the strange look deepened in her eyes – the look of passionate desire now mingled with rage and hatred of the man who kept from her what she coveted. The keeper was enchanted at the success of his pleasantry. Still laughing, he rose, stretched his leg comfortably, and lounged over to the window. Outside the court lay flooded in the sunlight, a gray fowl minced across the flagging, pecking at the tufts of grass which forced themselves between the stones of the walk. The flowers in the square garden-plot in the center of the court gave up their sweetness languidly to the caress of tho warm air. The keeper gazed stolidly through the crating. His hard little eyes rested unblinkingly on a great metal ball on which the dazzling sunlight sported bravely. Softly she came – softly, lightly! With cheeks aflame with the strength of her desire! With gleaming sapphire eyes! With quivering nostrils and parted lips through which the breath fluttered tremulously! Softly she came, with her lithe young body swaying, and her little, trembling hands before her! In an instant her dainty fingers had twisted themselves in the man’s rough hair, jerked the great head backwards, and began a furious scratching in the grizzled mop over the left temple. The keeper flung himself around with an imprecation and sent the woman spinning against the wall. “Insolence!” he roared, rushing upon her. “Dost thou dare, indeed” In the name of Reason – of which thou knowst naught – take this – and this!”’ He struck her a crushing blow with his clenched fist. She smothered a cry and crouched, still with dangerous look in her eyes – crouched as if to spring at his great brutal throat. “Have a care!” he muttered, threateningly, rushing upon her again. Slowly her expression changed. The corners of her pretty mouth trembled. She put out one fist faintly. Then with more assurance, and moving gently forward, she looked up, shyly, into his scowling face as one who would implore forgiveness. It was the keeper. How ready she was to confess his power! How eager to sue his pardon! He was mollified. “There!” said he, “no more of thy stupid tricks, fool!” And he went away. The summer waned. No. 80 seemed dull and sober. She slept little, grew weak and thin, and, from out the pallor of her face, her great blue eyes shone unnaturally. She was silent for long hours at a time. She no longer talked of the lost May Bug. She looked like a student who seeks to solve great problems, and who loses his health and strength in long vigils. She left her bed at night and strange sounds were heard in her cell. “She sleeps too warm, perhaps,” said the keeper: “give her a cooling shower!” And this merry follow bade them hold her under the icy douche until she fell, chilled and exhausted, to the ground. This occurred twice. After that there were no more nocturnal disturbances. The keeper chuckled. “I know their tricks,” said he. The girl became very quiet and circumspect. She began to manifest interest in objects about her. She was strangely observant, and occupied herself for hours in examining the scanty appointment of her cell. Once the keeper fancied he saw her fumbling with the bars of her grated window. He went in and examined the place. She watched him with stealthy eyes. When he turned she spoke to him pleasantly. She was always gay with him now. The brave man never detected a false note in the clear, crystal tones of her laughter – his ear, like his eye, made no fine distinctions. After this episode, however, she was more prudent and gave no cause for suspicion. She was thoughtful – oh! very thoughtful at times preoccupied but patient, good-tempered and obedient. Soon she began to talk rationally, and answered all questions with sense and judgment. One day, in, the late fall, the keeper summoned the doctor. “If Monsieur the Doctor would call and see No. 80, who seems quite recovered?” Monsieur the Doctor called. But Monsieur the Doctor was, as it happened, an old and skillful practitioner, who for many years had studied every form of insanity under the light of his own interests. Monsieur the Doctor had no intention of speedily ridding the asylum of any patient who materially increased his income. “H’m:” said the doctor, “wait a while longer! It is best to be Prudent” “The girl is harmless?” “Perfectly so!” “She can be given a little liberty?” “Assuredly, yes! She is quite harmless!” and the worthy physician smiled and rubbed his hands softly together, and, thinking of the clear, quiet eyes which met his own so steadily, the cool hand which rested obediently in his, the girl’s normal, composed manner, repeated to himself, “Oh, certainly! Quite harmless!” It was after this that the keeper made himself easy. The examination of cell No. 80 was no longer considered necessary. No. 80 herself grow paler and ate but little. This could scarcely be said to distress the keeper, whose family profited thereby. Winter came, and from her grated window the poor young creature watched the year grow grey. A few withered leaves fluttered in through the casement and she treasured them – poor dead things! They were redolent of the free life beyond cruel bars. The swallows in the courtyard complained shrilly of hunger, and beneath the eaves they huddled, pluming themselves and giving piteous little cries. She would have liked to have fed them, but the family of the keeper could use even the crumbs, and, harshly, he forbade her to waste good bread. She was now very thin and her eyes were brilliant with fever – that consuming mental fever which burns in the eyes of all great toilers who fancy they see near them the desired end for which they have striven long and patiently. Now came the long winter nights, when the white moonlight lay on the floor of the cell. The girl hated the moon. It was a great Eye, she thought. Calm, impartial, all-seeing, why did it watch and watch, and wait and wait, the night through to see what she would do? And it was so cold – ah! so cold! And she turned her back to the window and crept to her bed, drawing the covers up over her head to shut out the hateful Eye. And at last it went away, and there were long dark hours when its silver face was hidden, and at last she could move stealthily about her cell at night, could go on, silently and swiftly, with the great work she had been planning, without feeling continually spying upon her the cold stare of this mysterious enemy. By this time she had won the entire confidence of the keeper. She was so patient and docile. Ah? more patient than this good man guessed, and more cautious, too, and more furtive! And; at last, it happened on a cold, black night when the heavens were overcast by threatening clouds, and all earth’s creatures sought shelter from the bitter touch of Winter’s hand, a light figure crept between the loosened bars of a cell window and dropped noiselessly to the ground. Swift and straight it took its way across the court, never swerving, never hesitating in spite of the impenetrable darkness; for in the slow elaboration of this mighty idea, all had been calculated – recalculated – with the triple patience which comes of madness, of solitude and of imprisonment. Veiled in the darkness, No. 80 took her silent way past the square garden-plot. She moved with the noiselessness and the certainty of a cat. She never stopped, but as she moved rapidly she lifted her face to the free night air as if she loved it and had longed for it. Her face was like a moon beam against the shadows of the night. Its peculiar pallor seemed to radiate a faint, unearthly light. Almost as if she wore conscious of this, she bent her head and quickly covered her face with her long hair. She passed on in the shadow of the asylum walls and paused before the keeper’s quarters. Here there was a small door. Well she knew it! Long and patiently had she waited to hear from some one through which door she must pass to accomplish her grand purpose. She stood hero listening for an instant, then thrust into the keyhole something she held tightly in her hand. There was a faint clicking sound – then a sharp squeak, which might have been made by a mouse, and a little rectangle of darkness opened before her. Silence! The clouds gathered thickly over the mournful walls of the asylum. A wild night-wind sobbed in the