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history / movies  Despite the hardships of war, the 1940s are usually considered a golden age of British cinema. TV was not yet introduced into the homes, and during the worst fighting the audience flocked in their millions to see the Noel Coward films of David Lean, the collaborative work of Powell & Pressburger or Gainsborough melodramas (1943-49). After the war there were of course Ealing comedies (1947-57) to cheer you up. How did the British manage to maintain such an output of quality productions during a period when sacrifices were so great? We had a brief chat with movie historian Charles Drazin.  How were films financed during the war? Charles Drazin: Dominating production at this time was the Rank Organisation, which provided the lion’s share of financing for most of the prestige films that are still remembered today. (The Rank Organization was the media empire founded by J. Arthur Rank, and owned everything from studios to the cinemas where the movies played.) Was there much censorship? Charles Drazin: Mainstream movies had to respect the British Board of Film Censorship and, if they wanted to get into the profitable US market, the Hollywood Production Code, and also of course any wartime regulations relating to national security, but I think what was more notable was the freedom that film-makers had to express themselves. A good example is Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943). Churchill wasn’t able to prevent the film from being released although he disapproved fiercely of its content. Were movie people exempt from military service in any way? Charles Drazin: They could be if they were in a “reserved occupation” deemed to be necessary for the furtherance of the war effort. How do British wartime movies compare with the similar productions in Germany? Charles Drazin: Filmmakers were “free” in the sense that no higher government authority was telling them what to say. Obviously film-makers were encouraged to make films that support the war effort, but there was a diversity and authenticity of spirit that comes from free expression. The British film industry was of course engaged in a kind of propaganda but it was soft propaganda as opposed to the hard propaganda of the Nazis. I like the comment someone made about the great British documentary film-maker Humphrey Jennings that he was making “propaganda for the human race”. Were the movies distributed among the troops? Charles Drazin: Most certainly. What about availability of raw film? Certainly that would have to be rationed during the war? Charles Drazin: Yes, very significantly. Like so many other things at this time raw film was rationed. How did the moviegoers during WWII react to the realism of some films, such as One of our Aircraft is Missing? Charles Drazin: The critics thought such realism was the crowning glory of a British film renaissance – what made it stand out from the phoniness of Hollywood – but of course over time audiences grew tired of it. In the second half of the war the most successful movies were the escapist Gainsborough romantic melodramas. These melodramas were very much aimed at women. (The men were mostly off to war, or perhaps home on leave.) Did the army have any role in the production of the film like In Which we serve (1942) or One of Our Aicraft is Missing (1942)? Charles Drazin: The armed forces would provide support in the form of men and equipment to films that the Ministry of Information considered to be in support of the war effort. What would you say were the major forms of innovation in British cinema during the war years? Charles Drazin: The major achievement in my view was breaking away from formulaic, genre cinema to say something important to a mass popular audience. There were all sorts of style innovations, but it was the coming to age of the cinema as a serious medium in Britain that made such innovations possible. One of Our Aicraft is Missing (1942)  Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyA controversial row is dividing Norwegian and European historians and researchers these days: decolonization of academia. What does it actually mean? Some seem to think that it is a matter of giving credit where credit is due; to all the unsung heroes of non-western background who have been suppressed or banned from official accounts. Others see it as an attempt to introduce non-scientific methodology in areas where it cannot possibly do good, in medicine or the natural sciences. We talked with an outspoken proponent of decolonization, the historian of ideas Dag Herbjørnsrud, and asked him to specify what the movement is trying to do.  When did this movement of decolonization start, and why has it become an issue now? Dag Herbjørnsrud: The event that sparked much of the current decolonial debates was the removal of the Cecil Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town, on April 9th, 2015. One student, Chumani Mawele, started the protest exactly one month earlier, arguing that the “The Thinker”-looking statue of the colonizer, one of the founders of the apartheid ideology, does not represent him nor the students of today’s South Africa. The students started the peaceful civil disobedience campaign #RhodesMustFall – and after a month of discussion, the Council of the university conceded. Later, the students expanded the campaign to include the right to affordable education. The decolonize campaign spread to Europe as well: At the University of Cambridge, a group of scholars began discussing how one could “decolonize” its English literature syllabus last year – not only focusing on the texts of white males. Academics around the world are now asking: Is the Canon we teach really a selection of the best texts available? And: Is the history of the different disciplines presented in a neutral, scientific way, or how much of the colonial and biased legacy from the last couple of hundred years is still present? Oxford University Press is now establishing the “New Histories of Philosophies” series with professor Christia Mercer and Melvin Rogers as editors. London University has started to offer the course “World Philosophies,” and Dr Meera Sabaratnam was the one who held the introduction at the seminar on “Decolonising the Academy” in Oslo, June 8th. In Norway, a “Decolonial Research Group”  was set up at The Norwegian University of Science and Techology some months ago, a platform for discussing “the legacies of colonialism from ethical, sociotechnical, literary, and cultural perspectives.” They recently held their first public workshop in Trondheim, and soon after, the student organization SAIH (The Students and Academics International Assistance Fund) did a very well attended seminar in Oslo. This fall, several books are published internationally: One of them is the anthology “Decolonising the University” (Pluto Press); Sussex-professor Gurminder K. Bhambra is one of the editors.  I studied postcolonial literature in the 90s, what is different now? Dag Herbjørnsrud: You’re right: Decolonization might look like postcolonial studies all over again. And of course, classics like Edward D. Said’s Orientalism (1978), Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak” (1988), and Samir Amin’s Eurocentrism (1988) are an important background for today’s development. Still, I would say that the decolonizing concept brings new energy to the debates: Instead of a narrative where “postcolonial” succeeds the colonial era, a bit like Neo-romanticism arises as a consequence of Romanticism, the concept of decolonizing rather makes us think: No, we need to reject the colonial ideology altogether. We need decolonize! The problem is the ideological colonial narrative that is all around us. The task is to erase the colonial legacy from our mind sets – in order to get a more balanced and scientific approach to our past and present. In other words: Decolonising the Mind. That is also the title of a book published in 1986 by the Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o. His main concern was language; the right to speak, write, and use one’s native language instead of only colonial languages like English. I think Thiongo’s concept has this transcending power that could be applied to most of the Academy of today. In 1999, New Zealand professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith published Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People. This is a ground-breaking book that uses the Maori experience with the colonial system in order to bring us forward toward a more non-colonial and global perspective. As I see it, there are often one or more of these three demands when it comes to decolonizing: 1) A more balanced presentation of the world’s scientific history within the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. The Academy should not only be based on a Eurocentric or Protestant/Catholic narrative. 2) A less Oriental account of the world outside Western Europe/the US. For the last decades this region has been given the mythological name “the Western Countries,” seemingly meaning “white”, but too often the complexity and diversity of Europe and the US are not acknowledged. 3) A more subject critical evaluation of what we study, and why. In several disciplines today, European men have been canonized and given quotas just because one has not bothered to look for earlier or better writers and scholars. There are other perspectives as well. Student organizations have been working in order to help establish the Indigenous University in Colombia – and last year the Native and Afro-descendant Peoples of Abya Yala thanked a number of Norwegian institutions for their support. So, decolonizing can mean different things depending on the discipline, the place, and the context. But I think the most contributions can be included in the three points above.  You have written a book called Global Knowledge. Renaissance for a New Enlightenment (2016, new edition in 2018). Why did you decide to write this work? Dag Herbjørnsrud: After some twenty years in the media, and some three co-authored books, I got a bit tired of all the myths and simplifications in the media and the academy. So, instead of asking others to give a non-colonial presentation of the world’s global knowledge – arguing for a new Renaissance – I just wrote the book myself. I founded Center for Global and Comparative History on April 6th, 2015, three days before Chumani Mawele started his more successful campaign in South Africa. In May 2016, just before I was to turn in my manuscript of my book, Bryan W. Van Norden and Jay L. Garfield published a column in the New York Times arguing for diversity, and this column resulted in the book Taking Back Philosophy. A Multicultural Manifesto (2017). So, I guess you might say that these topics of diversity, global perspectives, and non-colonial thinking were in the air several places in the world.  Could you give us some examples of characters that have been neglected by official historians? Dag Herbjørnsrud: Oh, that would take weeks. But of the English texts I have published on these matters, I could mention the Aeon essay “The African Enlightenment”: It covers the Ethiopian rationalist philosopher Zera Yacob (1599–1672) and his student Walda Heywat. In his book, The Inquiry (1667), Zera Yacob argues against all religious laws that are contrary to reason, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Indian. He argues against laws that says menstruating women are impure, as it “impedes marriage and the entire life of a woman, and it spoils the law of mutual help, prevents the bringing up of children and destroys love.” Zera Yacob stated that woman and man are “equal in marriage,” and he put forward a universal argument against slavery and discrimination “All men are equal in the presence of God; and all are intelligent, since they are his creatures; he did not assign one people for life, another for death, one for mercy, another for judgment. Our reason teaches us that this sort of discrimination cannot exist.” This is far beyond anything Kant wrote, a hundred years later. The Aeon text became one of the most shared essays on the web last December/January, and it was translated and published in some of the foremost papers and magazines in Brazil, Iran, and Italy. So, it seems that there might become a global awakening. More people understand that the human culture has produced so much more exciting than the ethnocentric and national canons we have been fed. The Aeon text also covers Anton Wilhelm Amo (ca. 1703–1755), who was born and died in today’s Ghana. As a young child he was brought to Germany – and he ended up teaching philosophy at Halle and Wittenberg and writing treatises in Latin. One could of course mention hundreds of names from the Chinese, Indian, Arab, African, and Latin American cultures who have contributed to the world heritage. When it comes to the natural sciences more recently, I would like to mention the Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose (1894–1974) whose work on quantum mechanics provided the foundation for Bose-Einstein condensate.  Bose’s contribution was misrepresented in the curriculum at the University of Oslo, and I’m glad the result of the discussion is that he is given due credit for his important work. Bose’s article was actually rejected in the UK, so he sent it to Albert Einstein, who immediately recognized his genius derivation of Planck’s law. Einstein translated the text from English into German, and Bose got it published. The rest is history. When it comes to the theory of evolution, I think it should be common knowledge to know that Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) – who also can be named a founder of sociology – proclaimed that humans descend from apes: “The higher stage of man is reached from the world of monkeys, in which both sagacity and perception are found, but which has not reached the stage of actual reflection and thinking.” When it comes to history, I think it is important to know that The Battle of Vienna (1683) – and the rest of European history for that matter – never was a clash of civilizations between Christianity and Islam. My second Aeon essay, “The Real Battle of Vienna”, highlighted how the Sunni Muslim Tatars of Lithuania and Poland have been vital for the defense of their countries from 1397 and until the Nazi invasion in WWII. In general, the encyclopedias, the media, or the standard text books do not mention such facts; maybe such facts are not deemed as important, but they are.  What about this argument presented by your opponents that SAIH will introduce dangerous medical treatements or perhaps set back the progress of research? Dag Herbjørnsrud: Those accusations against SAIH and others are way off target. True, The Daily Mail and other UK colonial defenders have had some vicious attacks on the students who wanted to mention Kant’s racism and terrible views upon women. But the claims from some academics and media pundits have been rather embarrassing for the image of Scandinavian debate. Wouldn’t decolonization have to take into account the peculiarities of each academic discipline? Can we have a decolonization of medical science, for instance? Dag Herbjørnsrud: Yes, one has to be precise. And medical faculty postdoc Tony Sandset has stressed exactly that point. According to Maren Sæbø, a journalist and historian specializing in African affairs, the medical research institutions do not prioritize sickle-cell disease, of which 80 percent of the cases occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. That is one way to decolonize medical science – to give priority also to the health problems among minorities in rich countries and to diseases in countries that have been colonized. In addition, I think all medical students should be taught that the Persian polymath Ibn Sina (980–1037) wrote The Canon of Medicine (1025) – which was the standard medical textbook in Europe for over five hundred years, until the 18th century. If the upcoming doctors and researchers know that they are following in the footsteps of a Muslim from today’s Uzbekistan, the father of modern medicine, I think that will have positive effect on attitudes and actions as well.  Another argument presented by your opponents is that you, by adding to the official canon, will push out familiar faces. These characters, some claim, are essential for understanding our own history? Dag Herbjørnsrud: That is a valid point to discuss. One answer would be: Look at the books written by professor Arne Næss for exphil (the introductory courses at the Norwegian universities) in 1953. He did not push out familiar faces even though he included Chinese, Indian, and Arab philosophers. It is the Canon of the last decades that has become more narrow and ethnocentric. For example, Goethe was inspired by the Persian poet Hafez, dedicating one of his latest major works (West-Eastern Divan) to him. Both Martin Buber and Martin Heidegger translated and utilized the thinking of the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi in their writings. The British translated a lot of Indian texts into English while they occupied/colonized India. I would say such things changed for the worse after WWII. Ironically, when the former colonies became politically independent states, the former colonizers seem to have lost interest in their intellectual production. So, the political decolonization did not result in a mental decolonization. Take a look at the historian William McNeill’s bestseller The Rise of the West. A History of the Human Community (1963). It neglected or Orientalized the world beyond “the West”. But in 1991, in a new foreword, McNeill admitted that his former scope and conception was “intellectual imperialism,” an expression of “the postwar imperial mood”, and a result of “residual Eurocentrism.” Unfortunately, not too many are as self-critical as him. When history is written it may trace either chronology or influence. Some ideas emerge, only to be forgotten and then re-appear at a later date. It is the same in nature, the eye has been re-invented many times by evolution. Could you give us example of such an idea, and tell us why it is important to study these historical «dead ends»? Dag Herbjørnsrud: One example is the atheistic and secular school of India, Lokayata (also known as Carvaka). It is the world’s oldest known atheistic and materialistic thinking, more than 2500 years old. We have texts about such natural thinkers, like Jayarasi in the 8th century and the Muslim Mughal emperor Akbar in the 1580s. But atheism became a “dead end” during colonial times – the 17th–20th centuries were actually very religious. I think atheism/Lokayata is an example of an idea/school that can reappear more forcefully now in the 21st century. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya’s collection on this is so great – and just a week ago, Ethan Mills published a very exciting book on a closely related topic, scepticism, namely Three Pilars of Scepticism in Classical India.  Some claim that decolonization should only be relevant for certain cultural spheres. The Chinese, for instance, should perhaps be allowed to use their own thinkers instead of the western ones. What are your specific goals with decolonization? Are you trying to change our common global knowledge, or are you calling for more space for individuality? Dag Herbjørnsrud: I’m trying to change, or rather improve, our common global knowledge. I think we need to expand our knowledge both in its breadth and in its depth. A hundred or two hundred years ago, the educated people were proud to know about the world. For the last decades, it seems like we in Europe have become less interested in the global history if ideas. The global perspectives of Arne Næss was removed from the curriculum lists, and the UiO master program of both the history of ideas and cultural history has been defined purely as part of “European culture”. This idea of “cultural spheres”, that only the Chinese should know about the Chinese, is really new and dangerous. Yes, Europeans still know about the peace message of Gandhi and Mandela – but there is so much more – like the cosmopolitan “universal love” philosophy of the Chinese thinker Mozi (3rd c BCE). Luckily, people in Africa and Asia get to know about Europe, but it is dangerous that Europeans in general are not taught much about the rest of the world – at least not in a non-Oriental or non-colonial way. This narrowness feeds extremists and populists. In his main work of 1543, Copernicus proudly quoted Arab scientists and stated that he relied on Egyptian calculations and Indian numbers. Such pre-colonial world-views are seldom these days. But I still believe in change.So many excellent academics are working for the better – for example Peter Frankopan, check his bestseller The Silk Roads (2015), and Wendy L Belcher, Sarah E. Bond, Dorothy Kim, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Peter Adamson, and Chike Jeffers. Why do you think there has been so much opposition to the decolonization project within Norwegian academia? Dag Hebjørnsrud: One reason is that some scholars feel threatened. After all, the philosophy departments in Norway basically teach philosophy only within a European Catholic-Protestant tradition. So, Europeans like the Muslim Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides – both from what is now Spain and born in the 12th century – are excluded. Ibn Rushd was included in the Canon by both Dante in 1320 and by the painter Raphael in 1511, but now, he’s not presented as a European anymore. In addition, Norwegians have for generations been taught that they have been “colonized” by Danish and Swedes. Norway’s unions with its neighboring countries had nothing to do with colonialism, of course. But Norwegians are not being taught that Norway was heavily involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade; shipping over 100,000 Africans to the Danish-Norwegian colonies in Ghana and in the Caribbean (St. Thomas, St John, and St Croix) from 1672 to 1814. And it’s not yet part of general knowledge to acknowledge that the Sami people for centuries have been treated in a colonial way by the state, like the indigenous people in Canada or the Maoris in New Zealand. Without facing such facts or realizing the historical suppression of the Jews and the Roma people, it will also be hard to face such a debate on decolonizing the Academy.  Let us say that you are successful in your efforts. What will be different in our western academia? Dag Herbjørnsrud: Well, it’s not about me; it’s about us. What kind of academia would we like? Several loud voices seem to fancy a more nationalist, ethnocentric, and colonial curriculum – based on a white identity ideology. I would prefer a more balanced, global, scientific, and non-ideological presentation of the past and the present. In short: decolonized and non-colonized reading lists. There is a long way to go. But there is still hope. Dag Herbjørnsrud is the author of  Global Knowledge. Renaissance for a New Enlightenment (2016, new edition in 2018), a work hailed as “An enormously important project” by Norwegian social anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen. The book is a journey into the history of ideas, from India’s secular lokayata-philosophy, via Copernicus and the woman who wrote the world’s very first novel, to The Matrix.  Relevant links: “The African Enlightenment”, an essay by Dag Herbjørnsrud  “The Real Battle of Vienna”, an essay by Dag Herbjørnsrud “Den Muslimske Darwin”, a Norwegian article by Dag Herbjørnsrud (translation: The Muslim Darwin”) Like this:Like Loading... [...]
