Find free resources:
This site Free articles Audio Ebooks Old newspapers Courses Discussions Documentaries
short storyThere lived an old retired major in the hills of central Europe. No one knew in which armies he had fought, or which battles that had disfigured his wrinkled face. Some took for granted that he had supported the Nazis during the war. They barely knew his name, and only referred to him with contempt as “the grumpy old major”. His home was a log cabin, overlooking a valley that was often covered in mist. And when the rains and the wind darkened the evenings, the light from his window was a solitary gleam – like the eye of the mountains themselves – peering down on the village below. The major was thoroughly disliked because of his ferocious temper. He arrived in the afternoons, unshaven, stinking of sweat and alcohol, and then he would be very rude and cold – if he indeed he said something at all. The only creature on this earth that seemed to be good enough for the old major was his dog. No one knew the age of the creature, or even of the of the major himself. The dog walked with a proud skip in its steps, and he showered it with luxury and food. In the evenings the major would silently ponder the landscape from his vantage point. What his thoughts were, not even the dog could tell. There was never a visitor to the old cabin, but the major sometimes sobered up and cleared the path. He worked into the afternoons with a pick ax and shuffle. When he was done he would take a seat in a chair outside, and drink whiskey and smoke until he fell asleep where he sat. The evening chill would wake him and then he would withdraw to his bed. Sometimes when the major slept he would kick and scream, as he was struggling for his life. Then the dog would jump down from the bed, and lie down in a corner until he quieted down. When the major woke, he would be sweaty and confused, and then he would drink coffee, and then read a book til dawn penetrated the morning mist. The landscape around the village was vast and wild, and the major would limp up and down those isolated paths followed by his mute companion. In winter, blizzards would descend upon his outpost with terrifying violence. A lighted fireplace and piles of wood kept him warm. He stored canned food of various kinds, beans, spam, fish, and he salted meats to comfort himself. When the water froze he opened the door and collected snow in a bucket which he melted by the fire for his coffee. Sometimes, when he was in the mood, he dug deep into a wooden chest and found an old battery powered radio, and he would sit quietly, intensely concentrated, trying to move the antenna back and forth in order to make out those almost imperceptible voices that penetrated into his dominion from the world outside. But sometimes this proved impossible, and therefore he did not receive advance warning of the horrific storm of 1973. On 21 of October that year the heavens gave birth to the worst winds and heaviest snow fall seen in those parts. The other villagers never talked to the old major because they did not like him, and by the time storm had arrived, and he entered their thoughts, it was too late. They thought that the cabin on the hill has stood there for hundreds of years. Like the major himself it seemed carved out of the hillside. If he just sat quiet where he was, no harm could befall him. And they were right, and the old major knew it. He did what he normally did during winter storms, lighted his fire. The flames flickered, and when the shutters were secured, they filled the room with comfort, light and heat, while the Day of Judgment brewed outside. The old major was used to this, it had been his life, in every sense. He got up a bottle of whiskey, and sipped from a glass. His dog, however, was utterly terrified. It crawled under the table, and whined. The old major tried to reassure the creature, calm it with offers of treats, but the howl of the winds, the creaking walls and what seemed like an inexplicable drone from the heavens above frightened it, and it would take no food. The old major then got down on his knees under the table and sat next to the dog with his glass of whiskey. He looked at the dog, and for a while dog was calm. But then suddenly a tremendous gust blew the door open, filling the room with swirls of snow. The old major rushed to his feet, and struggled against the wind to shut it. When that was done, he noticed that the dog had fled into the night to seek refuge among the trees. First, he was overwhelmed with grief when the room was quiet. He looked at the empty space where the dog used to lie. Then his eyes were suddenly filled with defiance, an old soldier was returning to battle. He put on his thickest coat, and hat and scarf, grabbed an oil lamp and unlocked the door. So it was that the old major decided to take on the very spirits of the mountain to fight for his dog. He waded to his ankles in snow for a few hundred meters up the hill. He shouted, but his voice was inaudible. As he became removed from his cabin, he saw its light extinguish in the storm. And not soon after, the old major was overcome with fatigue and sat down under a tree. That is where the men from the village found his frozen body two days later. They did not have much sympathy for him because he had always been mean and yelled at them. The dog, however, was found alive in the shed outside. Everyone thought that this was the most faithful creature on earth which stayed so loyal to such a terrible person. It was brought down from the mountain, and given to a breeder, who made sure that it produced many litters, whose offspring still run around on the meadows in those parts. They say old majors die, but their dogs live on forever. by Michael Henrik Wynn 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 Jack Boyle (1881- 1928) A MASSIVE safe, seemingly impregnable, was in the corner of the darkened office. Before it stood ‘Boston Blackie, chief of the “mob” of “peter” cracksmen. Gray-haired, stern-faced, laconic and efficient, Blackie had made his criminal profession an exact science. Given a strong box of certain dimensions, certain thickness and certain make, he knew to a fraction of a drop how much “soup,’—as the profession styles nitroglycerin,—would force the steel door from its hinges and drop it with the least possible noise on a bed of mattresses, placed by his assistants. In his eyes, a drop too much was a stupid blunder, a drop too little an inexcusable catastrophe. Snapping on an electric torch he carefully examined the plaster of soap with which he had made air-tight the tin; crack between the door and the safe walls. In the center of the door at the top fashioned a soap cup capable of holding a couple of tablespoonfuls of liquid. At the inner and lower edge of this cup a tiny orifice, unsoaped, in the crack of the door, made room for the explosive to trickle down behind it. Satisfied with his inspection, the chief turned to one of the two men behind him. “Gimme the ‘soup,” Cushions.” “THE youngster called “Cushions” produced a bottle with hands that were not quite steady. Uncorking it, the cracks man poured a couple of teaspoonfuls into a physician’s measuring glass, then, examining his measure with infinite care, he added a couple of drops and was satisfied. Returning the bottle to the youth, he poured the heavy fluid into the soap cup. A few drops spilled on the cement floor by a shaky hand would have ended the careers of the trio. But Blackie’s hands didn’t shake. Taking a fulminating cap from his pocket, he placed it firmly against the crack through which the explosive had flowed into the safe and crushed the soap cup over it to hold it in place. A six-inch fuse dangled from the cap. ” K. Y. , give Jimmy the signal,” was the next command. The third man who, until now, had neither spoken nor moved, slipped silently away toward the front doors of the store. A moment later a peculiar tapping, scraping sound made with the backs of the finger nails was heard on the glass. It was the opium-smoker’s “rap,’—a signal familiar the country over to users of the drug. In answer, from across the street came a few whistled bars from a popular song. “Everything’s O. K.” reported K. Y., noiselessly re-entering the office. In his absence Blackie and his helper had covered the entire safe with heavy blankets, filched from the store’s shelves. “Get the mattress,” ordered Blackie. The two men dragged in a big double mattress and laid it on the floor in front of the safe door, “A little to the right and a couple of inches farther back,” instructed the “mob” leader, measuring the door with his eve. “Get down behind that counter out there and lie close to the floor. Here she goes,” he said, striking a match and igniting the fuse. Then, with the same match, he relighted the cigarette between his lips and, without any haste, slipped through the doorway and dropped down d the counter where his pals laying. There was a hissing, sputtering sound as the fuse burned, then a smothered detonation that rattled the store windows, followed by a puff of smoke, and the great outer door of the safe, torn from its place by the irresistible power behind it, sagged outward and dropped squarely in the center of the mattress, still swathed in the torn folds of the blankets. In a second Blackie was at the inner door of the safe, testing the combination with fingers of experience. Taking a light sledge from among the tools laid out ready on the floor he laid it flat against the door near the top and brought it down with a sharp tap on the combination. It dropped, cut off as cleanly as by a knife. Then with a steel punch he forced the broken shank back into the lock, using a leather-covered hammer to deaden the noise. A few turns of the knob and the broken tumblers and disks slipped apart. A moment’s prying and the wrecked door swung open. The safe was cracked. Unhurried and without excitement, but quickly, Boston Blackie forced drawer after drawer, tossing out flat packages of bills to the men behind him, and finally emerging himself with a coin sack marked “Gold”. This he dropped into a concealed pocket inside the lining of his overcoat. “That’s all. Let’s go, boys,” he said. The tools were left on the office floor. Sledges and hammers, drills and a few punches, are cheaply bought at midday. They are hard to explain away, however, if found on a man in the vicinity of a wrecked safe at three o’clock in the morning. DIAGONALLY across the street from the store they had just left, an automobile engine began to cough. Crossing to the machine, in which sat a driver, muffled and goggled, Blackie and his companions climbed into the tonneau and the car shot away into the night. A half hour later the quartet lay on their hips in a circle, an opium “layout” in their midst, while the erstwhile chauffeur, called “Jimmy the Joke,” rapidly toasted the pungently sweetish brown pills, as the pipe passed round and round the circle from lip to lip. There was no discussion of the “job” they had just turned, no excitement or exultation over its success. It was all a part of the day’s work with them and, anyway, opium smokers in the throes of a “habit” have no desire for speech. Boston Blackie, whose piercing black eyes and New England birthplace had won him his nickname, lay in the position of precedence to the left of the “cook.” Next