gaunt arms of the leafless trees in the court-yard. A single star trembled for an instant in the black mass of moving clouds and was gone. Suddenly a woman’s sharp cry smote the night air. It seemed to come from the keeper’s quarters, but one could scarcely tell whence it began, for it was instantly caught up by the startled creatures in the asylum and passed on from one to another with varying and terrible modulations of fear, of anger, of insensate joy! The night was soon hideous with their cries! The panic spread! From every cell came curses, shrieks, groans, wailings and sobbings: the sickening sound of human bodies beating against the invincible bars which held the captive; despairing cries mingled with snatches of obscene song. Tho sonorous voice of some frenzied orator delivering his theories; the heartbreaking prayers of maniacs begging to be delivered from imaginary tortures, all the horrors of the bestial scene, indescribable as it is awful, enacted in these living hells where men and women live the lives of caged brutes, forsaken by Reason, and, seemingly, by God. The doors opened, and the director of the asylum made his appearance among the keepers. His face was pale. This was unusually bad, he thought, even for the violent wards. Awakened from a deep sleep by the horrible uproar, he had feared a general riot among the patients. Suddenly a woman appeared at the end of the passage. She was in her night robe. She held a candle in her hand, and two children clung to her skirts. “Here! Monsieur the Director! Here! And oh! come quickly!” The director moved toward her. He recognized tho wife of the keeper, Desambre. Well?” he questioned briefly. The woman began a mournful litany, broken by fitful sobbing. Alas! She could hardly tell! She had been sleeping! There had been something – she knew not what! Her husband had bounded up in the bed, had given a heavy groan, had fallen back on his pillow! Then a dark thing had sprung from the bed right by her side, glided across the room down tho stairs, perhaps – who knows? She had been unable to rouse her good man! Would not Monsieur the Director come to him? Alas! Alas! And again – alas! Tho director followed the woman to a room in the keeper’s quarters. On the bed lay the body of the man Desambre. Tho face was hideous. The eyes squinted horribly. The mouth was open. The teeth had closed upon the tongue. “Alas! Alas!” wailed the woman. The director examined the body. A small brad had been driven through the left temple, obliquely into the skull. There was no blood. The clumps of grizzled hair nearly concealed the wound. The nail was a slender thing, without a head, but it had been driven home with deadly force. A fine scratch extended to the eyebrow. It looked as if something had been picked from the wound and drawn sharply across the knotty forehead. “The man is dead – quite dead,” said tho director, gravely. He left the woman howling over the corpse. and notified the keeper. “We will make the rounds immediately.” The procession of lights moving up and down tho corridors was a grand festival for the maniacs. They had grown quieter under the forcible measures employed by the keepers, and now they gave fierce cries of pleasure. Only a few were enraged, and a few were sullen. Number 80 was asleep. The director bent over her bed with the lamp in his hand. The light awakened her. She rubbed her eyes with one little hand. Then she smiled her adorable smile. The beautiful eyes were clear and serene – her face was joyous. She pushed back her glorious hair and raised herself a little from the pillow. Then she held out the other hand. It was tightly closed, as if something of great value. Slowly she extended the fingers that the director might see what she held. The little pink palm was empty. But she saw something there. She was quite satisfied. “I have it,” she whispered, triumphantly. The director patted her hand kindly. You are dreaming!”’ He gave a cursory glance at the grating as he passed. He touched the bars at the window. “Nothing wrong here,” said this wise and experienced man. “The girl has slept well.” Like this:Like Loading... [...]
creative writing / literatureWhen you think of writing most people imagine a solitary philosopher, an ivory tower, or something of the kind. However, there are some, who for commercial and practical reasons, create stories in a group. These are the showrunners, the men and women who build the stories behind our TV series with detached and sometimes cynical eye. I have talked with one such man, Arne Berggren, whose resume in Norwegian and Scandinavian TV drama is too long to mention here. I thought writing was a solitary job? I thought it depended on the genius of individual minds? Why am I wrong? Berggren: “For for most writers their job is a solitary one. Those who write fiction, for instance, are almost loners, I guess. How many of them that are geniuses, I cannot say, but there is definitely something dysfunctional about many of them. Something that perhaps makes them less suited for teamwork, that is my belief. Many writers consciously try to remedy some personal flaw through writing, or try to discover things about themselves. Often people like that have strong egos and like to follow their own train of thought and impulses, rather than conforming. But many writers also find that it is liberating working with others. No matter how smart or brilliant you may feel, they see that more minds can achieve more together than on their own. If you want to write for TV, the process is so centered on deadlines that it becomes an industry or a craft. Volumes of pages need to be produced in a short period of time. Some get a little kick out of the fact that they share this responsibility rather than taking on the burdens themselves. In a group you can produce TV scripts fast , and I suppose that is why the whole idea of so-called Writers’ Rooms emerged. TV is an industry, and that implies process and teamwork.” How exactly does the writing process work, do you sit around a table and brainstorm? When is the actual writing done? Berggren: “All Writers’ Rooms are different, and there isn’t an extensive tradition for this kind of work in Europe. When you write comedy, however, it is quite common to sit in groups and brainstorm. But in drama too we see more and more of this kind of work. In our company, Shuuto, we have a joint session in the preliminary stages, in which we test vague ideas. It is important that we move beyond brainstorming at this point, and when there’s a pitch, something that resembles a dramatic premise, we try to work our way to potentially interesting characters, look at the longer storylines and so on. What, for instance, are the worst things to which our characters may be exposed? Eventually we get round to the actual writing of the scripts. On those occasions we are generally four writers in a full-day session, once a week. We delegate, and the script producer decides on shorter meetings, if they are needed. So the actual writing process is still solitary, but the script producer or the showrunner are never far off. There might be daily deadlines for scripts that are reviewed and then rewritten. It is a very organic process, but the workload may be heavy. We like to take our time in the preliminary stages, but then we produce scripts for one episode a week.” There have been many story factories in literary history. Some say Shakespeare might have run such a factory. Dumas is another example. Still, both Shakespeare and Dumas got top billing. Isn’t there sometimes a clash of egos? Berggren: “Where there are writers, there is always a clash of egos. But you won’t last long in the TV-business if you create a lot of conflict wherever you go. As manager I have learnt to compromise, I think. I am looking for writers and a staff that are productive, with an ability to work things through. This creates positive vibes, I think. I must admit that I haven’t always been a role-model in this regard myself. But one learns by making mistakes, and I try my best to help others. Some of the most famous American showrunners have been strong egos. Even so, they have created environments in which others could flourish. There aren’t any showrunner academies in Scandinavia, so it is a trial by error