creative writing / literatureSometimes everyone who writes get frustrated. You search for different ways of improving your writing, and of understanding what it actually is. There is a whole support industry for writers, with all sorts of meta theories, methods and ideas. But which ones to choose? decided on a different approach: we would seek out a genuine clinical psychologist and ask him or her some questions. Of course, there is the a chance that we might not be asking the right questions. But that’s what psychologists are for, isn’t it? We were fortunate enough to get in touch with professor Elena Grigorenko. And we got some things clarified at least: even a distinguished professor may struggle with writing. ……..Also, I think our questions could have been better. Some people write diaries or journals, does this have any proven psychological value? Elena Grigorenko: This is a very broad question. Psychological value in general? Or as a component of something else, for example, treatment for aphasia or dysgraphia or depression? With regard to the former, it depends on how the writer frames diary and/or journal writing for him/herself. The subjective value attached to this exercise does matter a lot. It could be viewed as an autobiographical tool, as a self-efficacy tool, as a writing development tool, and all these tools are improvable—the more you practice, the better you get. With regard to the latter, yes, writing is used effectively in various treatment approaches and there is a corresponding literature for that. Does it matter whether you write by hand or on a keyboard? Elena Grigorenko: The writing mode one uses does matter. Consider a number of parameters here. The first is speed. When adults speak, they produce 120-180 words per minute, when they type—60-90 words, when they handwrite—18-24 words. The second is coordination—while writing by hand, we need to coordinate multiple modalities, there is a substantial fine motor element to hand-writing which is very important. The third is editability; when we type, it is much easier to edit, compared to handwriting. Finally (among many other possible dimensions of comparisons, I suppose), there are esthetic features to writing. Calligraphy was considered a type of art; not quite like painting, but… not that different, really. Typing has never been appreciated for its esthetic features. So, it does matter; different types of writing engage different (although overlapping, of course) sets of psychological processes. What about writing literature, being creative and constructing scenarios that have nothing to do with your personal experience? Elena Grigorenko:  What about it? This opens different dimensions for us to consider, among which are “gift with words” (this type of writing is different from creating grocery lists) and “gift of storytelling.” This is not only about the skill of putting words on paper or on screen. There is much more to it! Is there an optimal way of writing, things that one should or should not do? Elena Grigorenko:  Writing for what purposes? Developmentally, writing acquisition is a very important component of developing mind-hand coordination, so hand-writing is very important. In the everyday adult world typing saves time, makes people much more effective in expressing their thoughts quickly (and sometimes sloppily). There are different (very different!) goals for which different modes of writing are used, and it is important to differentiate these goals. When I was a student, I found that writing had an impact on memory. For instance, if there was a lecture, whether I remembered its content or not often depended on whether I took notes. Regardless of whether I actually consulted my notes afterwards. Is this true? Elena Grigorenko: Yes, it is true. Note-taking gives you a chance to process the information twice, initially orally and then when you put your thoughts on paper. This means you have encoded the information twice (and therefore, will remember it better). Many writers have different rituals that they perform before beginning their daily sessions. Does this have any proven value? Elena Grigorenko:  I, unfortunately, do not know much about these routines, but I assume that these are used as self-organization devices, so people get themselves into states of mind that they consider effective for the goals they want to accomplish. It is, probably, not that different from musicians or athletes or professors—all have to get into modes of maximum performance. What does writing tell us about the way we externalize and organize ideas? Elena Grigorenko:  Are you asking about judging the quality of thinking of an individual based on his or her writing? Sure, that can be done. That is why writing is used diagnostically in school settings, admission to higher education settings, and job performance settings. Yes, writing is a good diagnostic tool. And it could be used to diagnose different skills–critical thinking and creative thinking, among other things. If we regard writing in terms of brain function, have we discovered anything new in recent years about the phenomena of writing? Elena Grigorenko:  Writing does involve the brain and there are specific pathways (partially overlapping with and partially different from those used to substantiate reading and math). Are there differences between the effect of different types of languages, for instance English and Chinese? Elena Grigorenko: Yes, of course. Writing necessitates the mastery of a writing system, alphabetic or not. As systems differ, so does writing, both developmentally (i.e., how we learn it) and functionally (i.e. how we use it). What about your own methods of writing? You have written several books; did you follow any of your own advice? Elena Grigorenko: No, unfortunately, I do not have a recipe. Writing is difficult for me, it is hard work. And all I do to get better is practice as much as I can and solicit feedback as much as I can. And try to get better at it. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
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 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... [...]
short storyBy Aleister Crowley atricia Fleming threw the reins to a groom, and ran up the steps into the great house, her thin lips white with rage. Lord Eyre followed her heavily. ‘I’ll be down in half an hour,’ she laughed merrily, ‘tell Dawson to bring you a drink!’ Then she went straight through the house, her girlish eyes the incarnation of a curse. For the third time she had failed to bring Geoffrey Eyre to her feet. She looked into her hat; there in the lining was the talisman that she had tested—and it had tricked her. What do I need? she thought. Must it be blood? She was a maiden of the pure English strain; brave, gay, honest, shrewd—and there was not one that guessed the inmost fire that burnt her. For she was but a child when the Visitor came. The first of the Visits was in a dream. She woke choking; the air—clear, sweet, and wholesome as it blew through the open window from the Chilterns—was fouled with a musty stench. And she woke her governess with a tale of a tiger. The second Visit was again at night. She had been hunting, was alone at the death, had beaten off the hounds. That night she heard a fox bark in her room. She spent a sleepless night of terror; in the morning she found the red hairs of a fox upon her pillow. The third Visit was nor in sleep nor waking. But she tightened her lips, and would have veiled the hateful gleam in her eyes. It was that day, though, that she struck a servant with her riding-whip. She was so sane that she knew exactly wherein her madness lay; and she set all her strength not to conquer but to conceal it. Two years later, and Patricia Fleming, the orphan heiress of Carthwell Abbey, was the county toast, Diana of the Chilterns. Yet Geoffrey Eyre evaded her. His dog’s fidelity and honesty kept him true to the little north-country girl that three months earlier had seduced his simplicity. He did not even love her; but she had made him think so for an hour; and his pledged word held him. Patricia’s open favour only made him hate her because of its very seduction. It was really his own weakness that he hated. Patricia ran, tense and angry, through the house. The servants noticed it. The mistress has been crossed, they thought, she will go to the chapel and get ease. Praising her.True, to the chapel she went; locked the door, dived behind the altar, struck a secret panel, came suddenly into a priest’s hiding-hole, a room large enough to hold a score of men if need be. At the end of the room was a great scarlet cross, and on it, her face to the wood, her wrists and ankles swollen over the whip lashes that bound her, hung a naked girl, big-boned, voluptuous. Red hair streamed over her back. ‘What, Margaret! so blue?’ laughed Patricia. ‘I am cold,’ said the girl upon the cross, in an indifferent voice. ‘Nonsense, dear!’ answered Patricia, rapidly divesting herself of her riding-habit. ‘There is nohint of frost; we had a splendid run, and a grand kill. You shall be warm yet, for all that.’ This time the girl writhed and moaned a little. Patricia took from an old wardrobe a close-fitting suit of fox fur, and slipped it on her slim white body. ‘Did I make you wait, dear?’ she said, with a curious leer. ‘I am the keener for the sport, be sure!’ She took the faithless talisman from her hat. It was a little square of vellum, written upon in black. She took a hairpin from her head, pierced the talisman, and drove the pin into the girl’s thigh. ‘They must have blood,’ said she. ‘Now see how I will turn the blue to red! Come! don’t wince: you haven’t had it for a month.’ Then her ivory arm slid like a serpent from the furs, and with the cutting whip she struck young Margaret between the shoulders. A shriek rang out: its only echo was Patricia’s laugh, childlike, icy, devilish. She struck again and again. Great weals of purple stood on the girl’s back; froth tinged with blood came from her mouth, for she had bitten her lips and tongue in agony. Patricia grew warm and rosy—exquisitely beautiful. Her bare breasts heaved; her lips parted; her whole body and soul seemed lapped in ecstasy. ‘I wish you were Geoffrey, girlie!’ she panted. Then the skin burst. Raw flesh oozed blood that dribbled down Margaret’s back. Still the fair maid struck and struck in the silence, until the tiny rivulets met and waxed great and touched the talisman. She threw the bloody whalebone into a corner, and went upon her knees. She kissed her friend; she kissed the talisman; and again kissed the girl, the warm blood staining her pure lips. She took the talisman, and hid it in her bosom. Last of all she loosened the cords, and Margaret sank in a heap to the floor. Patricia threw furs over her and rolled her up in them; brought wine, and poured it down her throat. She smiled, kindly, like a sister. ‘Sleep now awhile, sweetheart!’ she whispered, and kissed her forehead. It was a very demure and self-possessed little maiden that made dinner lively for poor Geoffrey, who was thinking over his mistake. Patricia’s old aunt, who kept house for her, smiled on the flirtation. It was not by accident that she left them alone sitting over the great fire. ‘Poor Margaret has her rheumatism again,’ she explained innocently; ‘I must go and see how she is.’ Loyal Margaret! So it happened that Geoffrey lost his head. ‘The ivy is strong enough’ (she had whispered, ere their first kiss had hardly died). ‘Before the moon is up, be sure!’ and glided off just as the aunt returned. Eyre excused himself; half a mile from the house he left his horse to his man to Lead home, and ten minutes later was groping for Patricia in the dark. White as a lily in body and soul, she took him in her arms. Awaking as from death, he suddenly cried out, ‘Oh God! What is it? Oh my God! my God! Patricia! Your body! Your body!’ ‘Yours!’ she cooed. ‘Why, you’re all hairy!’ he cried. ‘And the scent! the scent!’ From without came sharp and resonant the yap of a hound as the moon rose. Patricia put her hands to her body. He was telling the truth. ‘The Visitor!’ she screamed once with fright, and was silent. He switched the light on, and she screamed again. There was a savage lust upon his face. ‘This afternoon,’ he cried, ‘you called me a dog. I looked like a dog and thought like a dog; and, by God! I am a dog. I’ll act like a dog then!’ Obedient to some strange instinct, she dived from the bed for the window. But he was on her; his teeth met in her throat. In the morning they found the dead bodies of both hound and fox—but how did that explain the wonderful elopement of Lord Eyre and Miss Fleming? For neither of them was ever seen again. I think Margaret understands; in the convent which she rules today there hangs beside a blood-stained cutting-whip the silver model of a fox, with the inscription: ‘Patricia Margaritæ vulpis vulpem dedit.’ 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... [...]