came K. Y. Lewes, second in command, whose drawling Southern accent betrayed his Kentucky boyhood. Pillowed on him was the “Cushions” Kid, so called because once when the rest piled into a freight car to make a short trip he paid his last five-dollar bill for a railway ticket—and went hungry for twenty-four hours in consequence.” And, lastly, there was “Jimmy the Joke” who had been christened James Tener. Long ears before, he had done a “jolt” in a Western penitentiary. The judge sentenced him to ten years. “Is that meant as a joke, Your Honor?” queried the prisoner blandly. “A joke!” ejaculated the old judge. “Yes, Your Honor,” replied the prospective convict. “Didn’t I just understand you to say a ‘tener’ for Tener?” AN HOUR passed. Each of the four was beginning to feel the physical relaxation and mental exhilaration that binds its victims to opium. A knock—the “fiend’s rap”—sounded on the door. “Come in,” called Blackie. The owner of the “joint” in which they lay entered—a haggard-faced skeleton of a man called “Turkey-neck” Martin. “Good evening, Blackie,” he commenced, after carefully closing the door. “Hello, boys! How’s every little thing? The Joke’s ‘cheffing,” as usual, eh? Some cook, you are, Jimmy, old boy. Need any more ‘hop’ yet, Blackie?” “That’s not what you butted in here for, What is it you’ve got to say?” This from Blackie. ‘The human wreck half-cowered under the reprimand. “Well, it’s this way, fellows—not that it’s really any of my business,” he began hesitatingly, “but knowing what a ‘right’ crowd you fellows are, and how you put up the dough for that Denver Kid’s bonds, and—” “Aw, cut that stuff and get down to what you’re trying to say,” growled Blackie. “It’s this way,” began Turkey-neck again, “The pinch come off yesterday. They’ve got him right, and it’s a trip over the bay to the Big House if it aint squared. l’i’e’s broke, and the boys are taking up a purse.” “Who’s pinched, you gabbling fool ” interrupted Blackie. “Why, ‘Mitt-and-a-half’ Kelly. He—” “What?” cried Blackie raising himself on his elbow and glaring at the flustrated joint keeper with more excitement than any of his listeners had ever seen him show. “You come to me from that white-livered rat! Why, he just misses being a copper. I don’t put it past him to ‘stool’ at that. We’re a different breed here from that skunk. Tell him fi;)rn me that he’s safer behind the bars than—” But the joint keeper had slipped from the room and Blackie choked Ezck the flow of his indignation. His three friends waited in silence for the explanation they knew would come. BLACKIE took the next pill in a “long-draw,” inhaling the smoke until his lungs seemed bursting, then exhaling slowly in short puffs. “I’m going to tell you the story, boys, of a fellow who had principles and paid for them, same as we all must pay for anything that’s worth while having,” he commenced. “The man I mean is “Three-Fingered Mac.” “Poor old Mac! I remember when he got his ‘jolt,’” chimed in Jimmy. “He did one before that,” went on Blackie. It was characteristic of him that, having smoked, he dropped the aror of the Joint bit by bit, and reverted to the clean speech of his college days. “Fifteen years is what they gave him. It was a bank safe job. Fifteen years! That’s nine years, five months solid, allowing for good conduct ‘copper.’ judge can say fifteen in a fraction of a second, but it’s a long, long stretch when you have to do it—one day at a time. “Mac had a woman, loyal and true as steel, who did his jolt too, on the outside— one day at a time. That’s the worst of this rotten business. Our women have to do our time the same as we do, if they’re worth while, which Mac’s wife was. Almost all the money he’d laid away went to his ‘mouth-pieces” (lawyers) at the trial, so she opened a little millinery shop and took care of herself and the kid while Mac was ‘buried.” She wrote every week and never missed a visiting day in all of those long years. Well, at last he got his time in and they turned him out at the gate to start life with a five-dollar gold piece and a ‘con’ suit. I ran across them on the train to the city—Mac, his wife, and a long-legged boy who had been an infant when Mac went across. I was looking for a man to fill in my ‘mob’ just then, and felt him out. He shook his head. ““Blackie,” he said, ‘I’m done, I haven’t lost my nerve and you know I’ve always been “right.” But look at that little woman there. She’s waited and worked for me for nine years and five months. She’s saved enough to buy us a little chicken ranch up Petaluma way, and I’m going in for the simple life, with her and the boy to hold me straight when I get restless for the old, exciting days.’ “I SHOOK hands with him and told him how lucky he was to have a woman like that,” continued Blackie. “Then he asked me where Mitt-and-a-half Kelly was living. He had a message for him from a pal who was doing twenty up above. “He’s living at the Palm, same house with me,’” I said, ‘but he’s under cover. You and the folks come on to a show with me and I’ll take you up to see him afterward.” “‘Not tonight,’ he said. ‘Im going to spend this night at home with them, nodding over his shoulder at his wife and son. I’ll meet you to-morrow might, though, for we leave for the country the next morning.” “We went to the Orpheum the next night and Mac missed half the show explaining to me how much money could be made with chickens. Afterward, we went up to the Palm, looking for Kelly. He was out. I asked Mac down to my room, but he refused. He knew I was due to smoke and didn’t want to tempt himself with even the smell of ‘hop,” he said. So I let him into Kelly’s room with a passkey, and went down-stairs to my own layout. It was midnight then. “It couldn’t have been over half an hour, for I was still smoking off my first card, when I heard a copper’s tread on the stairs. Then two more of them. I planted the layout and lamped out through the transom. I could see them at the head of the stairs, hammering on Kelly’s door, and every man had his gun out. Mac opened the door, and in less time than it takes me to tell it they had three ‘rods’ at his head and the cuffs on his wrists. Then, after searching the room, they took him away, along with a bundle of clothes they had found. “I stepped down from the transom laughing to myself. I knew the coppers were working a ‘bum rap’, for Mac had been with me all night. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that they would have to turn him loose in the morning. When they had gone, I slipped down-stairs, for I wasn’t any too eager to interview the chief myself just then. All the way down on the stairs there was a plain trail of blood, and in the doorway a big splotch where a man had stood while he used his latchkey. I knew then that somebody had got in bad and had been hurt. “I SPENT the rest of the night at the joint and got the first editions of the papers. I found what I was looking for plastered all over the first page. A ‘peter’ mob had been surprised at work on a safe out on the south side by a ‘harness bull’ (uniformed policeman) just as the midnight watch was changing. “There was a lot of shooting. The copper got his and died on the operating table at the hospital. One of the mob, too, was hurt, the paper said, for a trail of blood led up the street in the direction theyhad gone. A later edition announced the capture of Three-Fingered Mac, a desperate criminal just released from the penitentiary. In his room at the Palm Hotel he was caught stripping off his blood-soaked clothing. A policeman, noticing blood on the sidewalk, had traced it to the hotel and up the stairs to Mac’s room. In the room they found a bloody handkerchief and a .44 Colts with every shell exploded. The prisoner had no visible wound except a gash on his head, probably made by a night-stick. The blood on his clothing, it was explained, came from the wounds of the dead policeman with whom the prisoner had a hand-to-hand struggle as he fled. I knew then that poor old Mac wasn’t going to start for that chicken ranch the next day. I went down-town and sent a lawyer up to him, and then went out myself to break the news to that little woman of his. She hadn’t been to bed, and was waiting for him. It was the toughest job I ever tried, to hand her that paper. “He’s innocent as you are, ma’am,” I said. “He was with me from eight o’clock until midnight, and this job was done before twelve.” ”I TOOK her up to the lawyer’s office, and we waited all day for him to get to Mac. When the mouth-piece finally came in he had a worried frown and I could see more trouble ahead. ““You’ve given me a crazy man for a client,” he said, irritably. “He swears he is innocent, but admits he knows the guilty man. Says this mysterious friend came in with a bullet wound in the arm and that he dressed and bandaged the hurt. Then the fellow changed clothes, threw his revolver in the bureau drawer and skipped out, knowing the police would follow the trail of blood he left behind. While Mac was washing the blood off his hands, the coppers came battering at the door. He opened it and «Bull” Dunnigan rapped him on the head with his stick, cutting a long gash in the scalp. Then he was pinched. Not a bad yarn that, true or not. But right there’ he “crabs” it all, He absolutely refuses to tell who this other man is. Says he’ll take a jolt rather than turn informer. Can you beat that for idiocy? He says he has an alibi—that he was at the theater with a friend and didn’t leave him between eight and midnight.” “That’s true. I’m that friend,” I interrupted. “We went to the theater, sat through the whole performance— here are our seat checks —and then went up to the hotel. It was just midnight when Mac went upstairs to wait for his friend. I know he couldn’t have had a hand in that job.” “Your testimony will help, Blackie”, the lawyer went on after a moment’s thought; “but you know you’re not exactly a witness that will carry weight with a jury. Mac says there is a bullet hole in the right sleeve of the coat belonging to his friend. Mac’s coat is bloody, but there is no hole in the cloth and no wound in his arm. If I had that coat, I’d acquit him. But listen to this: Mac says Bull Dunnigan has been trying to force him to betray this friend of his He told the detectives the same story he told me. Dunnigan came out flatly and told him he believed he was telling the truth, but that somebody would have to swing for killing that policeman. “It is either you or your friend, Take your choice,” said Dunnigan. “You’ll come through or you’ll swing, and I don’t give a finger-snap whether you are innocent or guilty. I’ll get you. And Mac swear he’ll never “stool”. Can you beat it?’ “Mac’s woman had been leaning forward looking at the lawyer with a light in her eyes that would asbestos. She had aged ten years since I saw them on the boat two days before, all so happy and carefree “My, poor boy, my poor,” she cried. I can’t dose Dim again, I won’t—not when I know he isn’t guilty. Oh, Mr. S–, save him some way, save him from himself. You’ll have to do it all yourself, for Mac won’t help vou. He’ll never “snitch” on a friend. I know him. I can’t see him go buck there to prison. Only yesterday I was so happy, so hopeful, and now,—oh, it drives me mad!” THEN she broke down and the tears came. I was glad. Anything is better than the terrible dry-eyed grief of a woman who sees her man being torn from her—and unjustly at that. “She told the lawyer all their plans about the chicken ranch, and he perked up a bit. He told her not to worry and finally sent her home, heartened up some because he assured her that her testimony would help more than anything that had turned up. When she had gone, he turned to me. “Is that yarn true?’ he asked. “Absolutely, every word of it.” “If I could get that coat with bullet hole in it, I’d acquit him. But, Blackie, will wil we ever see that coat?” He looked at me questioningly. “Not if those framing coppers are wise that it will acquit Mac. Dunnigan will railroad him for this as sure as eggs make omelets, unless he snitches, and he won’t,” I replied. A MONTH later they put Mac on trail. All through that month I had been expecting Kelly to show up and do something. I thought he’d get his mob. together and stick up the patrol wagon taking Mac to and from the county jail to curt. But he didn’t show. The trial wasn’t long. The papers all took it for granted that Mac was guilty, and the jurors admitted reading about the case but declared that they had no ‘fixed” opinions and could give him a fair trial. That word “fixed” muse save many a juror’s conscience, if any of ’em have any. “The coppers testified about the trail of blood that they had traced almost from the scene of the crime to the room where they found Mac washing his bloody hands and wiping blood spots from his clothes. Then they produced the revolver and the empty shells and proved that the policeman was killed with that sized gun and that it smelled of fresh powder when found in the room. Then Dunnigan filled in all the gaps in the chain of evidence. First he told what a desperate criminal Mac had been and produced his photograph in stripes taken at the penitentiary. The judge refused to permit this in evidence then, but the jury had all seen it before it was ruled out. Then he swore that Mac had a scalp wound received before he was arrested, presumably, from intimations by the prosecution, in the dearh struggle with the murdered policeman. Then Dunnigan settled Mac’s chances with the foulest perjury I ever heard. He told how he reached the dying policeman’s cot in the hospital ten minutes before he died. “Did he know who shot him? asked the prosecutor. “He didn’t know him by name, answered the detective slowly, turning to the jury would be sure to get every word, “but he said the man was a big fellow with dark clothes, and he said also that two fingers were missing on bis gun hand and chat he had a scar from his eve to his chin on the right side of his face.” THERE sat Mac in full view of the jury with his mutilated hand in plain sight and the scar on his face turning fiery red as he heard the lie that damned him for life. 1 knew it was all off then. The lawyer did his best, but we were beaten before we started to put a defense in. I told my story—the exact truth—bu they sprung my record on me, and I knew by their looks that the jury wasn’t even paying attention to me and my story. Mac’s woman made a great witness. I tell you, boys, no one who heard her tell about their plans for that chicken ranch, and how her husband had determined to live square, could help believing her. There was something that choked up my throat in the desperation with which she fought every step of the way for her man. The jury seemed impressed for a few moments, but it didn’t last until they commenced balloting. “The landlady of the Palm was called to prove that Mac did not rent or own the room where he was caught. As ill luck would have it, Kelly had go: me to rent the room for him, he being under cover, and old Mother McGunn showed my name on the books and swore she didn’t know whether one or twenty men visited the room, as long as the rent was paid. We demanded the coat with the bullet hole in it and made an awful howl when the police denied even seeing it, but the jury set it all down as a fake of ours. “Mac made a good witness. He told the truth in a straightforward manner— that is, all but Kelly’s name. On cross-examination the district attorney asked just one question: “Who was this man you say came in wounded just before your arrest?” “Every drop of blood seemed to leave Mac’s face. He started to speak, stopped, looked over at his wife in whose eyes there was the look of Death itself. He hesitated a second, then turned to the jury: “I refuse to answer,” he said. “Thank God it isn’t my business to be a copper like chat lying perjurer there,” pointing at Dunnigan. “I’ve never betrayed a friend or sent a man to jail yet, and I never will!” Mac was convicted anyway, but that refusal settled every doubt. The jury was out just long enough to get a dinner at the expense of the county, and then brought in a verdict of guilty and fixed the penalty at life imprisonment. A couple of them objected to hanging. As they took Mac back to jail, Dunnigan passed by him. “Just remember while you’re doing another man’s time,” he whispered, “that I said I’d get you, and I did” Mac leaped at him and would have brained him with the handcuffs if the deputy sheriffs hadn’t overpowered him. The papers next day called it “a desperate murderer’s attempt to escape.”” A HALF-DOZEN times the pipe went round the complete circle before other word was spoken. “What did the woman do?” asked Cushions at last. “There are some things too painful for even hardened crooks like us, and sometimes those same things also are too fine and sacred for a bunch like this to talk over in a place like this. That little woman and her dead hopes and plans for that ranch are among them,” answered Blackie slowly. “And now, boys, you know why I said what I did about Mitt-and-a-half Kelly. Mac is doing ‘all of it’ (life imprisonment) because he was too right to snitch even on a skunk. Kelly didn’t do a thing for him—not even as much as sending dough for his defense. Cushions, my boy, when your turn comes to do time, and it will if you stick by hop and us, remember Mac who had principle and paid for it like a man. What a price, though, when you think of that wife and boy of his!” Jimmy the Joke toasted the last pill of hop and handed the pipe to Blackie. Lewes, pulling back the heavy curtains, let in a ray of bright morning sunshine. They all bundled into their overcoats. “I’m going,” said Blackie. “You know the meet for us to-night. Eight o’clock sharp. You three go out one at a time five minutes apart. No bunching up on the street. And Lewes, you size up that ‘hock’ shop job this afternoon. Press the button for Turkey-neck and his bill.”The joint keeper came shuffling in. “There’s an extry just out,” he began in his quavering voice. “Another swell job’s come off. That peter mob that has been doing the whole of this rough stuff around town got another one last night—it’s the Boston Department Store this time.” “Good for them,” said Blackie without interest. “About that dough to spring Kelly from jail. We—” “Let it go; let it go,” Turkey-neck broke in. “The moment you refused the money—” “Refused the money!” cried Blackie turning on the astounded joint keeper like a flash. ““Refused nothing! I said Mitt Kelly is a low-lived skunk who ought to be shot on sight. But I didn’t say I wouldn’t chip in dough to help him beat the Big House. I’d give up my last five-case note to keep the fleas on a yellow dog from doing time. We’ll put in fifty dollars. If you don’t get enough, say 50 to-night and I’ll make up the rest. But tell him from me, that he has the black curse of the snitch on him now and forever. Hell never have a day’s luck while he lives, and he’ll die in the gutter like the cur he is.* So long, fellows.” “The man described here as Mitt-and-a-half Kelly was found shot to death in a doorway near an opium joint in Seattle some six months after the date of the incidents in this story. No trace of his murderer was ever found.” Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureMary Shelley was born the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, the influential enlightenment philosopher. Her mother died only 10 days after giving birth to her, and the two seemed separated forever. However, the daughter then took it upon herself to become an expert on her mother’s writing, and to live as much as she could in accordance with the wishes of her dead mother. It was a mother-daughter relationship that defied death. In the following text from 1831, Mary Shelley herself tells the story of how the book was conceived: “I shall give a general answer to the question, so very frequently asked me—”How I, when a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?” It is true that I am very averse to bringing myself forward in print; but as my account will only appear as an appendage to a former production, and as it will be confined to such topics as have connection with my authorship alone, I can scarcely accuse myself of a personal intrusion. It is not singular that, as the daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity, I should very early in life have thought of writing. As a child I scribbled; and my favourite pastime, during the hours given me for recreation, was to “write stories.” Still I had a dearer pleasure than this, which was the formation of castles in the air—the indulging in waking dreams—the following up trains of thought, which had for their subject the formation of a succession of imaginary incidents. My dreams were at once more fantastic and agreeable than my writings. In the latter I was a close imitator—rather doing as others had done, than putting down the suggestions of my own mind. What I wrote was intended at least for one other eye—my childhood’s companion and friend; but my dreams were all my own; I accounted for them to nobody; they were my refuge when annoyed—my dearest pleasure when free. I lived principally in the country as a girl, and passed a considerable time in Scotland. I made occasional visits to the more picturesque parts; but my habitual residence was on the blank and dreary northern shores of the Tay, near Dundee. Blank and dreary on retrospection I call them; they were not so to me then. They were the eyry of freedom, and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy. I wrote then—but in a most common-place style. It was beneath the trees of the grounds belonging to our house, or on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near, that my true compositions, the airy flights of my imagination, were born and fostered. I did not make myself the heroine of my tales. Life appeared to me too common-place an affair as regarded myself. I could not figure to myself that romantic woes or wonderful events would ever be my lot; but I was not confined to my own identity, and I could people the hours with creations far more interesting to me at that age, than my own sensations. After this my life became busier, and reality stood in place of fiction. My husband, however, was from the first, very anxious that I should prove myself worthy of my parentage, and enrol myself on the page of fame. He was for ever inciting me to obtain literary reputation, which even on my own part I cared for then, though since I have become infinitely indifferent to it. At this time he desired that I should write, not so much with the idea that I could produce any thing worthy of notice, but that he might himself judge how far I possessed