process. You need to search out people with a certain set of qualities, and create a relaxed work environment with as few egos as possible. The writers need to understand that this is not about them, but about getting the job done. Their job is simply to assist the showrunner or the script producer, to make his or her life easier. So they are free to return to their “ivory tower” as long as they deliver on time.” So how should the public think about you? Are you a company executive, a writer, a brand? What? Berggren: “I am slightly schizophrenic, I guess, split between being a writer and an executive producer. I still write books and theater, but as a TV-guy I am first and foremost a producer. If there is a brand, it must be Shuuto, our company. We don’t really concern ourselves with core values and strategies of communication. In fact, we have a hard time defining what we do, except for the fact that we produce script-based content in a slightly different way than the larger production companies and book publishers.” What does it take to make it as a writer in TV, do you think? Berggren: “You need to write, write and write. And in between read and watch tv. Sometimes I must admit I am a little shocked by young writers who want to get into television, and who produce nothing. You cannot wait for a break. In fact, it’s all about actual writing experience. Even if it is difficult to write something without seeing the final product, this exactly what you need to do. Write in all genres, and get as much feedback as possible, if only from your mother or someone you know. And you need to watch a lot of TV, in all genres, several hours a day. You need to analyse how the the skilled minds think. Sometimes you can learn even more by watching half-decent drama. You see what’s wrong, notice the way they think, and when it doesn’t suit your palate you imagine what you might have done if you had written the story yourself.” Norway is a small country, yet recently our TV series, actors and directors have made it in Hollywood. Are there international opportunities for script writers? Berggren: “Yes, I think this might happen soon. Already a select few have been offered seats in writing rooms in LA. Some might get a job, and it’s much harder than you imagine. You need to be proficient in English, and this is where many Norwegians tend to over-estimate our own skills. I think you can get an entry into the US market if you become a co-producer on remakes of Norwegian TV-series, or work on developing new series for the international market. Or you could move to LA or England, get your education there, network, become a part of the scene, as much as you’re able. We have had foreigners with Norwegian as a second language in our writers’ rooms here in Norway, and I can tell you this wasn’t easy. No matter how great they think their language skills are.” Let’s say I were a 20 year old who desperately wanted to write something for TV or film. What would be my best option for achieving my goals? Berggren: “I would be very patient. Try to get a foot in the door anywhere on set. Be a runner. Make coffee, sweep the floors. Staple the scripts and so on. I would have done it for free, even if our unions might object. Once you have access, relations are built, gradually trust is gained. If you’re the sort of fellow who listens to criticism, thrives on it, more responsibility will eventually come your way. But in terms of cognition, you need to remember that the 20 year old brain is, in fact, not fully mature. That doesn’t happen until you reach 25, I think. What you believe the world to be as a 20 year old might be false. A 20 year old is impatient, and wants to been seen and recognized. They think things revolve round them. I have seen plenty of 20-year-olds who were presented with great opportunities, but who were swiftly disappointed, told everyone to go to h.. and moved on to what I assume were greener pastures. I guess, I once was a little like that myself. I have missed out on opportunities myself, you see. But “patience”, “networks”, “relations” and “trust” are the keywords. Most people are hired by someone they already know. And of course networking among people your own age is crucial. Someone that you know is sure to make it, and they will be searching for people their own age to join them. It is , in my view, almost impossible to predict who makes it. But their shared characteristics are gaining work experience, building relations and networks. So if you know “a mingler”, latch on.” As the head of a writing group, you must have seen many mistakes, and many who lacked the skills. What are the most common mistakes of the rookie writer? Berggren:…….. “They’re impatient. Afraid of criticism. You think that your way of thinking is the only one. Some lack humility. Some are lazy. Some are thin-skinned. Some jealous. Some believe themselves to be smart and that they deserve to be discovered. This is fact typical of 9 out 10 writers that we encounter. Great ego, inflated view of their own skills.” I am going to ask you a difficult question that concerns most writers and artists at one time or another. How should one deal with rejection? Berggren: “This might sound like BS coming from some one with one foot in the grave, but embrace your rejections. The people I truly admire have one thing in common. They have been rejected more than most. You’re fired. You’re humiliated. And every time you learn something that makes you a better writer and better person. Rejection is the scariest thing I know. It hurts like hell, it hits us right in the gut. Still, it is the key to progress. If you manage to put on a brave smile and move on. Rejections are not about You. The person rejecting you might be looking for something completely different. Often you will be offered new jobs from the very same person who once rejected you. As an employer I am looking for someone who is able handle themselves professionally. Patience. Humility. This can only be achieved by coming to terms with rejection. I know it sounds like crap, but this is something I know to be true. I have experienced plenty of rejections myself.” 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... [...]
literatureMorocco is a land of contrasts, with scenery ranging from the most beautiful mountain valleys to deserts and sprawling metropolitan areas. It is also a land of unequal wealth, a gap between the rich and the poor- prostitution and crime. Yet, while the arab world has been in turmoil, Morocco has remained fairly stable. It is perhaps not so strange then that the country is the center of an unlikely arabic revival: the police procedural. We talked with the founder of the arab noir genre, Abdelilah Hamdouchi, and we followed the literary traces of his hero, detective Hannach, through some distinctly Moroccan alleyways. Tell us a little about your background. When and how did you decide to become a crime writer? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: When I decided to write my first crime novel in late 90s, Morocco had just started a new political experience under the banner “A Government of Change”. This change followed a general amnesty for all political prisoners. Also, some democratic practices began to take hold in the running of the state and society, to the extent that a former convict and exiled leftist became head of the government. In those days, I had penned novels about social affairs, but no one took notice of these writings. So I decided to try the crime novel, even if I only was familiar with Agatha Christie in this niche. A while back I heard a theory that no crime novel could exist in a non-democratic country, simply because the citizens in dictatorships didn’t trust the police? Yet, your Moroccan police procedurals show otherwise? Do Moroccans trust the police? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: This is relatively true, the crime novel finds its space in democratic countries; or human rights and the law. Russia, for example, never knew this kind of literature during the Soviet era, Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and the Francoist Spain neither, and the first crime novel in Spain was written after the death of dictator Franco in Spain in 1974. This can be said of dictatorships in Africa and in Latin America. But, of course, it does not prevent exceptions from emerging, like the author Leonardo Padura, who wrote the crime novels in Cuba. My country, Morocco, is a special case in the sense that we have always lived under a regime that adapts by drawing red lines not to cross, including the kingship, the territorial unit and the Moslem religion, Malekite. If someone goes beyond these red lines, he is overtaken by the law. Otherwise everything is subject to opinions and criticisms freely. When did Moroccans begin reading crime fiction, and what sort of crime fiction do they prefer? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: My experience is unique and even avant-garde in Arab culture. In part, this has left me with almost a feeling of rush to be translated into English and other languages. The Hoopoe Publishing House has commissioned me for a series of Moroccan thrillers whose hero is a certain Hannach. The crime novel is almost absent in our literature and Moroccan cultures in particular and Arabs in general. Even translations are limited to Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle. They say many Italian police procedurals have open endings or let the bad guy get away because they reflect public expectations of corruption and incompetence in the police force? Is there a similar tradition in Morocco? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: We must not forget that Italy is the country of the Mafia and organized crime. The majority of the crimes in Morocco are of individual nature or connected to family affairs, and the motives are often money-related or sentimental. Organized crime, like in Italy, is almost absent. It is true that Moroccans are part of mafia organizations, but the majority of crimes are individual. What sort of hero is Detective Hannach? How does he compare with let’s say Mankell’s Wallander? Does he drink? Is he flawed in any way? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: Hannach is fond of life: he loves beautiful women and has experienced both good and bad times, against a backdrop of corruption, he has a good heart. How does he go about solving his crimes, does he have a method or does he just stumble his way towards a solution in the manner of Philip Marlowe? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: First, he has a proper background. He worked in the narcotics brigade in Tangier and built a career.  He then joined the criminal brigade in Casablanca, where his experience with the drug squad helped him in his new mission, especially since he is intelligent and organizes his teams with professionalism. Before solving the crime, he asks all his colleagues their opinion. What about yourself, how do you write your novels? Do you write on instinct or do you outline the plot in advance? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: In general, before I start writing, I have a pretty clear idea of ​​my subject. I am inspired by various facts; to put my writing technique at the service of the crime novel with everything that leaves the reader in the pleasure of reading. Do you have any literary role models, writers who inspired you when you started writing? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: In principle I have no model, I read a lot, literature, crime novels, other than that I admire the clear and transparent style of Paul Auster. Also I much admire Henning Mankell. You were among the first to write modern police procedurals in your country. Have you met with any difficulties? How were your first novels received? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: My first crime novel was about the world of Hashish, and lower-ranking police officers who made a considerable effort to dismantle the traffic, and who see their effort in the water following the interventions of the officers. The purpose of this crime novel was to convey a certain message. This first noir was well received, both commercially and critically, which resulted in the making of a TV movie. According to Al Jazeera, Maurice Leblanc’s golden age rogue, Arsene Lupin, is popular in the arab world. Would you say that the cozy 1920’s crime puzzle still fascinates Moroccans? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: I’m not so sure about Al Jazeera Television’s conclusions, but the Arab reader does not consume a lot of crime novels, due to a lack of available translations. Apart from yourself, are there other major crime writers in Morocco? Abdelilah Hamdouchi: Yes, there is another author who writes in French, and who (coincidentally) has the same surname as me, Miloudi Hamdouchi. He was a very popular detective writer in the 90s and was known as “Colombo” in the popular press. You can buy 3 of Hamdouchi’s latest thrillers at Amazon. Whitefly (2016) The Final Bet (2016)  Bled Dry (2017) Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureMary Shelley was born the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, the influential enlightenment philosopher. Her mother died only 10 days after giving birth to her, and the two seemed separated forever. However, the daughter then took it upon herself to become an expert on her mother’s writing, and to live as much as she could in accordance with the wishes of her dead mother. It was a mother-daughter relationship that defied death. We asked two biographers of Mary Shelley, Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler, some questions about Mary Shelley’s sometimes sad life. If her mother died when she was so young, who was it that raised her? In what sort of family environment did she grow up? Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler: She was raised by her father, William Godwin, a philosopher and novelist. By all accounts he was a cold and unfeeling man. He soon married again, to a woman named Mary Jane Clairmont, who already had two children of her own. Mary’s birth mother had advocated giving daughters a good education, but Godwin educated Mary at home. She was exposed to many of the great writers of her time, who visited because Godwin was held in high esteem in intellectual circles. Mary and her stepsister Jane Clairmont (who later changed her name to Clair Clairmont) remembered hiding behind the couch as Samuel Taylor Coleridge read aloud his epic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Godwin sometimes took Mary to her mother’s grave had told her to trace the name on the tombstone. It was the same (Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin) as young Mary’s own name, and her father stressed that she must live and achieve in a way that would be worthy of her mother’s sacrifice. Is the novel Frankenstein a book about the need to be a good parent? Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler: Possibly. Readers have found many meanings in it. In our book, THE MONSTERS, we posit that the monster, a being with no name, is Mary’s description of herself. There is that famous story of the meeting between Shelley, her husband and Lord Byron, and the writing of the novel Frankenstein. She was a woman surrounded by geniuses. How can we be sure that her writings were indeed her own? She was only 18. Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler: The meeting was at Byron’s villa on Lake Geneva, and five people were present. Besides the three you mention, there was also Claire Clairmont, then pregnant with Byron’s child, and Dr. John Polidori, who followed Byron because he wanted to be a writer. Byron read aloud some ghost stories and then challenged the others to see who could write the best ghost story. Besides Frankenstein, the only other story that emerged from the “contest” was Polidori’s THE VAMPYRE, often called the first modern vampire story. Even then, Polidori was overshadowed by Byron, because the publisher hinted that Byron had written it. Byron stoutly denied that. As for the authorship of Mary’s novel, there are existing pages of Frankenstein in her handwriting, and occasional notes in the margins in Shelley’s handwriting. These marginal notes are quite minor. In fact, Mary later assembled and edited Shelley’s poems (after his death), giving him the reputation he has today—which he did not gain from the writing he published before his death. So in a way, it can be said that she was the co-author of his best work. Byron, who had poor handwriting, also entrusted Mary to make fair copies of his work to send to his publisher. He later praised Frankenstein as a “wonderful work for a girl of nineteen—not nineteen at the time” to have written. In the novel Frankenstein, there is some talk of electricity, a mysterious force for romantic writers. In the novel, like today, it is used to jumpstart life, or the heart. Where did the teenager, Mary, learn about this new science? Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler: Like the monster in her book, Mary learned much from listening. One of the favorite topics of conversation that summer between Shelley and Byron was the origin of life. They discussed an elan vital, or life force, that could possibly be connected with electricity. They (and Polidori) had heard of Luigi Galvani, an Italian scientist, who had shown in 1786 that he could produce muscular contractions in dead frogs by touching them with a pair of scissors during an electrical storm. His nephew, Giovanni Aldini, later performed experiments on human corpses, using a Leyden jar. (early form of electric battery). Stories had circulated that dead bodies had been brought back to life through this method. Was there ever a real life model for doctor Frankenstein? Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler: Mary never specified one, but you can see similarities to Shelley. The book Frankenstein was not initially well received, and the next great scifi genius in English literature did not arrive until the late Victorian/Edwardian writer H.G.Wells. At what point in history did people realize that Mary Shelley had created something completely new? Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler: One of the first reviewers of the book was Sir Walter Scott, at the time one of England’s most famous writers, and he praised it. Byron called it “a wonderful work for a girl of nineteen—not nineteen, indeed, at that time.” Two years after the book’s publication, a friend of Shelley’s wrote him, “I went to the Egham races I met….a great number of my old acquaintance…of whom I was asked a multitude of questions concerning Frankenstein and its author. It seems to be universally known and read.” By 1823, another author had written a stage production called Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein, which was a loose adaptation of Mary’s novel. She attended it with her father and enjoyed it. Jules Verne (not English, of course) wrote science fiction before Wells, as did Edward Bellamy (American) in Looking Backward, 2000-1887. Her husband, the poet Shelley, of course, died when she was only 24, and she lived most of her life without him. Did she ever find another man? Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler: She did not lack for suitors. John Howard Payne, the American author of “Home, Sweet Home,” came to England as manager of a theater, sent Mary free tickets and they began to be seen together. When Washington Irving visited England, Mary asked Payne to introduce her to the author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” He did so, but then broke off his courtship of Mary. She and Irving did not develop a closer relationship. She never remarried. She is the author of several other novels, including one quite innovative called The Last Man. It was the first post-apocalyptical scifi novel. Tell us a little about that novel, and its message? Why do you think she wrote this work? There is a sense of loneliness in it, is there not? Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler: The premise of The Last Man is that a plague has wiped out the human race, except for one man. Mary wrote in her journal: “The last man! Yes, I may well describe that solitary being’s feelings, feeling myself as the last relic of a beloved race, my companions extinct before me.” Three of the four others who had been with her at the conception of Frankenstein were all dead. Mary and Claire were estranged. When The Last Man was published in 1826, the author was identified on the title page only as “the author of Frankenstein.” She lived well into the Victorian age. Did she communicate with other famous writers of her age, Dickens or George Eliot perhaps? Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler: Not that we know of. Dickens referred to Frankenstein in his novel Great Expectations. Frankenstein has given her immortality, but did she experience any of this recognition in her own life time? Was she ever a grand old lady of letters? Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler: She continued to write, and devoted her life to her one surviving child. When he married, Mary moved in with the newlyweds, and her daughter-in-law became a close friend. Mary didn’t become a public person. Recommended books: Mary Shelley (2001), by Miranda Seymour The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein (2007), by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler Read Frankenstein Illustrated in our comic book section  Listen  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 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... [...]
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... [...]
short story“Karen’s Christmas” by Amalie Skram Translated by Michael Henrik Wynn At one of the steamship ports in Kristiania there was some years ago a gray wooden structure with a flat roof, no chimney, just over two and a half yards long and slightly shorter in width. At both end walls there was a small window, one slightly higher than the other. The door opened onto the waterfront and could be shut both from the inside and the outside with iron hooks that connected to eyes of the same metal. The hut was originally erected for the ferrymen in order to provide shelter from rainy days and winter chills when they sat waiting for travelers to demand passage. Later, when the small steamships assumed more and more of the traffic, the ferrymen moved elsewhere. Now, the building temporarily became a residence for whomever had a use for it. The latest occupants were some masons who, two at the time, used to eat their meals there when they one summer repaired a nearby quay. Eventually, nobody took any notice of the little old shack. It remained where it stood because the port authorities never conceived of the idea of removing it, and because nobody complained that it was in the way of anyone or anything. Then, one winter night in December just before Christmas. There wasn’t much snow because it melted as it fell, and that made the mud on the cobblestones of the quay even thicker and more sticky. The snow lay like a fine-meshed gray cover on the gaslights and the steam powered cranes, and if you reached the ships, you could see that it hung like a festoon from the masts and the riggings. The dirty yellow glare of gaslights burnt in the dark-gray humid air, while the lanterns glowed murky and red. Now and again a sharp chime cut through the damp atmosphere, when the watch on board struck eight bells. The constable who patrolled the quay stopped by the gaslights just outside the former refuge of the ferrymen. He pulled out his watch to check how late it was, but as he held up to the light, he heard something resembling the cries of a baby. His lowered his hand, looked about and listened. No, it couldn’t be? Then he looked at his watch again. Yet again there was the sound, this time mingled with a calming hush. He lowered his hand again, and again there was quiet. What kind of devil’s trickery was this? He looked around, but found nothing. A third time the watch was raised to the glare of the gaslight and this time he could, in the silent night, see that it was soon 4 o’clock. He drifted along the quay, passed the old shack, wondered a little, but then dismissed it all as pure fancy….Or how could it be? A little while later when he returned the same way, he approached the hut. What was that? Didn’t he detect movement inside? Light from gas-lamps flowed in through both the windows in the end walls, and made it seem as if the interior was illuminated. He walked over and looked in. Quite right. There was a shape on the bench right under the window, a tiny huddled up