short storypublished in All-Story Weekly, September 21, 1918 by Francis Stevens (real name Gertrude Barrows Bennett, 1884–1948) t was after nine o’clock when the bell rang, and descending to the dimly lighted hall I opened the front door, at first on the chain to be sure of my visitor. Seeing, as I had hoped, the face of our friend, Ralph Quentin, I took off the chain and he entered with a blast of sharp November air for company. I had to throw my weight upon the door to close it against the wind. As he removed his hat and cloak he laughed good-humoredly. “You’re very cautious, Santallos. I thought you were about to demand a password before admitting me.” “It is well to be cautious,” I retorted. “This house stands somewhat alone, and thieves are everywhere.” “It would require a thief of considerable muscle to make off with some of your treasures. That stone tomb-thing, for instance; what do you call it?” “The Beni Hassan sarcophagus. Yes. But what of the gilded inner case, and what of the woman it contains? A thief of judgment and intelligence might covet that treasure and strive to deprive me of it. Don’t you agree?” He only laughed again, and counterfeited a shudder. “The woman! Don’t remind me that such a brown, shriveled, mummy-horror was ever a woman!” “But she was. Doubtless in her day my poor Princess of Naarn was soft, appealing; a creature of red, moist lips and eyes like stars in the black Egyptian sky. ‘The Songstress of the House’ she was called, ere she became Ta–Nezem the Osirian. But I keep you standing here in the cold hall. Come upstairs with me. Did I tell you that Beatrice is not here tonight?” “No?” His intonation expressed surprise and frank disappointment. “Then I can’t say good-by to her? Didn’t you receive my note? I’m to take Sanderson’s place as manager of the sales department in Chicago, and I’m off tomorrow morning.” “Congratulations. Yes, we had your note, but Beatrice was given an opportunity to join some friends on a Southern trip. The notice was short, but of late she has not been so well and I urged her to go. This November air is cruelly damp and bitter.” “What was it — a yachting cruise?” “A long cruise. She left this afternoon. I have been sitting in her boudoir, Quentin, thinking of her, and I’ll tell you about it there — if you don’t mind?” “Wherever you like,” he conceded, though in a tone of some surprise. I suppose he had not credited me with so much sentiment, or thought it odd that I should wish to share it with another, even so good a friend as he. “You must find it fearfully lonesome here without Bee,” he continued. “A trifle.” We were ascending the dark stairs now. “After tonight, however, things will be quite different. Do you know that I have sold the house?” “No! Why, you are full of astonishments, old chap. Found a better place with more space for your tear-jars and tombstones?” He meant, I assumed, a witty reference to my collection of Coptic and Egyptian treasures, well and dearly bought, but so much trash to a man of Quentin’s youth and temperament. I opened the door of my wife’s boudoir, and it was pleasant to pass into such rosy light and warmth out of the stern, dark cold of the hall. Yet it was an old house, full of unexpected drafts. Even here there was a draft so strong that a heavy velour curtain at the far side of the room continually rippled and billowed out, like a loose rose-colored sail. Never far enough, though, to show what was behind it. My friend settled himself on the frail little chair that stood before my wife’s dressing-table. It was the kind of chair that women love and most men loathe, but Quentin, for all his weight and stature, had a touch of the feminine about him, or perhaps of the feline. Like a cat, he moved delicately. He was blond and tall, with fine, regular features, a ready laugh, and the clean charm of youth about him — also its occasional blundering candor. As I looked at him sitting there, graceful, at ease, I wished that his mind might have shared the litheness of his body. He could have understood me so much better. “I have indeed found a place for my collections,” I observed, seating myself near by. “In fact, with a single exception — the Ta–Nezem sarcophagus — the entire lot is going to the dealers.” Seeing his expression of astonished disbelief I continued: “The truth is, my dear Quentin, that J have been guilty of gross injustice to our Beatrice. I have been too good a collector and too neglectful a husband. My ‘tear-jars and tombstones,’ in fact, have enjoyed an attention that might better have been elsewhere bestowed. Yes, Beatrice has left me alone, but the instant that some few last affairs are settled I intend rejoining her. And you yourself are leaving. At least, none of us three will be left to miss the others’ friendship.” “You are quite surprising tonight, Santallos. But, by Jove, I’m not sorry to hear any of it! It’s not my place to criticize, and Bee’s not the sort to complain. But living here in this lonely old barn of a house, doing all her own work, practically deserted by her friends, must have been — ” “Hard, very hard,” I interrupted him softly, “for one so young and lovely as our Beatrice. But if I have been blind at least the awakening has come. You should have seen her face when she heard the news. It was wonderful. We were standing, just she and I, in the midst of my tear-jars and tombstones — my ‘chamber of horrors’ she named it. You are so apt at amusing phrases, both of you. We stood beside the great stone sarcophagus from the Necropolis of Beni Hassan. Across the trestles beneath it lay the gilded inner case wherein Ta–Nezem the Osirian had slept out so many centuries. You know its appearance. A thing of beautiful, gleaming lines, like the quaint, smiling image of a golden woman. “Then I lifted the lid and showed Beatrice that the one-time songstress, the handmaiden of Amen, slept there no more, and the case was empty. You know, too, that Beatrice never liked my princess. For a jest she used to declare that she was jealous. Jealous of a woman dead and ugly so many thousand years! Or — but that was only in anger — that I had bought Ta–Nezem with what would have given her, Beatrice, all the pleasure she lacked in life. Oh, she was not too patient to reproach me, Quentin, but only in anger and hot blood. “So I showed her the empty case, and I said, ‘Beloved wife, never again need you be jealous of Ta–Nezem. All that is in this room save her and her belongings I have sold, but her I could not bear to sell. That which I love, no man else shall share or own. So I have destroyed her. I have rent her body to brown, aromatic shreds. I have burned her; it is as if she had never been. And now, dearest of the dear, you shall take for your own all the care, all the keeping that Heretofore I have lavished upon the Princess of Naam.’ “Beatrice turned from the empty case as if she could scarcely believe her hearing, but when she saw by the look in my eyes that I meant exactly what I said, neither more nor less, you should have seen her face, my dear Quentin — you should have seen her face!” “I can imagine.” He laughed, rather shortly. For some reason my guest seemed increasingly ill at ease, and glanced continually about the little rose-and-white room that was the one luxurious, thoroughly feminine corner — that and the cold, dark room behind the curtain — in what he had justly called my “barn of a house.” “Santallos,” he continued abruptly, and I thought rather rudely, “you should have a portrait done as you look tonight. You might have posed for one of those stern old hidalgos of — which painter was it who did so many Spanish dons and donesses?” “You perhaps mean Velasquez,” I answered with mild courtesy, though secretly and as always his crude personalities displeased me. “My father, you may recall, was of Cordova in southern Spain. But — must you go so soon? First drink one glass with me to our missing Beatrice. See how I was warming my blood against the wind that blows in, even here. The wine is Amontillado, some that was sent me by a friend of my father’s from the very vineyards where the grapes were grown and pressed. And for many years it has ripened since it came here. Before she went, Beatrice drank of it from one of these same glasses. True wine of Montilla! See how it lives — like fire in amber, with a glimmer of blood behind it.” I held high the decanter and the light gleamed through it upon his face. “Amontillado! Isn’t that a kind of sherry? I’m no connoisseur of wines, as you know. But–Amontillado.” For a moment he studied the wine I had given him, liquid flame in the crystal glass. Then his face cleared. “I remember the association now. ‘The Cask of Amontillado.’ Ever read the story?” “I seem to recall it dimly.” “Horrible, fascinating sort of a yarn. A fellow takes his trustful friend down into the cellars to sample some wine, traps him and walls him up in a niche. Buries him alive, you understand. Read it when I was a youngster, and it made a deep impression, partly, I think, because I couldn’t for the life of me comprehend a nature — even an Italian nature — desiring so horrible a form of vengeance. You’re half Latin yourself, Santallos. Can you elucidate?” “I doubt if you would ever understand,” I responded slowly, wondering how even Quentin could be so crude, so tactless. “Such a revenge might have its merits, since the offender would be a long time dying. But merely to kill seems to me so pitifully inadequate. Now I, if I were driven to revenge, should never be contented by killing. I should wish to follow.” “What — beyond the grave?” I laughed. “Why not? Wouldn’t that be the very apotheosis of hatred? I’m trying to interpret the Latin nature, as you asked me to do.” “Confound you, for an instant I thought you were serious. The way you said it made me actually shiver!” “Yes,” I observed, “or perhaps it was the draft. See, Quentin, how that curtain billows out.” His eyes followed my glance. Continually the heavy, rose-colored curtain that wag hung before the door of my wife’s bedroom bulged outward, shook and quivered like a bellying sail, as draperies will with a wind behind them. His eyes strayed from the curtain, met mine and fell again to the wine in his glass. Suddenly he drained it, not as would a man who was a judge of wines, but hastily, indifferently, without thought for its flavor or bouquet. I raised my glass in the toast he had forgotten. “To our Beatrice,” I said, and drained mine also, though with more appreciation. “To Beatrice — of course.” He looked at the bottom of his empty glass, then before I could offer to refill it, rose from his chair. “I must go, old man. When you write to Bee, tell her I’m sorry to have missed her.” “Before she could receive a letter from me I shall be with her — I hope. How cold the house is tonight, and the wind breathes everywhere. See how the curtain blows, Quentin.” “So it does.” He set his glass on the tray beside the decanter. Upon first entering the room he had been smiling, but now his straight, fine brows were drawn in a perpetual, troubled frown, his eyes looked here and there, and would never meet mine — which were steady. “There’s a wind,” he added, “that blows along this wall — curious. One can’t notice any draft there, either. But it must blow there, and of course the curtain billows out.” “Yes,” I said. “Of course it billows out.” “Or is there another door behind that curtain?” His careful ignorance of what any fool might infer from mere appearance brought an involuntary smile to my lips. Nevertheless, I answered him. “Yes, of course there is a door. An open door.” His frown deepened. My true and simple replies appeared to cause him a certain irritation. “As I feel now,” I added, “even to cross the room would be an effort. I am tired and weak tonight. As Beatrice once said, my strength beside yours is as a child’s to that of a grown man. Won’t you close that door for me, dear friend?” “Why — yes, I will. I didn’t know you were ill. If that’s the case, you shouldn’t be alone in this empty house. Shall I stay with you for a while?” As he spoke he walked across the room. His hand was on the curtain, but before it could be drawn aside my voice checked him. “Quentin,” I said, “are even you quite strong enough to close that door?” Looking back at me, chin on shoulder, his face appeared scarcely familiar, so drawn was it in lines of bewilderment and half-suspicion. “What do you mean? You are very odd tonight. Is the door so heavy then? What door is it?” I made no reply. As if against their owner’s will his eyes fled from mine, he turned and hastily pushed aside the heavy drapery. Behind it my wife’s bedroom lay dark and cold, with windows open to the invading winds. And erect in the doorway, uncovered, stood an ancient gilded coffin-case. It was the golden casket of Ta–Nezem, but its occupant was more beautiful than the poor, shriveled Songstress of Naam. Bound across her bosom were the strange, quaint jewels which had been found in the sarcophagus. Ta–Nezem’s amulets — heads of Hathor and Horus the sacred eye, the uroeus, even the heavy dull-green scarab, the amulet for purity of heart — there they rested upon the bosom of her who had been mistress of my house, now Beatrice the Osirian. Beneath them her white, stiff body was enwrapped in the same crackling dry, brown linen bands, impregnated with the gums and resins of embalmers dead these many thousand years, which had been about the body of Ta–Nezem. Above the white translucence of her brow appeared the winged disk, emblem of Ra. The twining golden bodies of its supporting uraeii, its cobras of Egypt, were lost in the dusk of her hair, whose soft fineness yet lived and would live so much longer than the flesh of any of us three. Yes, I had kept my word and given to Beatrice all that had been Ta-Nezem’s, even to the sarcophagus itself, for in my will it was written that she be placed in it for final burial. Like the fool he was, Quentin stood there, staring at the unclosed, frozen eyes of my Beatrice — and his. Stood till that which had been in the wine began to make itself felt. He faced me then, but with so absurd and childish a look of surprise that, despite the courtesy due a guest, I laughed and laughed. I, too, felt warning throes, but to me the pain was no more than a gage — a measure of his sufferings stimulus to point the phrases in which I told him all I knew and had guessed of him and Beatrice, and thus drive home the jest. But I had never thought that a man of Quentin’s youth and strength could die so easily. Beatrice, frail though she was, had taken longer to die. He could not even cross the room to stop my laughter, but at the first step stumbled, fell, and in a very little while lay at the foot of the gilded case. After all, he was not so strong as I. Beatrice had seen. Her still, cold eyes saw all. How he lay there, his fine, lithe body contorted, worthless for any use till its substance should have been cast again in the melting-pot of dissolution, while I who had drunk of the same draft, suffered the same pangs, yet stood and found breath for mockery. So I poured myself another glass of that good Cordovan wine, and I raised it to both of them and drained it, laughing. “Quentin,” I cried, “you asked what door, though your thought was that you had passed that way before, and feared that I guessed your, knowledge. But there are doors and doors, dear, charming friend, and one that is heavier than any other. Close it if you can. Close it now in my face, who otherwise will follow even whither you have gone — the heavy, heavy door of the Osiris, Keeper of the House of Death!” Thus I dreamed of doing and speaking. It was so vivid, the dream, that awakening in the darkness of my room I could scarcely believe that it had been other than reality. True, I lived, while in my dream I had shared the avenging poison. Yet my veins were still hot with the keen passion of triumph, and my eyes filled with the vision of Beatrice, dead — dead in Ta–Nezem’s casket. Unreasonably frightened. I sprang from bed, flung on a dressing-gown, and hurried out. Down the hallway I sped, swiftly and silently, at the end of it unlocked heavy doors with a tremulous hand, switched on lights, lights and more lights, till the great room of my collection was ablaze with them, and as my treasures sprang into view I sighed, like a man reaching home from a perilous journey. The dream was a lie. There, fronting me, stood the heavy empty sarcophagus; there on the trestles before it lay the gilded case, a thing of beautiful, gleaming lines, like the smiling image of a golden woman. I stole across the room and softly, very softly, lifted the upper half of the beautiful lid, peering within. The dream indeed was a lie. Happy as a comforted child I went to my room again. Across the hall the door of my wife’s boudoir stood partly open. In the room beyond a faint light was burning, and I could see the rose-colored curtain sway slightly to a draft from some open window. Yesterday she had come to me and asked for her freedom. I had refused, knowing to whom she would turn, and hating him for his youth, and his crudeness and his secret scorn of me. But had I done well? They were children, those two, and despite my dream I was certain that their foolish, youthful ideals had kept them from actual sin against my honor. But what if, time passing, they might change? Or, Quentin gone, my lovely Beatrice might favor another, young as he and not so scrupulous? Every one, they say, has a streak of incipient madness. I recalled the frenzied act to which my dream jealousy had driven me. Perhaps it was a warning, the dream. What if my father’s jealous blood should some day betray me, drive me to the insane destruction of her I held most dear and sacred. I shuddered, then smiled at the swaying curtain. Beatrice was too beautiful for safety. She should have her freedom. Let her mate with Ralph Quentin or whom she would, Ta–Nezem must rest secure in her gilded house of death. My brown, perfect, shriveled Princess of the Nile! Destroyed — rent to brown, aromatic shreds — burned — destroyed — and her beautiful coffin-case desecrated as I had seen it in my vision’. Again I shuddered, smiled and shook my head sadly at the swaying, rosy curtain. “You are too lovely, Beatrice,” I said, “and my father was a Spaniard. You shall have your freedom!” I entered my room and lay down to sleep again, at peace and content. The dream, thank God, was a lie. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short story1. From the village “Kosisochukwu my son!” Ozioma called repeatedly as she ran along a slightly dangling narrow bamboo bridge towards a building at the fringe of Udi village. It was a small building constructed on the top of a creek that had been rendered lifeless by oil spillage; nearby rivers and streams where they once drank from were equally useless. There were other similar buildings above the creek and they were all constructed with split tree trunks, old planks, and bamboo trees. Important men, of course, did not have roofs of raffia leaves, for they could afford old corrugated sheets to roof their houses. It didn’t matter whether there were perforations in the metal left by nails from the original buildings. These buildings were linked to one another by bamboo bridges. The people were careful to rebuild them at least once a year after harmattan seasons, which dried up and made brittle the wild creepers with which the bamboo logs were bound. These bridges were not stable, and there had been occasions when someone had slipped off and landed into the water. But such occasions only provoked hearty laughter instead of pity. In fact, the villagers considered themselves fish ‘that can never be drowned’, for as far as they could remember, only a toddler had succumbed to such a fate. It had been her mother’s fault, though. She had forgotten to close the opening where they pass out feces, urine and other rubbish into the water, and left to check what she was cooking in the kitchen. When she returned to the room, the child was missing. The mother realised she had not only left the hole open but also the door to the restroom. The lifeless child was picked from the bed of the black creek. “Kosisochukwu my son please leave immediately before they get here!” Kosi heard her mother’s voice and rushed out of the building to the veranda. He was bare-chested with only a very tight short on, his India hemp sticking out and smoking between his dark lips. “Mama, what is the problem!” he called. By now Aisosa was standing at the door post, leaning lazily on the left frame. “Run! Run! Police. Your brother has been…” A gunshot was heard and Ozioma dropped dead on the bridge. Aisosa yelled and wanted to rush to Ozioma’s aid, but Kosi caught her wrist just in time and dragged her into the building. Before long, three heavily armed police men were running towards the house. One stopped by Ozioma’s corpse and pushed it into the creek with his boot. “Level the house. Fire!” shouted one of them, obviously their leader. Bullets perforated the building until it caught fire and burned to the ground. “Any need to check for their corpses?” asked the policeman who had pushed Ozioma into the creek. “No,” the police chief replied. “They’re obviously dead.” Kosi had dropped into the creek with Aisosa through the building’s shithole before the shooting began. It was a narrow escape though, for a bullet had nearly hit his head. He had tilted his head to peep through a crack when the first shot sounded. The bullet smashed a mirror behind him. They vanished undetected in the water under cover of noise and commotion; Aisosa had even let out a loud cry when her ankle hit one of the poles that supported the building. They escaped through a trench which Kosi had deliberately dug and hidden in between hedges for occasions such as these, gunshots echoing in their minds. He covered Aisosa’s mouth with his right palm and then lowered her into the trench. A week earlier, a white man who worked with one of the oil companies in that region had been kidnapped, and the kidnappers demanded a hundred million naira ransom which the company was unable to pay because government had recently criminalized ransom payment. The militia group gave a one day ultimatum which elapsed without the company or the government doing anything to that effect. Mr Richard Anderson was promptly executed. To spite the government, the militia group filmed the atrocity and released the video. The militia leader was heard in the video saying: “You cannot deny us food and expect us to let you eat in peace. You have killed our fish and our fishermen can no longer survive. You have turned our waters into poison with your oil and rendered our farmland barren. You have deliberately starved our children for generations, and you tell us to go to hell when we protest with placards and helpless songs and chants. This time we will protest with guns and bullets and knives and monstrosity, and nothing will stop us. So go ahead and criminalize ransom and watch us answer you with more blood and death and vandalism.” As expected, the government responded by sending heavily armed police to the village with a special order to kill on sight. They arrived at the village with saboteurs and collaborators, those who feed fat off the misfortune of others. Names of militant leaders were mentioned, and Kosi was one of them. Although Kosi was a leader of a militant group, he was not part of the group that killed Mr Richard Anderson. In fact, he learned about this after the attack on his house. His only brother was shot in the head by the police that humid morning when they had reached his home. When the police discovered their mistake, they pursued Ozioma, whom they saw escaping through the back door. Later, Kosi’s second-in-command calmly laid the facts before him, and in addition added the name of the chief betrayer. His name was Chief Amayenabor. Chief Amayenabor lived in a luxury mansion in the best part of the town, two or three miles from the creek. Kosi puffed his weed, and listened to his second-in-command in their hideout. It was a bunker, squeezed between the trench that led to his house on one side and a mosquito-infested swamp on the other. Air and rays of light entered the tunnel through a square opening in the roof. There was silence as the story was told, and puff after puff rose through the dim air. In the end Kosi stood up abruptly, dipped his left hand into his trouser’s left pocket and brought out a pill, a tramadol tablet. Two 500mg pills were placed on Kosi’s tongue. He dipped his right hand in the other pocket and brought out a small bottle of codein, a cough syrup, opened it, filled his mouth and swallowed. “Target!” he shouted as though the startled Target wasn’t sitting at his left side. “Chairman!” Target answered, leaping to his feet. “I dey your side chairman,” he added, drawing heavily from his smoldering weed. “Correct!” Kosi replied. “E no go better for chief!” he added. “E no go better for chief!” said Target, as Kosi extended the pack of pills to him. ” Ready the confirms, put plenty groundnut seed for inside and carry others follow body,” Kosi instructed. “Confirm. At your command Chairman,” Target said. “Government!” Kosi yelled, and the Second-in-Command rose to his feet. “Chairman,” he answered, his weed hanging from his lips, smoke oozing from his nostrils. “I be your loyal boy. Command me.” “Chief go fall today.” “I hear you, Chairman.” “Get the other boys ready at once! We’re out of here,” Kosi said and marched into the jungle. They went by boat in the night. Before dawn Chief Amayenabor was missing and three of his personal security personnel were confirmed dead. Two days later, his head was found hanging on a stake before government house, and three days after this his headless body floated down the creek. The killing of a high government official like chief Amayenabor was an assault on the government, an unpardonable offence, according to the 9:00pm Newscaster on NTA. The government was determined to crush the riff-raff and have normalcy in the region. That day, the Inspector General of Police deployed twenty-four police officers from the dreaded Special Anti-Crime Squad unit to the village. This time they were to intensify their operations. Unfortunately, these men were met with a kind of fierce resistance they never envisaged, and during one of the gun battles which had lasted for the whole night, twenty-one out of the twenty-four police men were killed. The three who made it out of the village that night didn’t do so unharmed, for one of them later died in a general hospital at Abuja where they were all hospitalized. The militants counted only lesser casualties, and this infuriated the authorities even more. For three weeks, there was a news blackout, nothing was mentioned publicly. It was as though normalcy had truly returned, and the militants halted their operations. Then one night, the whole village was awoken by the sound of jets piercing the heavens. A sudden blast from one dead end of the village shook buildings, and brought others to the ground. The village was under siege, and screams and cries of women and children rose to the moonlit sky. Beneath the bombs, helter-skelter through a hail of bullets, villagers ran in all directions. Some made their way over the bamboo bridges to nearby bushes, and were cut down with machetes by soldiers. That night, two thousand five hundred villagers died. Kosi, Aisosa and his militant group were in their bunker when the noise reached them. From their position of safety, Kosi escaped to Benin City where he met Omos and Efe, and planned to travel out of Nigeria. He was a wanted man in Nigeria, and had to flee for his life. Omos, on the other hand, wanted to leave the country because there were no jobs for him, not even with his university degree, ten years of training as a mechanical engineer. Efe’s reason for leaving was not clear.   2. Across the sea “Omos!” Kosi shouted from the sinking edge of the deflating balloon boat. There were over a hundred of them stuffed in this bloating object and that was probably why it deflated too soon, and it happened far from shore. “If you survive this please don’t tell Aisosa that I am dead! Tell her that I shall return to marry her! Tell her to name our child Ozoemela!” That was Kosi’s last words before the next wave knocked him off the balloon. In his Igbo ethnic group, name must be significant, for it was beyond a mere means of identification. Names to the Igbos were marks that followed children from the spirit world, and most times the living knew about them even before the children were birthed. So a name must represent at least an event, and it didn’t matter whether it was good or bad- as long as it highlighted and emphasized something; if he must be called Bush, then his mother must birth him in the bush. Ozoemela is a name with a deep meaning, filled with pity and grief. It pleads for another, Ozo, not to happen again. Some things should never be repeated. Many in this makeshift boat ended their journey on the sea bed, those who could not swim, or those who were caught up by rolling waves as the boat capsized, and currents drove them apart. Those born near rivers and creeks kept themselves afloat for a very long time, and were for the first time in their lives grateful for having been exposed to the dangers and hardships of unknown waters while growing up. Efe was the most grateful, for all he could remember when he regained conscioussness was that he had let out a muffled shrill with his last strength and then began to sink. Omos was as much grateful even though he could not remember anything beyond drinking a lot of the salt water when his arms became numb and could no longer move to keep him afloat. He lay face-up on the shore, his eyes wide-open yet, not fully alive. The Libyans who found them on the beach walked about. From time to time, they bent over their motionless bodies for a closer look. Omos thought they were shadows, nameless creatures pulling him down towards the depths of the ocean. A half dream, from which he struggled to escape. “He is stirring,” one of the Libyan rescuers yelled and signaled his colleagues, “this one is still alive.” “Mop up the water running from his nustrils,” the other said. And as the man lowered his face a little closer and was about touching Omos’ nose with a piece of cloth, Omos jerked fully awake, throwing up on his face and all over his body, brown water that smelled like urine. “Let me be!” Omos yelled in a panting fright. “You black piece of shit!” the man said and hit his mouth so hard that it bled. Efe was lying beside him still unconscious. “What’s the problem?” a voice asked in Arabic. The man responded in Arabic too and then fixed an irritated gaze at Omos as he gradually stood up. “Come on black ass; your mates are eating inside!” The voice came again, but this time in English. But the accent was a caricature; a mockery of the English language. When the man left, Omos sat up properly and tapped Efe on the shoulder. Efe didn’t stir, then he tapped him again and again until he sneezed and blinked his eyes open. Omos helped him sit properly. Efe gently surveyed his surroundings and asked where they were. He, too, would occasionally cough up brown water. ” Thank God we’re alive, ” Omos said in almost a whisper. “Where are we?’ “On a shore in Libya. “ “Where is Kosi?” Omos turned his head, “Maybe in that metal house?” Efe yawned and stretched his hands above his head. “Hungry?” Omos asked. “No, famished.” “Let’s hurry into the house, I think some of us are already eating there.” “Some of us?” “Yes. We aren’t the only survivors.” Halfway to the metal house, a few yards from the sea, a heavily-bearded Libyan with a perfectly round face and an AK47 rifle hanging from his left shoulder threw the door open. With a broad smile he beckoned them to move faster. He cursed them in Arabic and introduced himself. “Come inside and eat, you black idiots. I am Ahmed Abdulahi, the head of the rescue team. Thank Allah, you’re alive!” He patted them on their shoulders and stepped aside to let them enter. Omos sensed something sinister in his eyes. The man’s handshake was too loose. There was an impenetrable darkness waiting inside the metal house. “It would have been a great loss for us if you hadn’t made it to the shore alive,” Ahmed added. Omos stared at his brown teeth and a long scar that ran from the corner of his left eye and crossed his nose bridge to the corner of his mouth. Omos thought of a gunshot, but finally concluded it was a slash by a very sharp-edged weapon. Ahmed must have noticed their hesitation and said, “Now let’s go in”, and led the way. Omos was relectuant, but there was no choice. He was the last to enter, and the door was shut with a metallic clang that startled them both. They heard a chain dragged across the lock behind them. “Are they inside?” a voice asked from one end of the darkness. Loud and ominous, the statement ended with a few Arabic mutterings. Then a switch was pulled and there was light. Not very bright, but at least there was relief. What then revealed itself to Omos was very unexpected. Where were the meals and his mates? Where was Kosi? Five men stood in that vast room. Ahmed Abdulahi was by the door with his rifle, by his side a man whom Omos remembered from the beach. One rifle leaned against the wall. At the far end Omos saw a man seated in front of a table. On the table, another rifle. He saw the aging hands of a black man in a grey hood resting on the table by the door as he was leaning forward. As soon as the light came on, he turned quickly to another Libyan that was standing behind him. “Are they your cargo?” the man in front of the table asked. “Yes, they are,” the black man responded. The accent was Nigerian, Edo precisely. “Here is the check,” the Libyan said, handing the sheet to the black man, who took it, frowned and grumbled. “You know this is the first time this has happened. That’s all I can pay for the two. We lost so many of them at sea,” the man added. “Well, I understand,” the Nigerian said. “Another boat is on the way.” “Let’s hope they arrive safely. It’s a pleasure doing business with you.” The two shook hands, and the black man turned and made towards the door, his eyes fixed to the floor. As he approached, Omos and Efe gave way for him to pass. Ahmed Abdulahi opened the door and light from outside shone bright on his face, and just then Omos recognized him. “Uncle Irobosa!” he shouted, hurrying towards him. But it was too late by then, for the rays of light vanished and the door shut with a heavy bang. In the dark, Omos crashed his head against the damp metal wall. Suddenly he was unconscious on the floor. The last he heard was a muffled scream from Efe. Within seconds, Efe too was knocked down from behind and unconscious. When Omos opened his eyes, he was naked on a narrow bed in a very small room. He could see and hear, but his body was unable to move. This bed was almost a solitary piece of furniture positioned very close to the window. There were voices, not far off beyond the glass pane. By the foot side of the bed he suddenly noticed low stool with a silver tray containing surgical equipment. There was a pair of bloodstained rubber gloves. A gown hung on a pole close by. He wanted to shift his gaze when someone shouted. It was the voice of the man he had seen in front of the table in the dark room. “This is not what we bargained on the phone! A kidney costs more than this and you know that! Do you how much I pay to get them here? “ “Well, gentlemen, I don’t think it has come to this. I am only but a middle man in this business,” another voice said. “If I…” “Then tell your master what the market price is. Don’t come here with few dollars and expect to go back to Saudi with this!” the harsher voice said. “Get him on the phone right now!” “Erh…he wouldn’t want to be disturbed, and moreover I, we have…” “Get him now or I drill your skull with a bullet! I pay that doctor over there, or you think he’s doing this job for free? I want to speak to the big man directly.” “You can’t speak directly to my master. He is a busy man, but you can talk to his doctor in Saudi.” “Then get me the damn doctor!” Somebody was speaking Arabic on a phone. When he was done, he switched back to English. “Well, he has agreed to pay thirty thousand. He’s also interested in the second kidney at the same price. But we can’t do that without ending him. “ “In that case, we shall wait until Mr Chin Lu arrives for the heart.” Omos tried to lift his head towards the window, but his neck was stiff and firm. He rolled his eyes to his left hand and discovered that he was not only on a drip, but also restrained. His hands and legs were chained to the bedframes. Suddenly, he felt moisture in his right abdomen. Blood was dripping out, he was cut. There was a sharp pain and an urge to scream, but his voice was long gone. By Ify Iroakazi Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literature / travelWhen Somalis appear in western media it is often as victims or perpetrators. “It is to be expected. They come from a country in anarchy”, we’re told. Yet, even among the ruins of Somalia, books are being read and written, and problems are being discussed in fictional form.  