the promise of better things hereafter. Still I did nothing. Travelling, and the cares of a family, occupied my time; and study, in the way of reading, or improving my ideas in communication with his far more cultivated mind, was all of literary employment that engaged my attention. In the summer of 1816, we visited Switzerland, and became the neighbours of Lord Byron. At first we spent our pleasant hours on the lake, or wandering on its shores; and Lord Byron, who was writing the third canto of Childe Harold, was the only one among us who put his thoughts upon paper. These, as he brought them successively to us, clothed in all the light and harmony of poetry, seemed to stamp as divine the glories of heaven and earth, whose influences we partook with him. But it proved a wet, ungenial summer, and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house. Some volumes of ghost stories, translated from the German into French, fell into our hands. There was the History of the Inconstant Lover, who, when he thought to clasp the bride to whom he had pledged his vows, found himself in the arms of the pale ghost of her whom he had deserted. There was the tale of the sinful founder of his race, whose miserable doom it was to bestow the kiss of death on all the younger sons of his fated house, just when they reached the age of promise. His gigantic, shadowy form, clothed like the ghost in Hamlet, in complete armour, but with the beaver up, was seen at midnight, by the moon’s fitful beams, to advance slowly along the gloomy avenue. The shape was lost beneath the shadow of the castle walls; but soon a gate swung back, a step was heard, the door of the chamber opened, and he advanced to the couch of the blooming youths, cradled in healthy sleep. Eternal sorrow sat upon his face as he bent down and kissed the forehead of the boys, who from that hour withered like flowers snapt upon the stalk. I have not seen these stories since then; but their incidents are as fresh in my mind as if I had read them yesterday. “We will each write a ghost story,” said Lord Byron; and his proposition was acceded to. There were four of us. The noble author began a tale, a fragment of which he printed at the end of his poem of Mazeppa. Shelley, more apt to embody ideas and sentiments in the radiance of brilliant imagery, and in the music of the most melodious verse that adorns our language, than to invent the machinery of a story, commenced one founded on the experiences of his early life. Poor Polidori had some terrible idea about a skull-headed lady, who was so punished for peeping through a key-hole—what to see I forget—something very shocking and wrong of course; but when she was reduced to a worse condition than the renowned Tom of Coventry, he did not know what to do with her, and was obliged to despatch her to the tomb of the Capulets, the only place for which she was fitted. The illustrious poets also, annoyed by the platitude of prose, speedily relinquished their uncongenial task. I busied myself to think of a story,—a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror—one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would be unworthy of its name. I thought and pondered—vainly. I felt that blank incapability of invention which is the greatest misery of authorship, when dull Nothing replies to our anxious invocations. Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative. Every thing must have a beginning, to speak in Sanchean phrase; and that beginning must be linked to something that went before. The Hindoos give the world an elephant to support it, but they make the elephant stand upon a tortoise. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself. In all matters of discovery and invention, even of those that appertain to the imagination, we are continually reminded of the story of Columbus and his egg. Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject, and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to it. Many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley, to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated. They talked of the experiments of Dr. Darwin, (I speak not of what the Doctor really did, or said that he did, but, as more to my purpose, of what was then spoken of as having been done by him,) who preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case, till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion. Not thus, after all, would life be given. Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth. Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by, before we retired to rest. When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw—with shut eyes, but acute mental vision,—I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handywork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade; that this thing, which had received such imperfect animation, would subside into dead matter; and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench for ever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life. He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains, and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes. I opened mine in terror. The idea so possessed my mind, that a thrill of fear ran through me, and I wished to exchange the ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around. I see them still; the very room, the dark parquet, the closed shutters, with the moonlight struggling through, and the sense I had that the glassy lake and white high Alps were beyond. I could not so easily get rid of my hideous phantom; still it haunted me. I must try to think of something else. I recurred to my ghost story,—my tiresome unlucky ghost story! O! if I could only contrive one which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened that night! Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me. “I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.” On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story. I began that day with the words, It was on a dreary night of November, making only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream. At first I thought but of a few pages—of a short tale; but Shelley urged me to develope the idea at greater length. I certainly did not owe the suggestion of one incident, nor scarcely of one train of feeling, to my husband, and yet but for his incitement, it would never have taken the form in which it was presented to the world. From this declaration I must except the preface. As far as I can recollect, it was entirely written by him. And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words, which found no true echo in my heart. Its several pages speak of many a walk, many a drive, and many a conversation, when I was not alone; and my companion was one who, in this world, I shall never see more. But this is for myself; my readers have nothing to do with these associations. London, October 15, 1831” Listen  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storypublished  in All-Story Weekly September 7, 1918 Francis Stevens (real name Gertrude Barrows Bennett, 1884–1948) t was upon the waterfront that I first met her, in one of the shabby little tea shops frequented by able sailoresses of the poorer type. The uptown, glittering resorts of the Lady Aviators’ Union were not for such as she. Stern of feature, bronzed by wind and sun, her age could only be guessed, but I surmised at once that in her I beheld a survivor of the age of turbines and oil engines—a true sea-woman of that elder time when woman’s superiority to man had not been so long recognized. When, to emphasize their victory, women in all ranks were sterner than today’s need demands. The spruce, smiling young maidens—engine-women and stokers of the great aluminum rollers, but despite their profession, very neat in gold-braided blue knickers and boleros—these looked askance at the hard-faced relic of a harsher day, as they passed in and out of the shop. I, however, brazenly ignoring similar glances at myself, a mere male intruding on the haunts of the world’s ruling sex, drew a chair up beside the veteran. I ordered a full pot of tea, two cups and a plate of macaroons, and put on my most ingratiating air. Possibly my unconcealed admiration and interest were wiles not exercised in vain. Or the macaroons and tea, both excellent, may have loosened the old sea-woman’s tongue. At any rate, under cautious questioning, she had soon launched upon a series of reminiscences well beyond my hopes for color and variety. “When I was a lass,” quoth the sea-woman, after a time, “there was none of this high-flying, gilt-edged, leather-stocking luxury about the sea. We sailed by the power of our oil and gasoline. If they failed on us, like as not ’twas the rubber ring and the rolling wave for ours.” She referred to the archaic practice of placing a pneumatic affair called a life-preserver beneath the arms, in case of that dreaded disaster, now so unheard of, shipwreck. “In them days there was still many a man bold enough to join our crews. And I’ve knowed cases,” she added condescendingly, “where just by the muscle and brawn of such men some poor sailor lass has reached shore alive that would have fed the sharks without ’em. Oh, I ain’t so down on men as you might think. It’s the spoiling of them that I don’t hold with. There’s too much preached nowadays that man is fit for nothing but to fetch and carry and do nurse-work in big child-homes. To my mind, a man who hasn’t the nerve of a woman ain’t fitted to father children, let alone raise ’em. But that’s not here nor there. My time’s past, and I know it, or I wouldn’t be setting here gossipin’ to you, my lad, over an empty teapot.” I took the hint, and with our cups replenished, she bit thoughtfully into her fourteenth macaroon and continued. “There’s one voyage I’m not likely to forget, though I live to be as old as Cap’n Mary Barnacle, of the Shouter. ‘Twas aboard the old Shouter that this here voyage occurred, and it was her last and likewise Cap’n Mary’s. Cap’n Mary, she was then that decrepit, it seemed a mercy that she should go to her rest, and in good salt water at that. “I remember the voyage for Cap’n Mary’s sake, but most I remember it because ’twas then that I come the nighest in my life to committin’ matrimony. For a man, the man had nerve; he was nearer bein’ companionable than any other man I ever seed; and if it hadn’t been for just one little event that showed up the—the mannishness of him, in a way I couldn’t abide, I reckon he’d be keepin’ house for me this minute.” “We cleared from Frisco with a cargo of silkateen petticoats for Brisbane. Cap’n Mary was always strong on petticoats. Leather breeches or even half-skirts would ha’ paid far better, they being more in demand like, but Cap’n Mary was three-quarters owner, and says she, land women should buy petticoats, and if they didn’t it wouldn’t be the Lord’s fault nor hers for not providing ’em. “We cleared on a fine day, which is an all sign—or was, then when the weather and the seas o’ God still counted in the trafficking of the humankind. Not two days out we met a whirling, mucking bouncer of a gale that well nigh threw the old Shouter a full point off her course in the first wallop. She was a stout craft, though. None of your featherweight, gas-lightened, paper-thin alloy shells, but toughened aluminum from stern to