creature, who leaned forward fiddling with something, he could not see what. He stepped around the corner, stopped at the door and tried to enter. It was locked. “Open up!” – he shouted and and knocked with his knuckels. He heard someone startled. There was a faint exclamation, then all turned quiet. He knocked again with his fist and repeated: “You in there, open up! Open up this instance.” “What do you want? Dear God, there is no one here,” – said the terrified voice on the other side of the door. “Open up. It is the police!” “My goodness, the police–oh my dear, it is just little old me. I am not doing any harm, I am just sittin’ here, you see”. “Can’t you get a move on and open this door, or I will most certainly give it to you straight. Will you…” He got no further, for at that very moment the door opened, and in the next instance he hunched through the doorway into the tiny room, where there was barely enough space to stand upright. “Are you mad? Not allowing the police entrance! What were you thinking?” “I am so sorry Mr. Policeman, — I did open the door, you see.” “And that was the best thing you could have done,” he growled. “Who are you anyway, and who has given you permission to take up lodging here?” “It is just me, Karen,” –she whispered. “I’m sittin’ here with my babe” The policeman eyed her over closely. She was a slim little thing with a pale and narrow face. There was a deep scrofula scar, a straight line, on one cheek. She was barely an adult. She wore a light brown garment, some kind of sweater or jacket, with a cut that betrayed its age, and a darker skirt, which hung like rags down to her ankles. On her feet there were a pair of worn-out soldier’s boots, laces missing. In her one arm she held a bundle of cloth, which lay across her waist. Something white protruded from the top end of the bundle. It was a baby’s head, which suckled her meager breast. The woman had tied a ragged scarf around her head which was fastened under her chin. From her neck locks of hair stuck out. Her entire body shivered from cold, and when she moved, there came squishy and squeaking sounds from her boots, as if she was stepping in mud. “I didn’t think I would be a bother to anyone” she stated in her shrill voice – “the hut is here anyway, isn’t it?” The policeman suddenly felt uneasy. At first he had had intended to drive her out into the streets with harsh words – let her off with a warning. But then he saw the miserable wretch before him with a tiny child in her arms pushing up against the bench, so fearful and humble that she was afraid to sit down. He could not help but be moved. “But dear God, my child, what are you doing here?” She perceived the sympathy of his voice, her fears settled and she began to cry. The constable reached for the door and swung it shut. “Sit down for a moment” – he said – “the child is so heavy” She slid down unto the bench. “Now, then”- the constable said encouragingly and sat down on the bench opposite her. “Oh dear, Mr Constable – let me stay here” she lisped through her tears. “I won’t do no mischief – not the slightest – keep clean, I will. You can see for yourself, I am hygienic. What you see over there are breadcrusts “. She pointed to bundle on the floor. “I go begging every day –  there’s some water in the bottle. Let me stay the nights here, till I get back my job back – if only the Madame will come for me”. She blew her nose in her fingers and wiped them on her skirt. “And this Madame, whoever might that be?” asked the constable. “I was in her service, see. I had ever such a nice position with board, 4 shillings a month and breakfast. But then I got knocked up, you see, and then I had to go, of course, Madame Olsen herself went to the Charity and got me in. She is ever so kind. I was in her service right until I went there. You see, Madame Olsen is on her own, and she said she would keep me as long as I managed. But then Madame Olsen had to travel, see, she is a midwife. And then she got ill and bed-ridden out there in the countryside. And now they say she won’t be comin’ home till Christmas.” “But dear God, are you planning to roam the streets with this baby while you are you are waiting for this Madame! What good can come of this?” The constable shook his head. “I have nowhere to go” she whimpered. “Since my father died there is no one to help me when my stepmother throws me into the streets.” “What about the father of your child?” “Oh him,” she said and made a slight toss with her neck. “I don’t think he will be of much help either.” “But surely you know that you can get him sentenced to pay child support?” “Yes, they say so,” she replied. “But how are we going to go about it, when he doesn’t exist?” “You just give me his name,” the constable interjected, “then he will be produced, you will see.” “Yes, if I only knew,” she said casually. “What are you saying? You don’t know the name of the father of your own child?” Karen stuck a finger in her mouth and begun to suck on it. Her head tilted forward. She smiled in a helpless, silly way. “N-O” she whispered with a long emphasis on each letter and without removing her finger from her mouth. “Never in my life have I heard such a thing,” the constable began, “How on earth did you hook up with this man?” “I met him in the streets at night, when it was dark,” she replied without a hint of bashfulness, “but it didn’t go long before he was gone, and I haven’t seen him since” “Have you not made inquiries?” “Of course I have, but nobody knows where he has gone. He has probably gone into the country, because he either worked with horses or carriages, I could tell from his smell.” “My God, what a mess you are in,” the constable muttered. “you must report to the authorities,” he said more loudly, –“then they can work things out for you.” “No, I won’t do that,” she answered with sudden defiance” “Surely it must be better to go to the workhouse and receive food and shelter than what you are doing now?” the constable said. “Yes, but when Madame Olsen arrives — she is so kind, Madame Olsen — she will make me a temporary maid. I know this for a fact, because she promised me she would. Then I know a woman who will give us board for 3 shillings a month. She will look after the wee one while I am with Madame Olsen. And then I will help her out when I return from the Madame. It will all work out fine, when Madame Olsen comes. She will be here for Christmas, they say.” “Very well, my dear, every adult know their own business. But you have no right to stay in this here hut.” “What does it matter if I sit here at nights – does it harm anyone? Dear God, let me stay, the wee one won’t cry. Only till the Madame arrives. Dear Mr. Constable, only till the Madame arrives.” “But you will freeze yourself blue, you and the child.” He looked at her poor clothes. “Surely, this will be better than walking the streets? Oh, dear Mr. Constable- only til the Madame arrives.” “Really, you should have accompanied me to the station, you see,” the constable said and thoughtfully scratched his ear. She startled and moved towards him. “No, don’t do it,” she whimpered as her frozen fingers caught hold of his sleeve. “I beg you- in the name of our beautiful Lord – only till the Madame arrives.” The constable reconsidered. There were only three days till Christmas, he counted. “Very well,” he said as he got up. “You can stay till Christmas, but not a day longer. And mind you, no one must know that you are here.” “God bless you, God bless you, and thank you,” she exclaimed. But remember to be gone by 6 o’clock in the morning, before the rush of traffic begins out here,” he added when he was half-way out the door. The next night, when he passed the hut, he stopped and looked in. She sat leaning against the window, the profile of her scarfed head dimly visible against the glass. The child was at her breast suckling. She did not move and seemed to be asleep. Next morning, it was freezing. During the next day the thermometer dropped to 12 degrees below. It was bitterly cold, calm and cloudless. Rime formed on the windows of the tiny ferryman’s hut, the glass was no longer transparent. The weather changed again Christmas Eve. There was a thaw, and every surface seemed to drip. You almost needed an umbrella, even if there was no rain. The