Ali Jimale Ahmed is a professor of comparative African literature, and he draws a nuanced picture of the cultural life of his native country. Somalia has long been considered a failed state, but are there still significant authors who write about daily life in the country? Professor Ahmed: By all accounts Somalia is a failed state–governmental structures and the ideologies that sustained them have collapsed. But that does not mean that a semblance of pseudo-state organizations are absent. The international community–the U.N., the EU, the AU, and a host of other organizations are in the country to shore up the internationally recognized government. That said, when we speak about Somali writing and writers, it is much better to differentiate between two forms of discourses, namely, discourses of the state and discourses of the nation. Seen from that perspective, there are significant authors who write about daily life–the trials and tribulations, as well as the accomplishments of people trying to eke out a living under difficult circumstances–in all parts of Somalia. These writers publish articles and books inside the country. One need only read the many books published in the “country.” What sort of education do the normal citizen of Somalia get these days? Professor Ahmed: Education is one of the sectors severally impacted by the collapse of the state. There is no uniform or harmonized curriculum. The various state entities do not have a coherent educational policy in place. Private institutions and civil society groups run the educational sector. Depending on their affiliation or from where they get their financial or moral/intellectual support from these institutions replicate the kind of curriculum found in Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, and the UK, and so on. That said, graduates from those schools and universities are found to be well prepared to undertake undergraduate and graduate studies in European and North American universities.  Some such students are now studying at Princeton, for example. Like many African countries Somalia has a proud and ancient history, to what extent do Somali today writers revive this tradition of stories in their work? Professor Ahmed: This is one of the reasons that Somali society has still a viable and resilient culture. Since the collapse of the state, there has been a concerted effort on the part of intellectuals to publish on Somali history and literature. There are Somali websites like Hoyga Suugaanta and Laashin that specialize in literature, and Somali presses, such as Scansom, Laashin and Iftiinka Aqoonta in Sweden, Looh press in England, Redsea-online publishing Group in Italy/UK/Somaliland, that publish the findings and collections of both aspiring and established authors. Literature, in all its forms, is held in high esteem. Indeed, the etymology of suugaan, Somali word for literature, means the sap or fluid of certain plants like the geesariyood. These plants are evergreen, and are associated with life and the sustaining of life under precarious situations or conditions. When all else is gone as a result of a drought, for example, the sap from this plant will sustain a modicum of existence, of life. Thus for the Somali, literature is sustenance that nourishes both the body and mind. When we hear news from Somalia, they often involve Al Shabab and Islamic extremism. What sort of attitude do the major Somali writers take to religion? Professor Ahmed: With the exception of Nuruddin Farah, whose novels have internationalized the Somali case, other major writers rarely discuss religious issues in their fiction. In Maps and Secrets, for example, Farah is at times critical of what he perceives to be excesses and transgressions by those who claim to be religious. In his Past Imperfect Trilogy (2004-2011), In Links, the narrative limns the contours of the post-Siad Barre Somalia–warlords, U.s. intervention, the successes of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), and the eventual arrival on the scene by the better equipped Ethiopian soldiers that denied the ICU what seemed to be a total victory against the warlords. In Crossbones, farah’s narrative reveals a misreading of Somali pirates who were perceived to be Al Shabab members or surrogates. The diaspora is central to the Somali experience, and thus also the racism and prejudices that its citizens face abroad. Are there novels in the Somali language which tell the story of refugees? A recent novel that touches on this topic is Ismaaciil C. Ubax’s Gaax (“Deferment or Postponement”), . It is a novel that describes or trails the lives of three main characters who, even though they live in different climes and times, share certain uncanny characteristics. Equally important are books written for Somali children who are born in the Diaspora. Musa M. Isse’s bilingual tales written in Somali and Swedish help kids born in the Diaspora to develop strong identities. Isse is also the Editor-in-Chief of the first Somali Children’s Magazine in the Europe. The subject of racism is discussed in Igiaba Scego’s Italian-language short stories, and Yasmeen Mohamed’s novel Nomad Diaries, written in English. The topic is also taken up in the novels of two seasoned and award-winning novelists in the Diaspora: Nadifa Mohamed who writes in English and Abdourahman Waberi who writes in French. Somali is a non-european language. Do writers leave their native tongue in favor of English, French or some other European language? To what extent is the Somali language under threat? Professor Ahmed: Somali writers who write in European languages are small compared to those who write in Somali. I do not perceive any threat per se. Rather, the absence of a strong state to nurture and promote the language is perhaps more of a threat to the flourishing of Somali language. Are there big differences between the literary schools of Europe and Somali literature? Is there a Somali modernist school, for instance? Will the intellectual thoughts of urban Europe even make sense in a Somali context? Professor Ahmed: We live in a globalizing/globalized world. The kind of Somalis who could read novels in Somali are, more often than not, the ones who are able to traverse borders. The hundreds of thousands of Somalis who live in Europe travel constantly between Somalia and Europe. That said, we must distinguish between modernization (the process) and modernity (the consciousness). Some parts of Somalia have experienced peace for some time. What sort of literature have been produced in these areas? Professor Ahmed: There are several writers who have written books on their experiences (or those of others) as refugees. But a great deal of literature is coming out of the parts of Somalia that have experienced peace. One need only catalog the plethora of novels published in the country and exhibited at the Hargeysa International Book Fair in Somaliland. The last few years have witnessed the growth of Book Fairs in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, and Garoowe in Puntland. We hear a lot about “the great American novel”. Is there such a thing as “the great Somali novel”? Is there a book or a novel that all Somalis love? Professor Ahmed: The novel has not been fully domesticated in Somalia. Of course, the novel genre is such that it is in its protean form; it has yet to crystallize and assume a definite form. That said, two novels would contend or vie for the distinction. Maxamed Daahir Afrax’s (Mohamed Dahir Afrah) Maana Faay (1981;1993) ushers in a new form of storytelling, as it exhibits ingenious and conscious ways of using language to reflect the quotidian life of its characters. With Maana Faay the novel genre in the Somali language comes of age, both in terms of content and structure. The other novel is Yuusuf Axmed Ibraahin-Hawd’s Aanadii Negeeye, a riveting story that recounts the gory details of murder and revenge. The narrative unfolds as the eponymous protagonist, Negeeye, whose father was murdered shortly after Negeeye’s birth, remembers his mother’s account of the brutal killing of his father. Negeeye, then, plots to avenge his father’s death. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureLaura White is a renowned expert on Jane Austen. However, she has chosen a novel approach to this classic British icon. The Nebraska professor is an innovator in the emerging field of digital humanities, and studies literature by means of a computer. The rigid divide between human creativity and the world of binary computer code is quickly being bridged, according to Google.  I had a few words with professor White about this new branch of study, and what it means for writing and literary studies. You have studied Jane Austen, have you discovered something new about her, something we couldn’t have discovered without the use of a computer? Professor White: Yes, I think so. What we did was identify (code) each and every word in the six major novels as to speaker. That’s easy to do for the narrator and character speech, but trickier with free indirect diction, when the narrator is “speaking for” a character, using his or her vocabulary and point of view. Such shared speech we coded as such, and weighted to reflect the depth of ventriloquism. The results are not yet fully known, because what we created is a public sandbox in which people can design their own searches about diction to use the coding we created—there is a lot waiting to be discovered. But at the very least we found that Austen’s use of free indirect discourse (and she was the first major novelist to exploit FID fully) was far more complex and varied than we (and all the scholars writing on the subject thus far) had suspected. We also have found some cute nuggets—for instance, the fact that no male character in Austen uses the word “wedding” and no female character uses the word “marriage”! When you began your studies of Austen, did you have to create your own methodology? Professor White: We had to create coding that would properly reflect the complexity of Austen’s speakers: was the speech spoken or written? How many levels of speaker are in a given phrase (in one letter, for instance, we have the string of Mrs.Younge-told-Darcy-told-Mr.Gardiner-told-Mrs.Gardiner-told-Elizabeth-told-reader). But the flexible marvel of .xml already existed, and even more importantly, the program TokenX, designed by our team member Brian Pytlik Zillig (Professor at UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities), was at our service. TokenX determines unique frequencies of words and thus provides an easy-to-use interface for text analysis (especially through frequency tables) and visualization. I have heard of similar studies on Agatha Christie, and that they were able to create a profile of her style. Is this your goal with Jane Austen? Professor White: You can’t actually get to a full knowledge of Austen’s style, even by understanding her patterns of diction, because verbal irony (and its reverberations) can’t be caught mathematically—and her verbal irony is pervasive. But you can learn a lot about her use of free indirect diction, which is in turn important to understanding her style. One could make a profile about percentages of indirect diction, dialogue, and so on—but that would only be helpful to compare with other writers—or, using big data searches, comparing that data against the profile of such a thing as “the eighteenth-century British novel” or “Henry James” (the latter being an author who took Austen’s innovations with FID and ran with them about as far as they can be run). Our project may indeed do such things in the future—it’s the next obvious step. If you had something resembling a profile, not only of her choice of words, but of the larger patterns in her plot construction, do you think a computer could emulate Austen? Could it produce a fake Austen, so to speak? Professor White: You could perhaps create an Austen that could fool some people, but it wouldn’t be a good fake. Unless you can feed in her values (not possible) AND her education, including but not restricted to her reading (difficult) AND the operations of her irony (not possible), you’ll just get a partial simulacrum. This new approach could be used to compare authors, and then detect larger patterns in literary and cultural history. Austen is of course a central figure in the development of the English novel. In the past, this has been studied by Ian Watt and others. Do you think we now could have a more empirical history of literature? Professor White: I do think we can have more data that tells us interesting things about patterns of diction and clusters of tropes across large bodies of texts—a lot of people at UNL, such as my colleagues Steve Ramsay and Matt Jockers, do work on just that sort of thing. Matt for instance has very recently uncovered a lot of information about patterns among popular fiction, especially bestsellers. If we can design the right questions, we can find some interesting answers. But as I pointed out before, huge literary elements such as irony can’t be reckoned computationally, so a Theory of All Lit from digital humanities is impossible. Gillian Beer, Arthur O. Lovejoy and others have specialized in detecting patterns from the history of ideas in fiction. Can a computer assist us in this type of study? Professor White: This kind of work is my favorite kind of scholarship to read, that which finds the largest patterns in imaginative literature over the centuries. I’d recommend your readers go to Northrop Frye’s The Anatomy of Criticism (1957) for the best of such of work; Eric Auerbach’s Mimesis (1946) is also marvelous. For finding the largest patterns in the Bible, read Frye’s The Great Code (1982) (admittedly very demanding). And, yes, to some degree, computers can help with this kind of work, especially with discerning patterns of diction and plot (though in the latter case obviously the text won’t tell you its own plot—a human being has to schematize what happens and feed that information in). Where do you see the field of digital humanities in 20 years or so? Professor White: Moving upward and onwards. By the 90s, humanities had been somewhat exhausted following the usual roads of literary criticism—I don’t generally advise students to focus on Jane Austen, for instance, because it’s very hard to find room for an original thought. One way the humanities are being revitalized is with a much more stringent attention to history, and digital humanities plays a role here too by making it easy to read texts long forgotten, literary and otherwise. For instance, in my recent book on Carroll’s Alice books, I made much use of the texts in Carroll’s library of about 3,000 volumes. They were all auctioned off at his death, but catalogs of the library which have been produced by Jeffrey Stern and Charlie Lovett let one read his library cover to cover through Googlebooks, Hathitrust, and other such digitization initiatives. When read in detail, one finds this virtual library corrects many of the critical and biographical misperceptions about Carroll. And these resources are just a small part of how digital humanities is transforming literary studies: visualization, archives, data-mining all play a part. Some people think that creativity is unique to us as humans, and may feel threatened by the fact that our “cultural soul” is gradually dissected by computers. What do you say to them? Professor White: I’d agree that creativity is unique to humans, though some of the higher apes do seem to like to finger-paint. Computers can’t be creative—it isn’t possible. They can be programmed to make wild outputs, and we might think creative thoughts about those generated outputs, but there’s no creativity on the part of the computer involved. We are more threatened by computers in terms of surveillance; we are not at all private when we’re online, and big data (which doesn’t care about us as individuals) can nonetheless potentially be retrofitted to be small data, fingering us one by one. So people are right to worry about this—since human beings are in charge of computers, it is very unlikely that they will always be used for good (no other human invention has been).   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... [...]