stern. Her turbine drove her through the combers at a forty-five knot clip, which named her a speedy craft for a freighter in them days. “But this night, as we tore along through the creaming green billows, something unknown went ‘way wrong down below. “I was forward under the shelter of her long over-sloop, looking for a hairpin I’d dropped somewheres about that afternoon. It was a gold hairpin, and gold still being mighty scarce when I was a girl, a course I valued it. But suddenly I felt the old Shouter give a jump under my feet like a plane struck by a shell in full flight. Then she trembled all over for a full second, frightened like. Then, with the crash of doomsday ringing in my ears, I felt myself sailing through the air right into the teeth o’ the shrieking gale, as near as I could judge. Down I come in the hollow of a monstrous big wave, and as my ears doused under I thought I heard a splash close by. Coming up, sure enough, there close by me was floating a new, patent, hermetic, thermo-ice-chest. Being as it was empty, and being as it was shut up air-tight, that ice-chest made as sweet a life-preserver as a woman could wish in such an hour. About ten foot by twelve, it floated high in the raging sea. Out on its top I scrambled, and hanging on by a handle I looked expectant for some of my poor fellow-women to come floating by. Which they never did, for the good reason that the Shouter had blowed up and went below, petticoats, Cap’n Mary and all.” “What caused the explosion?” I inquired. “The Lord and Cap’n Mary Barnacle can explain,” she answered piously. “Besides the oil for her turbines, she carried a power of gasoline for her alternative engines, and likely ’twas the cause of her ending so sudden like. Anyways, all I ever seen of her again was the empty ice-chest that Providence had well-nigh hove upon my head. On that I sat and floated, and floated and sat some more, till by-and-by the storm sort of blowed itself out, the sun come shining—this was next morning—and I could dry my hair and look about me. I was a young lass, then, and not bad to look upon. I didn’t want to die, any more than you that’s sitting there this minute. So I up and prays for land. Sure enough toward evening a speck heaves up low down on the horizon. At first I took it for a gas liner, but later found it was just a little island, all alone by itself in the great Pacific Ocean. “Come, now, here’s luck, thinks I, and with that I deserts the ice-chest, which being empty, and me having no ice to put in it, not likely to have in them latitudes, is of no further use to me. Striking out I swum a mile or so and set foot on dry land for the first time in nigh three days. “Pretty land it were, too, though bare of human life as an iceberg in the Arctic. “I had landed on a shining white beach that run up to a grove of lovely, waving palm trees. Above them I could see the slopes of a hill so high and green it reminded me of my own old home, up near Couquomgomoc Lake in Maine. The whole place just seemed to smile and smile at me. The palms waved and bowed in the sweet breeze, like they wanted to say, ‘Just set right down and make yourself to home. We’ve been waiting a long time for you to come.’ I cried, I was that happy to be made welcome. I was a young lass then, and sensitive-like to how folks treated me. You’re laughing now, but wait and see if or not there was sense to the way I felt. “So I up and dries my clothes and my long, soft hair again, which was well worth drying, for I had far more of it than now. After that I walked along a piece, until there was a sweet little path meandering away into the wild woods. “Here, thinks I, this looks like inhabitants. Be they civil or wild, I wonder? But after traveling the path a piece, lo and behold it ended sudden like in a wide circle of green grass, with a little spring of clear water. And the first thing I noticed was a slab of white board nailed to a palm tree close to the spring. Right off I took a long drink, for you better believe I was thirsty, and then I went to look at this board. It had evidently been tore off the side of a wooden packing box, and the letters was roughly printed in lead pencil. “‘Heaven help whoever you be,’ I read. ‘This island ain’t just right. I’m going to swim for it. You better too. Good-by. Nelson Smith.’ That’s what it said, but the spellin’ was simply awful. It all looked quite new and recent, as if Nelson Smith hadn’t more than a few hours before he wrote and nailed it there. “Well, after reading that queer warning I begun to shake all over like in a chill. Yes, I shook like I had the ague, though the hot tropic sun was burning down right on me and that alarming board. What had scared Nelson Smith so much that he had swum to get away? I looked all around real cautious and careful, but not a single frightening thing could I behold. And the palms and the green grass and the flowers still smiled that peaceful and friendly like. ‘Just make yourself to home,’ was wrote all over the place in plainer letters than those sprawly lead pencil ones on the board. “Pretty soon, what with the quiet and all, the chill left me. Then I thought, ‘Well, to be sure, this Smith person was just an ordinary man, I reckon, and likely he got nervous of being so alone. Likely he just fancied things which was really not. It’s a pity he drowned himself before I come, though likely I’d have found him poor company. By his record I judge him a man of but common education.’ “So I decided to make the most of my welcome, and that I did for weeks to come. Right near the spring was a cave, dry as a biscuit box, with a nice floor of white sand. Nelson had lived there too, for there was a litter of stuff—tin cans—empty—scraps of newspapers and the like. I got to calling him Nelson in my mind, and then Nelly, and wondering if he was dark or fair, and how he come to be cast away there all alone, and what was the strange events that drove him to his end. I cleaned out the cave, though. He had devoured all his tin-canned provisions, however he come by them, but this I didn’t mind. That there island was a generous body. Green milk-coconuts, sweet berries, turtle eggs and the like was my daily fare. “For about three weeks the sun shone every day, the birds sang and the monkeys chattered. We was all one big, happy family, and the more I explored that island the better I liked the company I was keeping. The land was about ten miles from beach to beach, and never a foot of it that wasn’t sweet and clean as a private park. “From the top of the hill I could see the ocean, miles and miles of blue water, with never a sign of a gas liner, or even a little government running-boat. Them running-boats used to go most everywhere to keep the seaways clean of derelicts and the like. But I knowed that if this island was no more than a hundred miles off the regular courses of navigation, it might be many a long day before I’d be rescued. The top of the hill, as I found when first I climbed up there, was a wore-out crater. So I knowed that the island was one of them volcanic ones you run across so many of in the seas between Capricorn and Cancer. “Here and there on the slopes and down through the jungly tree-growth, I would come on great lumps of rock, and these must have came up out of that crater long ago. If there was lava it was so old it had been covered up entire with green growing stuff. You couldn’t have found it without a spade, which I didn’t have nor want.” “Well, at first I was happy as the hours was long. I wandered and clambered and waded and swum, and combed my long hair on the beach, having fortunately not lost my side-combs nor the rest of my gold hairpins. But by-and-by it begun to get just a bit lonesome. Funny thing, that’s a feeling that, once it starts, it gets worse and worser so quick it’s perfectly surprising. And right then was when the days begun to get gloomy. We had a long, sickly hot spell, like I never seen before on an ocean island. There was dull clouds across the sun from morn to night. Even the little monkeys and parrakeets, that had seemed so gay, moped and drowsed like they was sick. All one day I cried, and let the rain soak me through and through—that was the first rain we had—and I didn’t get thorough dried even during the night, though I slept in my cave. Next morning I got up mad as thunder at myself and all the world. “When I looked out the black clouds was billowing across the sky. I could hear nothing but great breakers roaring in on the beaches, and the wild wind raving through the lashing palms. “As I stood there a nasty little wet monkey dropped from a branch almost on my head. I grabbed a pebble and slung it at him real vicious. ‘Get away, you dirty little brute!’ I shrieks, and with that there come a awful blinding flare of light. There was a long, crackling noise like a bunch of Chinese fireworks, and then a sound as if a whole fleet of Shouters had all went up together. “When I come to, I found myself ‘way in the back of my cave, trying to dig further into the rock with my finger nails. Upon taking thought, it come to me that what had occurred was just a lightning-clap, and going to look, sure enough there lay a big palm tree right across the glade. It was all busted and split open by the lightning, and the little monkey was under it, for I could see his tail and his hind legs sticking out. “Now, when I set eyes on that poor, crushed little beast I’d been so mean to, I was terrible ashamed. I sat down on the smashed tree and considered and considered. How thankful I had ought to have been. Here I had a lovely, plenteous island, with food and water to my taste, when it might have been a barren, starvation rock that was my lot. And so, thinking, a sort of gradual peaceful feeling stole over me. I got cheerfuller and cheerfuller, till I could have sang and danced for joy. “Pretty soon I realized that the sun was shining bright for the first time that week. The wind had stopped hollering, and the waves had died to just a singing murmur on the beach. It seemed kind o’ strange, this sudden peace, like the cheer in my own heart after its rage and storm. I rose up, feeling sort of queer, and went to look if the little monkey had came alive again, though that was a fool thing, seeing he was laying all crushed up and very dead. I buried him under a tree root, and as I did it a conviction come to me. “I didn’t hardly question that conviction at all. Somehow, living there alone so long, perhaps my natural womanly intuition was stronger than ever before or since, and so I knowed. Then I went and pulled poor Nelson Smith’s board off from the tree and tossed it away for the tide to carry off. That there board was an insult to my island!” The sea-woman paused, and her eyes had a far-away look. It seemed as if I and perhaps even the macaroons and tea were quite forgotten. “Why did you think that?” I asked, to bring her back. “How could an island be insulted?” She started, passed her hand across her eyes, and hastily poured another cup of tea. “Because,” she said at last, poising a macaroon in mid-air, “because that island—that particular island that I had landed on—had a heart! “When I was gay, it was bright and cheerful. It was glad when I come, and it treated me right until I got that grouchy it had to mope from sympathy. It loved me like a friend. When I flung a rock at that poor little drenched monkey