storehouse windows were frost-free, and the roads more slippery than ever. The constable arrived in the afternoon around two. His doctor had given him leave of absence from work the last few nights because of a feverish cold. Now he was coming down to talk with a man on one of the steamships. It so happened that he passed the hut on his way there. Even in the fading daylight he saw, at several paces, something which caused him to stop. It filled his mind with worry. There she was seated in precisely the same position as she was two nights ago. The same profile was visible against the glass. He really didn’t give it much thought, just felt a sudden horror at seeing the petrified figure. A sudden chill went down his spine. Perhaps something had happened? He hurried to the door, it was closed. He broke the glass in a window, got hold of an iron bar which he stuck through the opening and unhinged the hook. Then he slowly and carefully entered. They were both stone dead. The child lay on top of her mother and was still suckling, even in death. A few drops of blood had trickled from the nipple down the child’s cheeks and coagulated on her chin. The mother was terribly emaciated, but her faced seemed fixed in a tranquil smile. “Poor girl, what a Christmas she got,” the constable muttered rubbing his eye. “But perhaps it was for the best for them both. I suppose our Lord has a purpose with everything.” He left the hut, shut the door behind him and fastened the hook. Then he hurried to the station to report the incident. The first day of work after Christmas weekend, the port authorities demolished the hut and removed it. They couldn’t have it there attracting all kinds of vagrants. Translated by Michael Henrik Wynn. 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... [...]
short storyn the year 1841, there resided, at different points in the State of Illinois, three brothers by the name of Trailor. Their Christian names were William, Henry and Archibald. Archibald resided at Springfield, then as now the seat of Government of the State. He was a sober, retiring, and industrious man, of about thirty years of age; a carpenter by trade, and a bachelor, boarding with his partner in business—a Mr. Myers. Henry, a year or two older, was a man of like retiring and industrious habits; had a family, and resided with it on a farm, at Clary’s Grove, about twenty miles distant from Springfield in a northwesterly direction. William, still older, and with similar habits, resided on a farm in Warren county, distant from Springfield something more than a hundred miles in the same northwesterly direction. He was a widower, with several children. In the neighborhood of William’s residence, there was, and had been for several years, a man by the name of Fisher, who was somewhat above the age of fifty; had no family, and no settled home; but who boarded and lodged a while here and a while there, with persons for whom he did little jobs of work. His habits were remarkably economical, so that an impression got about that he had accumulated a considerable amount of money. In the latter part of May, in the year mentioned, William formed the purpose of visiting his brothers at Clary’s Grove and Springfield; and Fisher, at the time having his temporary residence at his house, resolved to accompany him. They set out together in a buggy with a single horse. On Sunday evening they reached Henry’s residence, and stayed overnight. On Monday morning, being the first Monday of June, they started on to Springfield, Henry accompanying them on horseback. They reached town about noon, met Archibald, went with him to his boardinghouse, and there took up their lodgings for the time they should remain. After dinner, the three Trailors and Fisher left the boardinghouse in company, for the avowed purpose of spending the evening together in looking about the town. At supper, the Trailors had all returned, but Fisher was missing, and some inquiry was made about him. After supper, the Trailors went out professedly in search of him. One by one they returned, the last coming in after late teatime, and each stating that he had been unable to discover anything of Fisher. The next day, both before and after breakfast, they went professedly in search again, and returned at noon, still unsuccessful. Dinner again being had, William and Henry expressed a determination to give up the search, and start for their homes. This was remonstrated against by some of the boarders about the house, on the ground that Fisher was somewhere in the vicinity, and would be left without any conveyance, as he and William had come in the same buggy. The remonstrance was disregarded, and they departed for their homes respectively. Up to this time, the knowledge of Fisher’s mysterious disappearance had spread very little beyond the few boarders at Myers’, and excited no considerable interest. After the lapse of three or four days, Henry returned to Springfield, for the ostensible purpose of makings further search for Fisher. Procuring some of the boarders, he, together with them and Archibald, spent another day in ineffectual search, when it was again abandoned, and he returned home. No general interest was yet excited. On the Friday, week after Fisher’s disappearance, the Postmaster at Springfield received a letter from the Postmaster nearest William’s residence, in Warren County, stating that William had returned home without Fisher, and was saying, rather boastfully, that Fisher was dead, and had willed him his money, and that he had got about fifteen hundred dollars by it. The letter further stated that William’s story and conduct seemed strange, and desired the Postmaster at Springfield to ascertain and write what was the truth in the matter. The Postmaster at Springfield made the letter public, and at once, excitement became universal and intense. Springfield, at that time, had a population of about 3,500, with a city organization. The Attorney General of the State resided there. A purpose was forthwith formed to ferret out the mystery, in putting which into execution, the Mayor of the city and the Attorney General took the lead. To make search for, and, if possible, find the body of the man supposed to be murdered, was resolved on as the first step. In pursuance of this, men were formed into large parties, and marched abreast, in all directions, so as to let no inch of ground in the vicinity remain unsearched. Examinations were made of cellars, wells, and pits of all descriptions, where it was thought possible the body might be concealed. All the fresh, or tolerably fresh graves in the graveyard, were pried into, and dead horses and dead dogs were disintered, where, in some instances, they had been buried by their partial masters. This search, as has appeared, commenced on Friday. It continued until Saturday afternoon without success, when it was determined to dispatch officers to arrest William and Henry, at their residences, respectively. The officers started on Sunday morning; meanwhile, the search for the body was continued, and rumors got afloat of the Trailors having passed, at different times and places, several gold pieces, which were readily supposed to have belonged to Fisher. On Monday, the officers sent for Henry, having arrested him, arrived with him. The Mayor and Attorney Gen’l took charge of him, and set their wits to work to elicit a discovery from him. He denied, and denied, and persisted in denying. They still plied him in every conceivable way, till Wednesday, when, protesting his own innocence, he stated that his brothers, William and Archibald, had murdered Fisher; that they had killed him, without his (Henry’s) knowledge at the time, and made a temporary concealment of his body; that, immediately preceding his and William’s departure from Springfield for home, on Tuesday, the day after Fisher’s disappearance, William and Archibald communicated the fact to him, and engaged his assistance in making a permanent concealment of the body; that, at the time he and William left professedly for home, they did not take the road directly, but, meandering their way through the streets, entered the woods at the northwest of the city, two or three hundred yards to the right of where the road they should have travelled, entered