historyThe mild-mannered philosopher Michael Ruse is not known for being speculative. A world authority on the practical aspects of the philosophy of biology, he doesn’t often venture into the realm of sci-fi. made a futile attempt to catch him off-guard, and asked him a lot of questions, some on history, some on philosophy, and some inspired by outrageous documentaries on the Discovery Channel. Here are his replies: Charles Darwin was engaged in his big struggle with the natural theology of William Paley. Looking back at the last hundred years, we can conclude that he won a pretty convincing victory. Why do you think intelligent design has remained a potent force in the United States? In Europe this is largely a non-issue. Professor Ruse:  I would say rather that Darwin won a nuanced victory over Paley. As Richard Dawkins has said, you can now be an intellectually respectable atheist now, but after Darwin I don’t think you have to be an atheist. Darwin writing the Origin was a deist and at most later in life he became an agnostic. My own feeling is that natural theology has declined less because of science – although Darwin was very important – and more because of philosophy and religion. People like Hume and Kant showed the difficulties with the traditional arguments, and after Kierkegaard and especially Karl Barth, many Christians don’t want anything to do with natural theology. It destroys faith. Intelligent design is simply Creationism with a friendly face. It was invented in the 1980s because it was clear that Creationism was going nowhere – it was out of the schools because it was so clearly religious. Intelligent design tried to distance itself from the Christian God and the bible, but the whole idea is to keep miracles and challenge naturalistic science. It is big in America because of historical reasons. People like the historian Mark Noll have shown the ideological role that religion played in the founding and development of the US, and we live with that legacy – especially the extreme evangelical attitude that intelligent design represents. Europe has its own troubles, but one of them is not a pervasive mist of fundamentalist Protestantism. Why is it so important to prove that intelligent design is impossible? Shouldn’t people be allowed to believe what they want? Professor Ruse: Of course people should be allowed to believe what they want, but as soon as they start expressing and acting on these beliefs, it is our issue too. You can believe that Jews are inferior but as soon as you start spouting these beliefs and trying to stop Jews from teaching at universities, it is our issue too. Intelligent design is bad science and not very good religion, but believe it if you want. But don’t ask to have it taught in biology classes in public schools. And even if it is not illegal, I deplore things like Intelligent Design being used to bolster an extreme evangelical religion that does try to interfere in the public domain. And don’t think that people are not using Intelligent Design to push a world picture that keeps women and blacks in their places.  There have been numerous trials at which freedom of religion has clashed with evolutionary science. What was at stake in these trials? Professor Ruse: Well, as historians like Ed Larson – Summer of the Gods – have shown, these trials are not really about religion as such, and certainly not about (on the one hand) the proper way to read the bible and (on the other hand) the validity of Darwinian evolutionary theory. They are about modernism. They are about the vision of a society ruled by reason and experience versus a vision of a society that harks to the past, and would have us return to a fictional happy, comfortable society, that has proper standards. Indeed, that is really what the whole evolution-creationism debate is about. There was the 1920s Scopes Trial, of course, but I have heard that you were involved in a creationist trial of your own once. Tell us about that. Professor Ruse: There was a trial in 1981 in Arkansas, over the constitutionality of a new law in the state that mandated the “balanced treatment” in public school science classes between “Creation science” and Darwinian evolutionary theory. The ACLU opposed it on grounds that it violated the separation of church and state, and I appeared as an expert witness for the ACLU, in the successful suit launched against the law. My job was to explain the difference between science and religion, with an aim to showing Darwinian theory to be science and Creation science to be religion. The judge accepted my argument and reproduced it in his ruling Several witnesses suggested definitions of science. A descriptive definition was said to be that science is what is “accepted by the scientific community” and is “what scientists do.” The obvious implication of this description is that, in a free society, knowledge does not require the imprimatur of legislation in order to become science. More precisely, the essential characteristics of science are: (1) It is guided by natural law; (2) It has to be explanatory by reference to nature law; (3) It is testable against the empirical world; (4) Its conclusions are tentative, i.e. are not necessarily the final word; and (5) Its is falsifiable. (Ruse and other science witnesses). Did the discovery of DNA in the 50s and 60s affect the philosophy of science? Professor Ruse: Not a lot, I don’t think. On the one hand, the philosophy of science of the 1950s was very physics and chemistry oriented, so DNA was exciting biology but rather blasé philosophy. Then in the 1960s, when the philosophy of biology took off, it was evolutionary biology that was of major interest. The DNA issue is of more interest to the history of science, not just finding it but how it then fitted into and changed the rest of biology.  In the 1960s, Star Trek appeared on TV. In that series, humans travel out to the outer edges of the universe, only discover civilizations with human like beings. In fact, what captain Kirk discovers in space is very much himself. Well, if we traveled to another world and discovered such humanoid beings, would that not prove intelligent design? Professor Ruse: Why? If humans can appear naturally here on Earth, then I see no reason why it should not happen elsewhere if given enough possibilities. I do have to say that while I have no problem with intelligence, I wonder just exactly how human-like they would look and be. I doubt they would be like Mr Spock with just pointy ears. But why bring God into this? If nature can do it once, then why not again and again? Given enough opportunities of course. If there are infinite multiverses then I suppose infinite chances of getting beings just like us. There have been some difficult philosophical dilemmas facing Darwinists over the years. One has been the argument of circularity. Namely you postulate that something survives because of some qualities they have, and then at the same time you say that they have these qualities because they survive. How should we deal with this 1970s conundrum? Professor Ruse: Genetic drift! This the claim that sometimes because of pure chance, the better or fitter organisms decline and the worse or less fit increase in numbers. This may or may not be true, but no one thinks it impossible, which it would be if natural selection were a tautology or contained a circularity. The claim is not that the fittest always and only survive but that on average organisms with certain features will prove better than others in certain conditions. No truisms here!  In the 80s Conway Morris came up with a counter argument to Darwin in his theory of convergence. What is your evaluation of Morris’ philosophy? Professor Ruse: I am not sure I would use the term “counter argument” here. Darwin believed fully in some kind of evolutionary progress up to humans. This, I take it, is what Conway Morris is trying to prove. Where Darwin and Morris come together is in trying to do this on Darwinian – natural selection – principles. Where they come apart is in their methods. Darwin invokes the idea of arms races, arguing that these lead to intelligence and so forth. “If we look at the differentiation and specialisation of the several organs of each being when adult (and this will include the advancement of the brain for intellectual purposes) as the best standard of highness of organisation, natural selection clearly leads towards highness; for all physiologists admit that the specialisation of organs, inasmuch as they perform in this state their functions better, is an advantage to each being; and hence the accumulation of variations tending towards specialisation is within the scope of natural selection.” (This is from the third edition of the Origin of 1861) Conway Morris rehearses an argument first found in Stephen Jay Gould of all people. “If brains can get big independently and provide a neural machine capable of handling a highly complex environment, then perhaps there are other parallels, other convergences that drive some groups towards complexity.” Continuing: “We may be unique, but paradoxically those properties that define our uniqueness can still be inherent in the evolutionary process. In other words, if we humans had not evolved then something more-or-less identical would have emerged sooner or later.” Personally, while I am glad to be a human rather than (let us say) a warthog, I don’t think humans are necessarily biologically superior to warthogs. So I think Darwin and Conway Morris are addressing a false problem, and (expectedly) I am not overenthused by their solutions. Trying too hard, in my opinion. We are in the midst of a biological revolution. Concepts such as «singularity» have been mentioned by (we must say) prominent biologists like Aubrey De Grey at Cambridge. In what way will the philosophy of biology be affected by the new developments? Professor Ruse: “We are in the midst of a biological revolution.” News to me! Of course, it helps that I have never heard of either singularity or the “prominent biologist” Aubrey De Grey at Cambridge. On checking Wikipedia, I find that singularity is “a hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence and other technologies have become so advanced that humanity undergoes a dramatic and irreversible change.” I confess that that strikes me as either already true or total bs. My students in class are obsessed with their i-phones and by preference have ear plugs and noise coming in from elsewhere. This strikes me as dramatic and probably irreversible. One is part of a universal mind now in a way that just wasn’t true twenty years ago. What more? Computers wired into the brain? Why bother when you can do it all without wiring. All the suggestions I have ever seen strike me as either dangerous or daft, or both. I find from Wikipedia that Aubrey David Nicholas Jasper de Grey, to give him his full name and the correct spelling, is pretty good at self-promotion. I would lay ten to one that he wrote the entry himself. So why don’t we let him go on speaking for himself?  de Grey has stated that the first human that will live till he or she is 1000 has already been born. Do you believe him, and if you do, what will be the consequences for our psyche? Professor Ruse: Well, I hope he’s wrong, because that really is a fate worse than death. I love my job but the thought of doing it for another nine hundred or so years – or of hearing my wife moan about our daughter for all of that time – no thanks! Are we to switch jobs and where we land is a function of chance or doing well in an earlier job? In six hundred years’ time I am going to have fifty years as a brassier designer if all goes well and fifty years as a continence underwear designer if it doesn’t? I leave that as an exercise for the reader and for Aubrey David Nicholas Jasper de Grey.     Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureShe was the undisputed queen of the 1970s kitsch romance novel.  While the western feminist revolution raged, housewives everywhere worshiped her old-fashioned fantasies of virgin girls falling for masculine men. Cartland stated that she had “always found women difficult.” She didn’t “really understand them”, she claimed. How is it then that she could become one of the most popular writers in history? According to her son, Ian McCorquodale,  there was a woman of extraordinary discipline behind that remarkable success. What sort of person was Barbara Cartland? Did she resemble her own fictional heroines in any way? Ian McCorquodale: My mother was always incredibly well organised and always had time for everyone especially her family. She used to say “if you want anything done, ask a busy person as they always have time for everything.” She was very beautiful and had many admirers and was indeed very romantic herself which is why she wrote about love so eloquently. She was blissfully happy with my father for 27 years before he died of wounds inflicted in the first world war. Do we know anything about why she started to write, and why she chose her particular genre of literature? Ian McCorquodale: She was starved of books to read when she was at school as girls were not expected to be intelligent in those days. So whenever she had the chance she read avidly and was particularly taken with romantic novels of great authors such as Ethel M Dell (1881–1939), E M Hull (1880–1947) and Elinor Glyn (1864–1943). And she then believed that she could write romances too. She wrote her first book at the age of 19 and it was published in 1925 called “Jig-saw” and it was a bestseller selling more than 100,000 copies in hardback and was translated into 6 languages. There was no stopping her after that. Cartland wrote more than 723 novels, sold almost a billion copies and nearly became a dollar billionaire. How is this even possible?  Ian McCorquodale: She was very disciplined and she worked very hard. She said that it was no use sitting sucking a pen and waiting for the muse to arrive as the muse never comes. Her most amazing feat of production was when her publishers asked her for more books at the age 77 when most people are put out to grass, and she doubled her output from 10 books a year to 20 and she kept this up for an amazing 20 years writing 400 novels between the ages of 77 and 97 when she wrote her last book entitled perhaps prophetically “This Way to Heaven”. Her publishers could not keep up with her and when she died she left me 160 unpublished manuscripts, which I am now successfully publishing digitally in the Barbara Cartland Pink Collection. Could you describe what a normal work day would have been like for her? Did she neglect her children? Ian McCorquodale: Again it was discipline and determination. She wrote 3 or 4 days a week, starting after lunch at 1.30 on the dot. By 3.30 she had dictated up to 8000 words which is chapter, so with 7 chapters she wrote a book in a fortnight. Her secretary would type the chapter before she left at 5.30 and it would corrected for final typing the next morning. She never neglected her husband or her children, there was always time for them in her day. She wrote a lot of historical romances, how did she find time to do the research required for writing them? Ian McCorquodale: She used to read as many as 20 books for each novel to make sure that her backgrounds and clothes were historically accurate. She was most fortunate to be a block reader. As a literary scholar, how would you describe Cartland’s style? Did she have any literary role models? Ian McCorquodale: She wrote in short paragraphs and used a lot of conversation as she believed that readers skipped long paragraphs to get on to the next quotes. She never used an unnecessary word and was a great storyteller. Her role models were Arthur Bryant and Winston Churchill, she read all their books. She wrote many books, but surely they must contain some common plot lines.  What are the ingredients of a typical Cartland novel? Ian McCorquodale: Some of her plot lines were a little similar but she always managed a new twist in the plot to keep her readers guessing although there was always going to be a happy ending. Her basic story was boy meets girl normally from an aristocratic background, they fall in love and for 150 pages all goes wrong, they encounter endless obstacles to their love and there is a bad guy trying to steal her away. In the last chapter everything turns out right. They are married and then the hero is allowed to carry the heroine up to the bedroom and the book ends at the bedroom door – there are stars in the sky and they live happily ever after. Cartland maintained some pretty old-fashioned views on gender roles? How could she be so popular during the height of the feminist revolution? Ian McCorquodale: My mother’s popularity, especially in America, took place in the late 1960s when pornography was legalized and at one stage in the 70s Bantam was selling 400.000 copies of each book at 2 a month. She wrote “pure romance” and refused to change when romance became sexualised in series like the bodice rippers. Her competitors were told to write like Barbara Cartland and put lots of sex into it So her popularity waned in the 90s and early 2000s and is now coming back as women are fed up with so much sex and violence in so-called modern romance. Her values may seem old-fashioned nowadays, but the public still like it. Do you think her connections to the British nobility influenced her popular appeal? Ian McCorquodale: Her readers appear to prefer to read about Royalty and aristocracy rather than kitchen sink and doctor and nurses romances. Thus her enduring following in every language. Her connection to Princess Diana, an avid Barbara Cartland fan, certainly did no harm to her sales. There is a story about Cartland that she always wrote about cousins who have an affair. In what way is this true? Ian McCorquodale: Occasionally she wrote about cousins as heroes and heroines, but they were distant cousins. If you were to compare Barabara Cartland’s novels with a more modern piece of fiction, like Fifty Shades of Grey, what does it tell us about how the world has changed the last three or four decades? Ian McCorquodale: As I have mentioned my mother never changed her style or compromised on sexiness in her books and there will always be a following for her type of fiction – the spiritual and inspirational kind. Her success as a romantic author has endured for more than 90 years and I believe that her books will still be read in 200 years time. As opposed to books like “50 shades of grey” which will have one stunning success and then fade. My mother’s “pure romance” has a strong moral message and many women have told her that they started their 13 year old daughters reading Barbara Cartland so that they would have the right ideas and ideals in life.   A beautiful young woman falls in love with a devilishly handsome highwayman, who saves her from her brutal husband, killing him in a fair duel. But when Charles II returns to claim his throne as king of England, she suddenly finds herself the enemy of the king’s former mistress. Can the outlaw still protect this damsel in distress (quote from the cover)   Listen to an audio version of Barbara Cartland’s The Lady and the Highwayman 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... [...]