critter, it backed up my act with an anger like the wrath o’ God, and killed its own child to please me! But it got right cheery the minute I seen the wrongness of my ways. Nelson Smith had no business to say, ‘This island ain’t just right,’ for it was a righter place than ever I seen elsewhere. When I cast away that lying board, all the birds begun to sing like mad. The green milk-coconuts fell right and left. Only the monkeys seemed kind o’ sad like still, and no wonder. You see, their own mother, the island, had rounded on one o’ them for my sake! “After that I was right careful and considerate. I named the island Anita, not knowing her right name, or if she had any. Anita was a pretty name, and it sounded kind of South Sea like. Anita and me got along real well together from that day on. It was some strain to be always gay and singing around like a dear duck of a canary bird, but I done my best. Still, for all the love and gratitude I bore Anita, the company of an island, however sympathetic, ain’t quite enough for a human being. I still got lonesome, and there was even days when I couldn’t keep the clouds clear out of the sky, though I will say we had no more tornadoes. “I think the island understood and tried to help me with all the bounty and good cheer the poor thing possessed. None the less my heart give a wonderful big leap when one day I seen a blot on the horizon. It drawed nearer and nearer, until at last I could make out its nature.” “A ship, of course,” said I, “and were you rescued?” “‘Tweren’t a ship, neither,” denied the sea-woman somewhat impatiently. “Can’t you let me spin this yarn without no more remarks and fool questions? This thing what was bearing down so fast with the incoming tide was neither more nor less than another island! “You may well look startled. I was startled myself. Much more so than you, likely. I didn’t know then what you, with your book-learning, very likely know now—that islands sometimes float. Their underparts being a tangled-up mess of roots and old vines that new stuff’s growed over, they sometimes break away from the mainland in a brisk gale and go off for a voyage, calm as a old-fashioned, eight-funnel steamer. This one was uncommon large, being as much as two miles, maybe, from shore to shore. It had its palm trees and its live things, just like my own Anita, and I’ve sometimes wondered if this drifting piece hadn’t really been a part of my island once—just its daughter like, as you might say. “Be that, however, as it might be, no sooner did the floating piece get within hailing distance than I hears a human holler and there was a man dancing up and down on the shore like he was plumb crazy. Next minute he had plunged into the narrow strip of water between us and in a few minutes had swum to where I stood. “Yes, of course it was none other than Nelson Smith! “I knowed that the minute I set eyes on him. He had the very look of not having no better sense than the man what wrote that board and then nearly committed suicide trying to get away from the best island in all the oceans. Glad enough he was to get back, though, for the coconuts was running very short on the floater what had rescued him, and the turtle eggs wasn’t worth mentioning. Being short of grub is the surest way I know to cure a man’s fear of the unknown.” “Well, to make a long story short, Nelson Smith told me he was a aeronauter. In them days to be an aeronauter was not the same as to be an aviatress is now. There was dangers in the air, and dangers in the sea, and he had met with both. His gas tank had leaked and he had dropped into the water close by Anita. A case or two of provisions was all he could save from the total wreck. “Now, as you might guess, I was crazy enough to find out what had scared this Nelson Smith into trying to swim the Pacific. He told me a story that seemed to fit pretty well with mine, only when it come to the scary part he shut up like a clam, that aggravating way some men have. I give it up at last for just man-foolishness, and we begun to scheme to get away. “Anita moped some while we talked it over. I realized how she must be feeling, so I explained to her that it was right needful for us to get with our kind again. If we stayed with her we should probably quarrel like cats, and maybe even kill each other out of pure human cussedness. She cheered up considerable after that, and even, I thought, got a little anxious to have us leave. At any rate, when we begun to provision up the little floater, which we had anchored to the big island by a cable of twisted bark, the green nuts fell all over the ground, and Nelson found more turtle nests in a day than I had in weeks. “During them days I really got fond of Nelson Smith. He was a companionable body, and brave, or he wouldn’t have been a professional aeronauter, a job that was rightly thought tough enough for a woman, let alone a man. Though he was not so well educated as me, at least he was quiet and modest about what he did know, not like some men, boasting most where there is least to brag of. “Indeed, I misdoubt if Nelson and me would not have quit the sea and the air together and set up housekeeping in some quiet little town up in New England, maybe, after we had got away, if it had not been for what happened when we went. I never, let me say, was so deceived in any man before nor since. The thing taught me a lesson and I never was fooled again. “We was all ready to go, and then one morning, like a parting gift from Anita, come a soft and favoring wind. Nelson and I run down the beach together, for we didn’t want our floater to blow off and leave us. As we was running, our arms full of coconuts, Nelson Smith, stubbed his bare toe on a sharp rock, and down he went. I hadn’t noticed, and was going on. “But sudden the ground begun to shake under my feet, and the air was full of a queer, grinding, groaning sound, like the very earth was in pain. “I turned around sharp. There sat Nelson, holding his bleeding toe in both fists and giving vent to such awful words as no decent sea-going lady would ever speak nor hear to! “‘Stop it, stop it!’ I shrieked at him, but ’twas too late. “Island or no island, Anita was a lady, too! She had a gentle heart, but she knowed how to behave when she was insulted. “With one terrible, great roar a spout of smoke and flame belched up out o’ the heart of Anita’s crater hill a full mile into the air! “I guess Nelson stopped swearing. He couldn’t have heard himself, anyways. Anita was talking now with tongues of flame and such roars as would have bespoke the raging protest of a continent. “I grabbed that fool man by the hand and run him down to the water. We had to swim good and hard to catch up with our only hope, the floater. No bark rope could hold her against the stiff breeze that was now blowing, and she had broke her cable. By the time we scrambled aboard great rocks was falling right and left. We couldn’t see each other for a while for the clouds of fine gray ash. “It seemed like Anita was that mad she was flinging stones after us, and truly I believe that such was her intention. I didn’t blame her, neither! “Lucky for us the wind was strong and we was soon out of range. “‘So!’ says I to Nelson, after I’d got most of the ashes out of my mouth, and shook my hair clear of cinders. ‘So, that was the reason you up and left sudden when you was there before! You aggravated that island till the poor thing druv you out!’ “‘Well,’ says he, and not so meek as I’d have admired to see him, ‘how could I know the darn island was a lady?’ “‘Actions speak louder than words,’ says I. ‘You should have knowed it by her ladylike behavior!’ “‘Is volcanoes and slingin’ hot rocks ladylike?’ he says. ‘Is snakes ladylike? T’other time I cut my thumb on a tin can, I cussed a little bit. Say—just a li’l’ bit! An’ what comes at me out o’ all the caves, and out o’ every crack in the rocks, and out o’ the very spring o’ water where I’d been drinkin’? Why snakes! Snakes, if you please, big, little, green, red and sky-blue-scarlet! What’d I do? Jumped in the water, of course. Why wouldn’t I? I’d ruther swim and drown than be stung or swallowed to death. But how was I t’ know the snakes come outta the rocks because I cussed?’ “‘You, couldn’t,’ I agrees, sarcastic. ‘Some folks never knows a lady till she up and whangs ’em over the head with a brick. A real, gentle, kind-like warning, them snakes were, which you would not heed! Take shame to yourself, Nelly,’ says I, right stern, ‘that a decent little island like Anita can’t associate with you peaceable, but you must hurt her sacredest feelings with language no lady would stand by to hear!’ “I never did see Anita again. She may have blew herself right out of the ocean in her just wrath at the vulgar, disgustin’ language of Nelson Smith. I don’t know. We was took off the floater at last, and I lost track of Nelson just as quick as I could when we was landed at Frisco. “He had taught me a lesson. A man is just full of mannishness, and the best of ’em ain’t good enough for a lady to sacrifice her sensibilities to put up with. “Nelson Smith, he seemed to feel real bad when he learned I was not for him, and then he apologized. But apologies weren’t no use to me. I could never abide him, after the way he went and talked right in the presence of me and my poor, sweet lady friend, Anita!” Now I am well versed in the lore of the sea in all ages. Through mists of time I have enviously eyed wild voyagings of sea rovers who roved and spun their yarns before the stronger sex came into its own, and ousted man from his heroic pedestal. I have followed—across the printed page—the wanderings of Odysseus. Before Gulliver I have burned the incense of tranced attention; and with reverent awe considered the history of one Munchausen, a baron. But alas, these were only men! In what field is not woman our subtle superior? Meekly I bowed my head, and when my eyes dared lift again, the ancient mariness had departed, leaving me to sorrow for my surpassed and outdone idols. Also with a bill for macaroons and tea of such incredible proportions that in comparison therewith I found it easy to believe her story! Like this:Like Loading... [...]