them; that, penetrating the woods some few hundred yards, they halted and Archibald came a somewhat different route, on foot, and joined them; that William and Archibald then stationed him (Henry) on an old and disused road that ran near by, as a sentinel, to give warning of the approach of any intruder; that William and Archibald then removed the buggy to the edge of a dense brush thicket, about forty yards distant from his (Henry’s) position, where, leaving the buggy, they entered the thicket, and in a few minutes returned with the body, and placed it in the buggy; that from his station he could and did distinctly see that the object placed in the buggy was a dead man, of the general appearance and size of Fisher; that William and Archibald then moved off with the buggy in the direction of Hickox’s mill pond, and after an absence of half an hour, returned, saying they had put him in a safe place; that Archibald then left for town, and he and William found their way to the road, and made for their homes. At this disclosure, all lingering credulity was broken down, and excitement rose to an almost inconceivable height. Up to this time the well-known character of Archibald had repelled and put down all suspicions as to him. Till then, those who were ready to swear that a murder had been committed, were almost as confident that Archibald had had no part in it. But now, he was seized and thrown into jail; and indeed, his personal security rendered it by no means objectionable to him. And now came the search for the brush thicket, and the search of the mill pond. The thicket was found, and the buggy tracks at the point indicated. At a point within the thicket, the signs of a struggle were discovered, and a trail from thence to the buggy track was traced. In attempting to follow the track of the buggy from the thicket, it was found to proceed in the direction of the mill pond, but could not be traced all the way. At the pond, however, it was found that a buggy had been backed down to, and partially into the water’s edge. Search was now to be made in the pond; and it was made in every imaginable way. Hundreds and hundreds were engaged in raking, fishing, and draining. After much fruitless effort in this way, on Thursday morning the mill dam was cut down, and the water of the pond partially drawn off, and the same processes of search again gone through with. About noon of this day, the officer sent for William, returned having him in custody; and a man calling himself Dr. Gilmore, came in company with them. It seems that the officer arrested William at his own house, early in the day on Tuesday, and started to Springfield with him; that after dark awhile, they reached Lewiston, in Fulton County, where they stopped for the night; that late in the night this Dr. Gilmore arrived, stating that Fisher was alive at his house, and that he had followed on to give the information, so that William might be released without further trouble; that the officer, distrusting Dr. Gilmore, refused to release William, but brought him on to Springfield, and the doctor accompanied them. On reaching Springfield, the doctor re-asserted that Fisher was alive, and at his house. At this, the multitude for a time, were utterly confounded. Gilmore’s story was communicated to Henry Trailor, who without faltering, reaffirmed his own story about Fisher’s murder. Henry’s adherence to his own story was communicated to the crowd, and at once the idea started, and became nearly, if not quite universal, that Gilmore was a confederate of the Trailors, and had invented the tale he was telling, to secure their release and escape. Excitement was again at its zenith. About three o’clock the same evening, Myers, Archibald’s partner, started with a two-horse carriage, for the purpose of ascertaining whether Fisher was alive, as stated by Gilmore, and if so, of bringing him back to Springfield with him. On Friday a legal examination was gone into before two Justices, on the charge of murder against William and Archibald. Henry was introduced as a witness by the prosecution, and on oath re-affirmed his statements, as heretofore detailed, and at the end of which he bore a thorough and rigid cross-examination without faltering or exposure. The prosecution also proved, by a respectable lady, that on the Monday evening of Fisher’s disappearance, she saw Archibald, whom she well knew, and another man whom she did not then know, but whom she believed at the time of testifying to be William, (then present,) and still another, answering the description of Fisher, all enter the timber at the northwest of town, (the point indicated by Henry,) and after one or two hours, saw William and Archibald return without Fisher. Several other witnesses testified, that on Tuesday, at the time William and Henry professedly gave up the search for Fisher’s body, and started for home, they did not take the road directly, but did go into the woods, as stated by Henry. By others, also, it was proved, that since Fisher’s disappearance, William and Archibald had passed rather an unusual number of gold pieces. The statements heretofore made about the thicket, the signs of a struggle, the buggy tracks, &c., were fully proven by numerous witnesses. At this the prosecution rested. Dr. Gilmore was then introduced by the defendants. He stated that he resided in Warren county, about seven miles distant from William’s residence; that on the morning of William’s arrest, he was out from home, and heard of the arrest, and of its being on a charge of the murder of Fisher; that on returning to his own house, he found Fisher there; that Fisher was in very feeble health, and could give no rational account as to where he had been during his absence; that he (Gilmore) then started in pursuit of the officer, as before stated; and that he should have taken Fisher with him, only that the state of his health did not permit. Gilmore also stated that he had known Fisher for several years, and that he had understood he was subject to temporary derangement of mind, owing to an injury about his head received in early life. There was about Dr. Gilmore so much of the air and manner of truth, that his statement prevailed in the minds of the audience and of the court, and the Trailors were discharged, although they attempted no explanation of the circumstances proven by the other witnesses. On the next Monday, Myers arrived in Springfield, bringing with him the now famed Fisher, in full life and proper person. Thus ended this strange affair and while it is readily conceived that a writer of novels could bring a story to a more perfect climax, it may well be doubted whether a stranger affair ever really occurred. Much of the matter remains in mystery to this day. The going into the woods with Fisher, and returning without him, by the Trailors; their going into the woods at the same place the next day, after they professed to have given up the search; the signs of a struggle in the thicket, the buggy tracks at the edge of it; and the location of the thicket, and the signs about it, corresponding precisely with Henry’s story, are circumstances that have never been explained. William and Archibald have both died since—William in less than a year, and Archibald in about two years after the supposed murder. Henry is still living, but never speaks of the subject. It is not the object of the writer of this to enter into the many curious speculations that might be indulged upon the facts of this narrative; yet he can scarcely forbear a remark upon what would, almost certainly, have been the fate of William and Archibald, had Fisher not been found alive. It seems he had wandered away in mental derangement, and, had he died in this condition, and his body been found in the vicinity, it is difficult to conceive what could have saved the Trailors from the consequence of having murdered him. Or, if he had died, and his body never found, the case against them would have been quite as bad, for, although it is a principle of law that a conviction for murder shall not be had, unless the body of the deceased be discovered, it is to be remembered, that Henry testified that he saw Fisher’s dead body. Published by Abraham Lincoln, April 15, 1846 Listen to a reading of the story:   Like this:Like Loading... [...]