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... [...]
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... [...]
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... [...]
history / literatureIn 1873 the restless poetic prodigy composed one of his final and greatest works. Arthur Rimbaud had been shot by his lover. Now he left the literary salons to become a vagabond, a deserter and a gun runner among the sand dunes of north Africa. Rimbaud came upon the artistic crowd in Paris like an invasion from the Ardenne. All his life he tried to escape his claustrophobic childhood. His father was passing soldier who deserted his family and his mother was strict, religious and maintained a facade of respectability. Most people who met Rimbaud were stunned by his talent, but they soon detected a rebellious streak behind his childish features. If there ever lived a poet of the gutter or a man who lived up to the bohemian myth of the restless artiste, Rimbaud must be it. He wrote his masterpieces between the ages of 16 and 19. Then he quit suddenly, left everyone and everything and became a legend. There are different theories as to why he did this. Was it the break-up with his homosexual lover Paul Verlaine? (Verlaine was much older than Rimbaud.) Was it his tragic childhood? He ran away from home when he was 14. As a teenager he searched the dustbins of Paris when France lost the war against Prussia in 1870. He saw the last French empire dissolve and the communes of Paris. He hung out with artists, painters, drank constantly, experimented with drugs and lived fully the life of the caffees. But after Verlaine had shot him in the hand, Rimbaud withdrew to face up to his theory of art in the poem “A Season in Hell” and decided to become a man of action. Verlaine, who still missed his wife and children, made a futile attempt at reconciliation, but Rimbaud turned his back on him. Verlaine was a born again christian at this time, and he is said to have prayed for Rimbaud’s salvation: “Merciful God,please save this angry child.” Distant horizons Rimbaud’s travels brought him to most countries in Europe, including Sweden, but after his sister’s death in 1875, he set his eye on exotic continents. First he decided to travel to Russia via Austria, but in Wien he was robbed by his own coachman. He begged in the streets until he was arrested by the police for vagrancy and shipped out of the country. A year later he was in the Netherlands where he joined the army for a six-year period, but after a few months in Java, he deserted. He returned to Paris wearing British sailor’s outfit. Then he decided to go to Egypt. In Hamburg he heard that a ship was due to sail from Greece, and in 1878 he crossed the alps during the winter season, an insane undertaking that almost cost him his life. A few months later he could proudly engrave his name on one of the pillars at the Luxor temple. In Egypt he worked for a while in Alexandria before he moved to Cyprus. Here he contracted typhoid, and when he returned to his mother he was only 25. Rimbaud’s return was nothing but a stay of necessity. Suffering had been a part of his artistic ideas, and now it became the force that drove him. He returned immediately to Cyprus where he saved up enough money to travel south along the shores of the Red Sea. Tired and sick with fever he ended up in the desolate and isolated seaport of Aden. Here he came into contact with a French coffee merchant, and it was in his service that the vast interior with its waving sand dunes, jagged peaks and savage tribes opened up to him. He was sent to Harar, a city where no Frenchmen had been, and soon he was given the opportunity to penetrate deeper into the unknown continent, the heart of darkness. His article about this journey was published by the French Geographical society, but only his letter to his mother revealed his true feelings: Loneliness is a wretched thing, and I am starting to regret the fact that I never married or started a family. As things are now, I am obliged to roam the earth, tied down by a distant enterprise. And every day I lose my taste for the climate and way of life in Europe. But no, what does the endless spending and accumulation of profit mean, these adventures, this hardship among alien races, these languages that fill my mind; what does all the indescribable suffering mean if I not, after many years, can rest in a place I like and have my own family. . .. Who knows how long I can survive in the mountains here. I may lose my life among these people without anyone ever knowing. .. The arms dealer When Rimbaud finally returned to Aden he brought with him an Abyssinian woman with who he lived happily for a while. We don’t know the reason for why he sent her away. New changes arrived in the area. Egypt was losing its political position, and like many Europeans Rimbaud tried to make money from gun running. He found experienced partners and invested all his savings to fund a caravan, but lady luck was not on his side. One of his colleagues was murdered and the other two fell ill. Rimbaud took charge of the caravan himself, from the coast to the interior. It took several months, a bitter contest with the elements. When he finally reached his destination, he was swindled by the devious king Menelek, and the balance only barely swung in his favor. Because he had a unique knowledge of local conditions, and because Italy had become active in the region, Rimbaud sent some articles to the newspaper Le Temps. The articles were rejected, but the newspaper could tell about his growing reputation in France. You probably don’t know this as you live so remote, but you have become a legend to a small circle here in Paris; one of those who is taken for dead, but who still maintain a group who believes in you and who patiently awaits your return. The petty salons of Europe were part of a world that Rimbaud had permanently abandoned. Rimbaud was now a weathered adventurer who pursued his investments. He found a partner for shipping goods between the French port Djibouti and Harar. His partner got him involved in the illegal slave trade to Arabia. However, he traded mostly in guns and other merchandise. Gradually he established a significant business and was well liked as a trader and known for his integrity and frugal nature. He had a good relationship to the natives, often helping those in need. As a white man in Africa, he was still an outsider, and he often wrote dreamy letters to his mother about how she would give him away in marriage upon his return to France. The servant Djami kept him company, a constant support for Rimbaud. The warm-hearted Rimbaud married him off when he turned 20, even if it served to consolidate his own solitude. The poet returns The decision to return to Europe was inevitable. In 1891 Rimbaud was struck by pains in one of his feet. It became infected and he lost mobility. He feared that his days were numbered and he immediately set course for home. 16 servants carried him through desert and rainstorm to the sea port. The local doctor eased his symptoms, which allowed him to set sail for Marseille. He telegraphed his mother and his sister and asked them to meet him there, and told them he might have to amputate one of his legs. He was carried ashore, but realised his time had come. All he could think about now was whether his personal life had been wasted. He returned as a poetic legend, but he never got in touch with his old colleagues. His final days were spent with his sister and he constantly complained about the fact that he had not married: And I who had planned to return to France this fall to marry. Goodbye marriage! Goodbye family! Goodbye future! My life is over! I am nothing but a rotting log. Rimbaud died November 9 1891 by his sister’s side, at the age of 37. His many acts of rebellion both in life and in poetry have since influenced a generation of poets. When his old lover, the great Verlaine, published his book about what he called “the damned poets”, Rimbaud was given special mention. In the 1960s he was admired by Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan, and he became – in spite of the fact that he resented his own fate – the poet icon of the sixties. Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
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... [...]
historyThe greatest city on earth in medieval times was not London, Paris or Rome. It was probably Angkor Wat, the Cambodian giant temple complex that was eventually swallowed by the jungle and forgotten by time. However, there exists a first-hand account of the Angkor culture at the peak of its power, from the pen of Zhou Daguan, a Chinese diplomat who later published a book entitled The Customs of Cambodia. Solang Uk has translated this rare work into English, and we asked him to describe the journey  Zhou Daguan would have taken. What sort of man was Zhou Daguan, and why was he selected to go on this long trip to Angkor? Solang Uk: He must have been a young Han Chinese (Han is the major ethnic group) in search of an adventure. The Emperor at the time was a Mongolian (not a Han). Maybe he was selected to be a delegation member because he was a young intellectual with keen eyes and good at recording. Were there strong trading links between China and Angkor? What sort of place did Angkor have in regional politics? Solang Uk: Of course, for a long time – Chinese records about the region existed since the 3rd century although the country was called different name by the Chinese. Zhou (the surname of Zhou Daguan – all Asians write surname first) wrote about Produce (chap. 19), Trade (chap. 20), Desirable Chinese Goods (chap. 21). Angkor was a major power on the mainland Southeast Asia. Recent lidar imaging have revealed that Angkor was a gigantic urbanised empire. I know China too was pretty developed, but was Zhou in any way impressed by what he saw? Solang Uk: Zhou did not mention canals, but he talked about huge artificial lakes called Baray. There are known three large Barays (the East, the West, and the North or Indratataka). In chapter 1, “On the City Perimeter”, he talked a lot about huge monuments with golden towers. His words: “Maybe this is the reason why foreign merchants often talk about the rich and noble Zenla”. What do we know about the king he visited, Indravarman III ? Solang Uk: Indravarman III is the son-in-law of the preceding King Jayavarman VIII. He was a General of the latter whose daughter (Indravarman III’s wife) stole the King’s royal sacred sword and gave it to her husband. The crown prince (son of Jayavarman VIII, name not known) plotted an attack on the General, but the plot was discovered, he was arrested, jailed, and had his toes cut off. Upon the King’s abdication in his old age, the General took the throne as Indravarman III (his other name is Sri Srindravarman). “I was told by the locals that the king goes up to sleep inside the golden tower every night. Inside there is a nine-headed snake spirit that is the lord of the land for the whole country, and is in the form of a woman. Every night she sees the king first, sleep; and couples with him. Even the queen would not dare go in. The king leaves at the ‘second drum beat’. Only then can the king sleep with the queen or with the royal concubines. If the snake spirit does not appear one night, the time of death for the king has arrived. If the barbarian king fails to go up one night, then disaster will certainly happen.” Zhou Daguan Were the people of Angkor literate like the Chinese? If so, has any of their literature survived? Solang Uk: Do you think the people who can build an empire that rivals the Chinese were less literate than the latter? Alas, the books did not survive the hot and humid tropical climate. Describe to us what Zhou would have seen in Angkor? Solang Uk:  In addition to the two gigantic lakes mentioned by Zhou, all monuments have surrounding moats 100m – 200m wide. The city of Yashodarapura known today as Angkor Thom is square shape of 3km each side surrounded by a moat 100m wide. There are dozens of temples outside Angkor Thom all surrounded by moats, the famous one being the well known 7th wonder of the world, Angkor Wat with a moat 200m wide and a perimeter of 5.5km. What sort of religion did the people of Angkor have? What sort of diet did they have, and what were their life expectancy? Solang Uk: Zhou mentioned three concurrent religions – Buddhism, Hinduism (predominantly Sivaism, occasionally Vishnuism), and ascetism. They ate fish and rice, obviously. We are talking about the 13th century world – who is to know people’s life expectancy! Do we know anything about the past times of the people of Angkor? Solang Uk: Zhou mentioned that practically every month of the year, there are different sorts of entertainment: 4th month, the ceremony of ball throwing, 5th month ceremony of welcoming/washing Buddha, 7th month, the ceremony of burning freshly ripen paddy, 8th month festival of music and dance, and pig fights and elephant fights, etc. The bas-relief sculptures on the Bayon temple are full of daily life scenes with dancers, musicians, pig fights, traders, tea shops, soldiers, and war scenes, etc. How important has Zhou Daguan’s book been to Cambodians and their understanding of history? Solang Uk: Zhou’s Record is very important for Cambodia as it is the only surviving written document on Cambodia in the 13th century. It fills the gap in the Cambodian history. Other documents of the time that were written on animal skin or palm leaves did not survive the tropical climate – moulds and bacteria love the hot and humid environment of Angkor. Other parts of Cambodian history were deciphered from stone inscriptions in Sanskrit or in ancient Khmer, and they refer mainly to the good deeds of Kings and high officials. What happened to Daguan after his return to China? Solang Uk: Soon after his return to China, Zhou must have had his Record published in his native province of Zhejiang, but the date is not exactly known. The Record was subsequently republished by different editors. According to the French sinologist, the late Paul Pelliot, there are now seven different versions of Zhou Daguan’s Record on Cambodia, but all are based on single archetype. Zhou Daguan was not well known in China. To China, Cambodia (although Angkor was well known then) was not so important as Japan, Korea, Mongolia where the threat of invasion/war is its main constant preoccupation. In 1296 AD, Chinese traveler Zhou Daguan visited Angkor-capital of Cambodia’s powerful Khmer Empire-as a member of a diplomatic mission sent by Emperor Temur Khan. Today, Zhou’s written record of his residency is the only surviving eyewitness account of that extraordinary and mysterious time and place. Customs of Cambodia – Zhou Daguan Paperback, is published by is published by DatASIA and available from Amazon     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 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... [...]