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. Historyradio.org: 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”! Historyradio.org: 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. Historyradio.org: 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. Historyradio.org: 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. Historyradio.org: 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. Historyradio.org: 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). Historyradio.org: 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. Historyradio.org: 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 / literatureRecent visitors to the satellite capitals of Eastern Europe have ‘been surprised to find excited crowds Lining up to buy tickets for performances of non-Communist films, plays and musicals. Communist officials, however, have their own reasons for permitting this seemingly paradoxical state of affairs. For one thing, satellite leaders apparently feel that the granting of minor entertainment concessions is a relatively harmless way of allowing the people an escape valve for their pent-up irritation and boredom. Menioérs of the Communist ruling apparatus, despite their insistence that “all is calm and under control,” seem to realize that the boredom which appears to be an unavoidable accompaniment of the party’s dictatorship must be prevented from developing into more serious social unrest. There is boredom with party jargon, boredom with the disparity between word and deed, boredom with the whole heritage of a Communist decade. The satellite regimes appear to be trying to counter this sense of irritation and isolation from the rest of the world partly by economic concessions and partly by a more liberal attitude toward popular entertainment. Communist officials, however, are finding that a solution for their self-created problem is far from simple. An impressive list of facts illustrate the dilemma of entertainment circles in the Communist states. Plays and films which receive official praise and recognition have proved to be flops, while films and theatrical products condemned for their “petty-bourgeois and decadent tendencies” have had popular runs. In Poland, out of a total of 3,400 motion picture theaters, only 96 have been profitable. In Hungary, 300 film theaters were on the verge of closing, until a 30 percent increase in the price of tickets and a system of government subsidies saved them, In Bulgaria, the biggest box-office successes have ‘been the locally produced “Legend of Love,” “Year of Love” and “On A Little Island.” However, these very films were censured by the Party’s Central Committee for “undermining Communist ideology, distorting and wrongly representing the character of the people’s revolutionists.” What, on the other hand, has been the fate of works rich in Communist ideology? Some Hungarian provincial theaters which tried to conform with party guidance and filled their repertoires with Soviet productions and other straight propaganda plays finished their seasons in virtual bankruptcy. The National Theatre of Miskolc, largest provincial town in Hungary, played consistently before houses a quarter or half-filled during the last season. On one occasion only seven theater-goers turned up for a performance of “One Night” by Cerbatov. The Kecskemet Theater finished its season with a 50,000 dollar (one million forints) deficit. The National Theater of Gyor was given high official praise for its “excellent performances of Soviet and Czech plays.” But the box-office results were so appalling that the manager resigned in the middle of ‘the season. This theater went ‘bankrupt despite heavy subsidies. Conversely, those theaters and playhouses in Hungary and Poland whose managers bowed to popular demand have played to full houses. In Poland, 19 modern “western” plays had successful 1958 runs. In Hungary the plays of Tennessee Williams, Thornton Wilder and John Osborne, as well as pre-war operettas and light musical comedies, are unrivaled as ‘box-office hits.  Party spokesmen have repeatedly scolded directors of cultural centers end theaters for saying “we go bankrupt with modern Socialist plays, for works with topical themes can be neither artistic, nor successful, so let’s turn back to bourgeois entertainment.” The University Playhouse in Budapest has tried both ways. A series of shows about revolutionary songs and poets were produced for swell audiences. The next program concentrated on popular folk songs and a recital of Burns’ poems. As the Hungarian newspaper Nepszabadsag remarked, the directors “avoided with painful cautiousness the modern Soviet and Hungarian Socialist works, assuming that in doing so they could avoid the empty houses.” While the party paper scoffed at the unpolitical schedule, the series drew capacity audiences. Recently a special commission investigated the program of 42 cultural centers and 10 factory clubs in Hungary. It concluded that operettas, folk songs and bourgeois plays are preponderant. When asked why this is so, the managers replied unanimously: “This is what our people want. Coming from work, they want light entertainment. And we need the income in order to finance our other programs,” The same argument is valid in other satellite countries, such as Romania. Currently, a musical comedy has had a popular run in the Tanase Theater in Bucharest, although the director was accused by the party newspaper of having succumbed to bourgeois taste and ideology. Night clubs, such as the Lido, Ambassador and Continental in Bucharest have been reprimanded for playing decadent music – although to full houses. In Romania and Hungary, regime authorities have started a massive campaign of persuasion and coercion to strengthen party guidance over a series of flourishing amateur theater ensembles. More then 4,000 Hungarian artists who tour in small groups, and are not affiliated with large theaters, are being screened by a special commission. Every single performance must be submitted to a Control Board 15 days before the scheduled showing. The cultural departments of the Municipal Councils also exercise control over songs and plays, In Romania, roving inspectors supervise the local ensembles. The manager and director of the Victoria Club in Cluj, for example, were discharged because they permitted presentation of a program “pervaded with petty bourgeois taste.” In general, professional or semi-professional theatrical groups in Hungary, Poland and to some extent in Romania prefer one-act plays or musicals which ere devoid of any propaganda and political angles. While heavily-subsidized regular theaters wrestle with chronic financial troubles, these ensembles, by meeting popular demand are immediately successful. At the same time, however, satellite financial authorities demand box-office results from the theaters and movie houses, while regime cultural spokesmen seem determined to repress any tendencies toward artistic freedom. So the unhappy managers are forced to pay lip-service to the cause of “socialist realism” by advertising Soviet and other Communist plays and then filling their houses with school-children or workers bribed with free tickets. Simultaneously they try to balance their budgets by showing more “western” or non-political Hungarian plays. “We must eliminate the gap between the wishes of the unsophisticated masses and the superior claims of Socialist culture,” the recently issued cultural directives of the Hungarian Communist Party warned. But “the clash between the needs of the box office and those of party doctrine remain as sharp as ever. Meanwhile, satellite theater managers and directors are constantly tormented by the problem of either reaping official praise and going bankrupt or making money and running the risk of being labeled ‘politically unreliable’…” From the 1959 CIA report, “The Creative Artist in A Communist Society” (now in the public domain and free online). Paul Landy (born 1929-) is a former Budapest writer and editor who left Hungary after the country’s unsuccessful 1956 freedom uprising. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short story«Sieg, Heil!» the nervous man said upon entering the main auditorium in 1938, his hard polished shoes echoed against the marble tiles. Short of breath, he placed his leather briefcase on the mahogany podium, and eyed his audience with anxious suspicion. There was rustling of paper, distant coughing. The apparatus for showing slides was prepared in the wings by a secretary in formal attire. Some of the employees seemed curious at least, while others had shown up as a matter of duty. And yawned. No doubt there were those in the small crowd for whom the word “duty” had special significance.At one wall a long crimson flag with a swastika, on the others the long history of the company, portraits of past industrialists that had built something from scratch, and hammered out the might of the German nation from steel.Finally, a small cortege of black suits entered the room, headed by the manager, a formal man by any standards, a man who appreciated efficiency, and man who knew he had proven his worth, and risen to senior rank.He eyed the speaker with a certain skepticism, but with acute interest.«My dear employees», he began upon entering the stage. «I have arrived to introduce our speaker tonight, a man of extraordinary courage and dedication who has traveled far and wide as a representative of our Fatherland, and been a unique witness. I will make no further comment, but let him recount his own story. The stage is yours, Herr Rabe. We are honored by your visit»The tall and nervous John Rabe then entered the podium.«As you all know, I have come from China recently, and in particular from a great city known as Nanjing. It is of the events that I witnessed there that I now wish to speak.”“Where is this city?” shouted a man from the back. The manager turned in anger in his seat, but fell silent when he saw the face of the man in the audience, and sighed.“That is a very good question. The city is centrally placed in China and have been historically of considerable significance for the Chinese, which is why I – as a representative of Der Fuhrer- was placed there. And it was in the service of our Fuhrer and as his envoy that I was able to witness the atrocities that I am about to reveal to you, the ruthless murder of thousands of old men, women and babies by the Japanese army. It is true that we in Germany are of a higher race than other nations, but we must also act in accordance with this, which is what I tried to do.”“But these people were of the mongol race, were they not?” persisted the voice.Herr Rabe stopped, the light over his head was bright, it hit his face in such a way that he was unable to make out the contours of the shadow in the audience, the annoying back seat heckler. But he did not need to see the face, he knew by the authority of the voice that personal animosity would get him nowhere. He had to fall back on his powers of persuasion. At that moment, he was taken back to that recent battlefield, and to the face of an elderly grand mother. She had run past him carrying a small child as he stood on the lawn. Artillery thundered in the distance, the glimmer of explosions colored the horizon. And then the shrill cries of the assaulting Japanese. For some reason he stood watching her escape. Just as she was about to melt into the fog, a shadow had stepped out of nowhere, a sharp blade was raised, and moments later both the old woman and the child lay dead on the grass one hundred meters from him.“Herr Rabe! Please continue”, a voice said. He shook his head, and found himself once again in the great hall wiping sweat off his forehead.