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... [...]
historyIn the shadow of the dying Hapsburg Empire a new treatment that focused on conversation was invented: psychoanalysis. However, who would benefit from Freud’s new method and what end would it finally serve? Sigmund Freud saw himself as part of the supercilious materialist wave that reduced men to Darwin’s apes. He was part of the liberal bourgeoisie of Vienna around 1900 and was educated in the neuro-physiology of Brucker and the hypno-theraphy of Charcot. Some time between 1895 and 1900, he broke with his old mentor Breuer and produced psychoanalysis. Like his role model, Charles Darwin, whom he praised in a 1917 essay*, he benefited greatly from his privileged background, and like him, he was sometimes haunted by his historic limitations. While Darwin swore by his own observations, Freud based his ideas on conversation and analysis. At the turn of the century, Freud was tested in a way that would expose the difficulties of psychoanalysis, the case of Dora. Privileged patients Psychoanalysis was the outcome of Freud’s conversations with women who could not survive in their social straitjackets. So it was with Dora, or Ida Bauer, as her real name was, an 18 year old who was sent to Freud by her wealthy family. She had been abused by an older friend of the family as a 14-year old, and as a result she had developed several symptoms, such as continued arguments with her father, fainting and the writing of suicide notes. «In their nature women are like feeble, exotic green house plants» Stephen Zweig joked. The contemporary ideal was, according to Zweig that «A young girl from a good family should not have the faintest idea about what a man’s body looked like; not know how children are conceived, they were innocent angels». Freud never denied the fact that he benefited from family power structures and that the psychoanalyst borrowed his authority from the father figure. But because Freud saw himself as the as a prophet of psychology, he never understood the ways in which he came to rationalize oppressive conditions in his own society. Ida Bauer was told that she denied her own sexuality when she described her fear of her abuser, «Mr K», and this qualified her to the obscure diagnosis «a hysteric». However, there were many women who claimed to be sexual victims, and Freud may have had some reason for doubt. Even so, the diagnosis becomes incomprehensible without  understanding the social and historical context. Vienna at the time At the start of the 1900s Freud was an ambitious doctor who had struggled long in the shadow of positivist physiology; he was well established with a large family which, excluding himself, included his wife Martha, as well as relatives, colleagues and a brood of children. From the safety of his home at Berggasse 19 he could defy the medical establishment and acquire the clinical experience that brought him- after several detours- to a better method of treatment. In addition, he developed a new theory about dreams and the structure of the mind. In spite of progress, Freud failed to rise in the academic hierarchy at the university of Vienna, where he had been employed as an assistant professor for years. Vienna was the center of a conservative empire. According to Stephan Zweig there was only one thing that could shatter the social neurosis and liberate the creative forces: Art. «all these social strata existed in their own own circles and even in their own neighborhoods, the aristocracy in their palaces in the center of the city, the diplomatic corps in a third area, industry and merchants around Ringstrasse, the petty bourgousi in the inner parts, the proletariat in the outer. But they all met in the theater». Anti-semitism flourished in the wake of various financial scandals and the French Dreyfuss affair. The right wing mayor Karl Leuger had been elected in spite of massive protest from the aristocracy and the powerful Jewish bourgeoisie. Barring the foul mob that rose from the gutter, few had the power to force through moderate reforms. Upper-class liberals like Freud now turned their back on politics and sublimated their own rebellions. A rigid society therefore seem to wither from within. Complicated by social factors Freud was among the first to develop a theory about how human dialogue can solve mental problems. A bi-product of this was an unsentimental description of the power structures in this conversation, both how they prevented and contributed to communication. When Dora one day slammed her door and shut Freud out, Freud saw it as a sign of weakness. Posterity, and a few literary scholars and theoreticians in particular, has compared Dora to Ibsen’s famous heroine, Nora.* To other thinkers like Hélène Cixous, Dora became the woman who exposed Freud as a chauvinist. Women, like some religious people, have discovered that the more you criticize psychoanalysis, the more you seem to confirm its diagnosis. In the essay «On femininity» Freud declared that psychoanalysis doesn’t ask what a woman is, but how she is made. Psychoanalysis is seemingly impervious to any attack, and raises itself high above women, the religious and other so-called pathologies. More humane after all On the other hand, Freud took an important step away from the macabre laboratories of neuro-physiology and the institutionalized sadism that preoccupied many contemporary institutions. He communicated with his patients and wasn’t afraid of touchy subjects, like sex, death and aggression. But perhaps because Freud developed a theory to penetrate the defenses of the self and unveil hidden motives, he was later seen as the architect of a state sponsored invasion of the private sphere. In the doctor-patient relationship, historical positivism and its wave of materialism became a social tool of the establishment. The power of definition Of course, this spurred a host of counter-theories. Freud’s studies revealed that all women at some point in their childhood discovered that boys have something which they apparently lack, and that leads to “penis-envy” and supposedly causes neurosis later in life. Freud never accepted that this was in some ways a description of, if not a rationalization of, contemporary attitudes. Later psychologists like Karen Horney understood that women needed to justify fundamental needs. They need to find a response to the old language of power. The feminist Susan Gubar begins one of her articles with the question «Is anatomy linguistic destiny?» Such a fate seemed inevitable to early feminists who suggested that penis-envy be replaced by “womb-envy”, or the stage in a boy’s life when he discovers that he is unable to give birth and consequently develops neurosis. It is not hard to see that this theoretical tug-of-war masks a power struggle. Psychoanalysis in a vacuum? Darwin had won his victory by gradually placing his followers in strategic positions within the scientific societies. The psychoanalytic movement followed a similar pattern, and spread throughout Europe after 1906 through intrigues and personal animosity. The totalitarian side of psychoanalysis became increasingly more apparent as Freud clamped down on heretics within his own movement: Fleiss, Adler, Jung, Reich and others. This is a fate that psychoanalysis shares with Marxism. Where Marx saw exploitation, Freud saw neurosis, and the twentieth century seemed to follow these two in their search for hidden agendas. Whether Freud was a positivist is debatable. However, he did write texts in which he saw himself as part of an accumulating corpus of knowledge. He also clung to scientific objectivity, and is consequently often scolded for his arrogance. Yet, it seems like posterity has blamed him for not being able to bring conversational analysis into a social vacuum. Can we really predict human behavior as reliably as the laws of Newton or describe them as eloquently as Darwin’s finches? It is not without reason that the great Karl Popper labeled both evolution and psychoanalysis as «metaphysical research programs». Such unreasonable demands may also have also influenced Freud’s view of himself. However, in 1914, after a heated debate over psychoanalysis, the world experienced a series of irrational tremors that swept the old bourgeoisie and their prejudices aside: the shell shocks of the first world war. The immense tragedy of that conflict secured both women and psychoanalysts a better position in society. Michael Wynn * “A difficulty in the path of psychoanalysis” Sigmund Freud 1917. * A simple search in google scholar revealed serveral who made the comparison.  Like this:Like Loading... [...]
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 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... [...]
historyHe claimed to be sexually active as a 5 year-old. «He has visited all the most famous homes in London. Once» Oscar Wilde stated. Frank Harris was one of the most controversial characters of the Victorian era. A self-proclaimed sex-guru, hypochondriac and editor with upper class access, he was a colorful addition to the revolt against late Victorian morality. Ireland, at the middle of the nineteenth century, was on the brink of trouble. Hunger had just arrived and gangs of smugglers ravaged the coastlines. Thomas James Harris was named after his father, Thomas Harris, who worked for the British Coastguard. His father spent a lot of time at sea and the two were never close. His mother was a distant figure, even if he never disliked her. It was the violent and aggressive father he hated, and later he changed his name to Frank Harris. The young Harris left for England to attend a boarding school. There is something confined about his childhood memories, something unpleasant about his description of the masculine boarding schools. He left a dysfunctional home for a school system in which the teachers turned a blind eye to abuse. In this unfriendly environment, he learnt to fight back. He taught himself boxing and achieved the respect of his peers. He grew emotionally and made his sexual debut. Across the Atlantic At the age of 16, he sets out on a journey to America, without any goal and almost without money. He makes acquaintances on the ocean liner and on embarking in New York. He finds a girl and works full-time on the construction of Brooklyn bridge. At this time he came to a painful realization: He was ugly. This was, according to his autobiography, a sinister moment in his life, «but it only motivated me to greater achievements in the bedroom» From New York Harris headed west toward Kansas where his older brother was already settled. In Kansas he became a cowboy on the great trek north. He was also a witness to the great fire that struck Chicago at this time. He believed that vaporized water added air to the flames, and consequently he did his utmost to prevent anyone from throwing water on the flames. Student After a short business career, Harris attended the University of Kansas. After finishing his law degree he works his way via San Francisco back to Europe to continue his studies in Germany. His social skills were modest, and he is expelled from the University of Heidelberg for beating up a student that bumped into him on the street. He finishes his studies at Gottingen and then returns to Ireland. There he finds a deaf and whitebearded father and his mother’s grave. A year later Harris is in London. The center of the empire was alive with activity. Socialists were beginning to organize, unions were formed and the proletariat were challenging the aristocracy and the nouveau rich. Harris is transformed politically and becomes a member of Henry Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation. However, due to disagreements, he leaves the organization. According to Hyndman, Harris was an eloquent speaker who passed through almost every political affiliation. London contained many of them, and was the center of the imperialist economic system. Harris was not only caught up in the political turbulence of the capital city, later, as a publisher, he was forced into an alliance with the new commercial interests. Editor and society The lawyer Frank Harris arrived in London with a recommendation from his old professor Byron Smith. He met Thomas Carlyle, who after half an hour, became so intimate that he confided his own impotence. Through Carlyle, Harris met Richard Sutton, the editor of The Spectator. Harris gained experience from The Spectator and The Fortnightly Review and became editor of the conservative newspaper London Evening News. The circulation plummeted and the paper was desperate. Harris cut the staff and promoted sensational celebrity gossip. He seduced the masses and the circulation exploded. Frank Harris, the tabloid journalist, was born out of gossip and innuendo. A power struggle forced Harris to leave the editorship of the London Evening News, but now he had proven himself. From the 1880s he worked as editor of two of the most famous contemporary publications: The Fortnightly Review and the Saturday Review. He met all the celebrities, such as Karl Marx. «While Herbert Spencer was contemptuously angry when he was opposed, Marx was politely inattentive», Harris commented. Harris built a career on gossip. In Contemporary Portraits, a series of 5 volumes, Harris continues his description of contemporary greats. He describes how famous personalities breaks wind at the dinner table, why Thomas Carlyle never had sex with his wife (according to Harris he was gay) and how a man like Randolph Churchill drifted into madness. On request, he passed his dirty stories on to the prince of Wales and he had a close relationship to princess Alice of Monaco. He ran for office for the Tories, but lost because he defended Charles Parnell who had been unfaithful to his wife. Blackmail Because of his tabloid journalism, Harris was often in trouble with the authorities. He bragged of the fact that he had blackmailed celebrities for money and that he had participated in orgies with 13 year olds. One of his siblings had died of consumption and Harris was convinced that such afflictions were hereditary. He thought that stomach aches were due to too little movement of the relevant muscles, and he developed a routine of daily exercises. When he over ate, he resorted to a stomach pump. At the end of the century; Harris left journalism to become a writer. «Like mothers , we writers tend to judge our offspring by the pain the cause us,» he remarked, « and we worship them to compensate for a cruel world.» Even if he had made money on the private lives of others, Harris developed an ambiguous relationship with public life. When Oscar Wilde was jailed for “sodomy”, Harris advised him to leave the country. After 2 years Wilde was released from prison, and Harris was one of very few to still acknowledge him. War and Exile At the outbreak of WWI Harris fled his sanctuary in France. England had betrayed both him and Wilde, and America was the only option. In New York, he sided with Germany against England, and was labeled a German agent. Depressed and isolated life became a struggle for existence. «The truth is, I assume, that my vanity is as abnormal as my ambition». He failed as a novelist, but he was hungry for recognition. For a short period, he reaches his former glory as editor of Pearson’s Magazine. He begins a crusade against poverty and bourgeoisie hypocrisy. When Theodore Dreiser had one of his novels cut by the censors, Harris, who sees a similarity between Wilde, Jesus and himself, rushes to his defense. Society had forced Harris into a corner. The postal service refused to distribute his publications, and he faced the threat of legal sanction. He was on the verge of financial ruin, and he wanted to return to Europe. Death and the moral France was hardly an improvement. In the absence of publishers, he was forced to publish his own works. He begins his autobiography, a monstrous volume which he finishes over a period of several years. My Life and Loves had the subtitle «the most candid biography ever written». Everybody got what was coming to them. Harris opened the closet to expose skeletons and intimate details. He was declared persona non-grata in America. Bookshops in France, America and England were rushed and copies of his biography confiscated. Once he was even stopped in customs because his autobiography was considered pornography. Tired and abused he died in the arms of a nurse in 1931. A few years after the publication of his autobiography, a reply was published in the form of the book The Lies and Libels of Frank Harris, penned by some injured parties from his dubious past. His ability to emphasise himself at the expense of others made him many enemies. The bourgeoisie choked on his many shameless descriptions of sexuality. At dinner with the social elite he produced witticisms in the style of «new cunt, new hope» George Bernard Shaw’s wife would not have anything to do with him and even faithful friends turned their backs to him. In 5 volumes Harris portrayed himself as a hero who mastered life and conquered women. But the truth was obvious to everyone. Despite his photographic memory, Harris carefully selected his facts. He lied about his own past a cowboy, he exaggerated his own role as war correspondent in the Russian- Turkish war, he lied about how popular he was and how good he was in the sack. There was a vulnerability behind this total lack of irony. The roles he took on where as feigned as his new name, Frank Harris. The pauper, Thomas James from Galway, had turned his own life into a gossip column. Michael Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyAt an undisclosed time in British history, there lived a 14 year old boy with undiagnosed, but mild autism who was fond of school debates. His mind was such that he could challenge most normal people simply by overwhelming them with masses of facts from his prodigious memory. As he grew older, he realised that he could use this in a court of law, and make good money as a barrister. Passing a degree in pedantic quotation and logics posed no problems for a high riser of his particular talents. He got top marks, and was immediately hired by a large London law firm to argue a very important case before a senior and very respected judge. When the new barrister entered the court, however, he immediately turned many heads because of the elevated sound volume with which the fresh legal representative presented his arguments, this being the method he had applied to win school debates. The old judge – first frowning, then staring in disbelief – observed the performance in silence, and then – out of sheer curiosity – got the solicitor into a short discussion. I say short, for five minutes later the fresh barrister was arrested in contempt of court on the grounds that “shouting and screaming like a madman does not improve a flawed line of reasoning”. The barrister remained in his cold cell a few days, until the judge took pity on him, and paid a him a visit. He sat down next to the man, and assumed the role of a well-meaning grandfather. “I am going to order your release tomorrow”, he said. “But in my 40 years as a judge, I have never seen something similar in my court as what you perpetrated a few days ago.” “I understand” “There is a condition to my release, so do not rejoice until you hear it: I want you to promise me that you will NEVER work as a barrister, but in stead find a profession more suited to this kind of rudeness, these constant interruptions with tedious facts and details. This inability to allow a full line of reasoning to reach a natural conclusion. This sort of circus will halt all progress in my cases, and assure that nothing gets done, you see. Will you promise me this?” The young barrister sighed. He was not a bad person, in fact he was kind. He just did not understand. Nor was he a person who would knowingly disrespect authority.“I will heed your advice, Your Honour.” The door slammed shut behind the judge as he left, and the very next morning the barrister was released. He quit the law firm, and for while drifted aimlessly through various business ventures. Even with moderate success in these, he felt that he had been robbed of a setting in which his natural talents for debating would blossom. However, this story has a very happy ending, for the historical records indicate that he – 20 years after the said events – became the most admired Speaker in the history of the British House of Commons. by Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]