“Yes, I am sorry. I will do as you say. I arrived I the city of Nanjing, and took up my position at our German station, and in that position, by the grace and might invested in me by Der Fuhrer, I witnessed the most horrific scenes that any man, even those who lived through our Kaiser’s great efforts, would ever have imagined. But I will say no more. I will let you see for yourself. Lower the lights, please.”There was total silence as the room submerged in darkness, the only sound that was heard was Herr Rabe’s nervous fiddling with the slide machine. Finally, it was working, Herr Rabe corrected his brown tie in order to breathe more freely, and the first slide appeared. It was a harmless photo of his place of work, then followed by scenic views of the city.Herr Rabe then began to lecture on the history of the region, upon his journey and upon the great assistance provided by his staff. He praised their efforts, he praised their patriotism, and the great dignity with which they had faced hardships. But then he stopped, fell silent for a moment. His face was the only one visible in the room, hard light hit it from the side, making his worried wrinkles stand out while the rest of the room brooded like a uniform shadow in curious anticipation.Then a new slide was loaded with a click resembling that of an automatic riffle: dead bodies on a road. There were coughs in the room. Herr Rabe said nothing, then loaded the next slide with military efficiency, close-ups of dead pregnant women. Then the next, children. The sight of the photos had brought back that surprising courage he had once displayed. Again he was back where it had all started. Slide after slide was loaded, it was all there: the torture, the corpses, the rapes, the blood-soaked cadavers, the screams and gazes he was unable to forget. There was something manic and automatic in the way that he loaded each slide, slowly and rhythmically as if to convince himself.Then he sighed. It was done. They had seen what he had seen, and his mission was complete.He asked for the lights, but had to shade his eyes as the audience re-emerged blackness. He now examined them one by one, searching for responses.There was a young man on the front row who was on the verge of tears, but he stared to the floor. Herr Rabe did not want to embarrass him. There was a balled fat man in a white suit with a very worried look, but Herr Rabe was unable to tell what caused that worry. Then he saw the face of the industrialist, the manager himself, thin and neat and composed. A poker face, it was impossible to say what such men were thinking.At first this annoyed Rabe a little, but then he thought about what sort of job the manager had. It was not possible for all men to wear their hearts on a sleeve. A manager was a political pawn, as well as a benefactor for workers in times of need. It was a pity that society produced his kind, but the world was what the world was.«I now wish to tell you about various actions that I took in the name of our great Fuhrer to prevent these horrific events, and how I was partly successful. I can tell you that…«But what did these mongols do to merit such punishment? You haven’t told us what they have done?»«What do you mean? Done? These are women and children?»«Some of the most cruelest people in history have been women, Herr Rabe?»Herr Rabe moved closer to the edge of the stage, spying into the audience. There again was that same voice, penetrating and authoritative. It was clear what he was. But Herr Rabe had influence, he would not be harassed by nobodies. If some upstart of a policeman thought he could be crueler than a Japanese samurai, he was sadly mistaken.«Are you sure you are not a socialist, Herr Rabe?» said the voice.Herr Rabe now stepped off the stage, and moved up the aisle passing many young and nervous clerks.Then he saw the man, tall, neat, well dressed, a mouth twisted in cynicism and a penetrating and intelligent stare.«Are you a true German?» asked Herr Rabe. «Can nothing make an impression upon your soul»«Soul? You are a sentimental dreamer, Herr Rabe. You must come with me, please».He saw the man approaching with determined steps.«Look here, I am a representative of Der Fuhrer. I am not just a nobody. You cannot treat me this way,” he continued.Before the man reached him two men who had been seated at the edges had grabbed his arms and were leading him towards the exit.Herr Rabe struggled, and broke free. Then he straightened his suit.«I will not stand for this!» he shouted. «I simply will not stand for it».But then, as he turned, he glimpsed the massive cynic just behind him, and something hit his head with such a force that he blacked out.When he woke, Herr Rabe was in the back of a moving van, and he heard city traffic. The man was treating his forehead with some cloth.«You need not worry, Herr Rabe. You are important and the party is grateful for your service. But your information is not wanted. I had no choice but to put an end to your performance»«Performance? Did you not see? Are not a patriot?»«I am a liberated national from the Sudetenland, Herr Rabe. I was thrown in prison for that, I have no need to prove my patriotism, even to man such as yourself.»«And my slides?«What policemen, businessmen and politicians think is their own affair»The man then leaned back against the side of the van, lit a cigarette and sighed. He didn’t even look at Herr Rabe as the van stopped and Herr Rabe was directed toward the interrogation room.«Here our ways separate Herr Rabe,» the man said as they stopped by a gray door.«May I have your name, I wish to report you.»«My name is Schindler…Oscar Schindler. You may report me, if you wish.»And then the man turned and quietly walked towards the exit. by Michael Henrik Wynn 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... [...]
history / literatureEver since the invention of writing, authors have struggled with their craft. Modern writers apply word processing software, then email their text to editors, who comment and correct. Then, if they are lucky, the book is printed by machines and destributed via a modern transport network. Commercials market their work, and we pay for the product in stores. But what was the reality of writing and reading before all this, before the machines, the computers. How much has really changed? We asked a scholar of Latin and Greek classics. Historyradio.org: There are many ways of looking at ancient literature. In what ways would you say that writers during the classical period innovated, broke rules and experimented? Professor Richlin:  Ancient literature was like jazz:  a strong traditional basis, with performers or writers making a name for themselves by the way they riffed on what was given.  Vergil turned Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey into an epic on the founding of the city of Rome; the anonymous players who made early Roman comedy took Greek New Comedy and stuffed it full of local shtick.  Likewise within each culture:  Attic Old Comedy sends up tragedy, and, within tragedy, Euripides plays around with his predecessors’ work and changes mythology. Historyradio.org: Today when we think of classical literature many think of rigid rules and pentameters that must be adhered to. Why do you think that is? Professor Richlin:  Maybe because of the way Latin is taught in school?  Because of the rules of grammar?  As with most languages, though, you have to trudge through the early stages of learning how the language works before you can understand what’s going on in literature.  And you have to know the rules in order to see how individual writers innovate. Historyradio.org: How did one become a writer in ancient times, were you hired by a theater company? How did you make a living? Professor Richlin:  It worked very differently in different times and places. Sappho lived in a culture where there was a place for poets in the world of ritual and dance; Pindar, also living in the Greek islands, made a living by praising kings and tyrants for the victories of their chariots in races, and all kinds of other poets made a living in the courts of kings, all over the Mediterranean, especially in the 300s BCE. Major cities like Athens commissioned plays and poems for their big festivals; in Rome from 240 BCE through the 160s and probably beyond, the city magistrates also paid acting troupes to perform at festivals. But these troupes, made up of slaves and lower-class men, had to live all year, and probably made money performing at markets and fairs all over central Italy. They wrote their own material. From the 300s onward, troupes of Greek professional actors performed everywhere from Babylonia to Sicily, being paid and honored by cities. Among Latin-speaking people in Italy from the 200s onward, and eventually throughout the West from Carthage to Gaul, slaves and lower-class people (mostly men) became upwardly mobile by teaching and, sometimes, writing; already by the time of the elder Cato around 200 BCE, writing prose and some kinds of poetry had become a pastime for upper-class men and a few women, and this continues into the 500s CE when those men were now bishops. Historyradio.org: Only a fraction of ancient literature has survived into the modern age? Have any new literary works been discovered recently? Professor Richlin:  Yes, a handful of previously unknown poems by Sappho have been found over the past ten years or so Historyradio.org: What do we know about the reading habits during ancient times? What was the degree of literacy, and to what extent did the average Joe have access to the great stories and drama? Professor Richlin:  It’s been argued that the rate of literacy was very low, but then again there are graffiti everywhere, some of which quote poetry or are written in verse, which I think argues for quite widespread literacy. In addition, although books were expensive, the rich people who had private libraries also had people to read to them, i.e. slaves, so that reading and books were not exclusive to the rich; moreover, since reading aloud was widely used as dinner entertainment, everyone present could hear. The average Jo(sephine) had regular access to drama through public performance, which was usually free or very cheap, subsidized by cities or by wealthy individuals. In cities, children were sent to school, where Homer was among the first texts they learned. Most of the ancient world was rural, though, and literature must have been relatively unknown in the hinterlands. On the other hand, folk tales, jokes, myths were everywhere, probably including large amounts of Homeric poetry that people had memorized. Historyradio.org: We have all heard about the great library of Alexandria, but were there smaller public libraries where text might be read, poetry, stories etc? Were there lending arrangements like in a modern library? Professor Richlin:  Yes, there were public libraries in Rome; the young Marcus Aureliuis jokes about having to seduce the librarian into letting him borrow a book he wants. There were also booksellers, and the poet Martial, at least, brags that his poetry books are popular throughout the empire. Historyradio.org: Reading, of course, depended on proper lighting in the houses. In Victorian Britain they had gas, as you know, but evenings remained dark. What sort of lamps would the Greeks and Romans have had access to? Professor Richlin:  Oil lamps. Once when I was living in New Hampshire, I had to get by with oil lamps for a week, doing the reading for my classes and grading papers, and it was pretty hard on the eyes. But they got up very early in the morning; Marcus Aurelius, as a student, was often up before sunrise, reading in the predawn light. Historyradio.org: What were the most popular literary genres and forms during the ancient period? I know they had comedy, tragedy and poetry? But did they have anything resembling a modern novel? Professor Richlin:  The Greeks seem to have invented novels, although Petronius’s Satyricon (60s CE) seems to be earlier than the earliest extant Greek novel. Since the Satyricon often parodies the norms of the Greek novels we do have, however, it seems clear that Greek novels started well before Petronius. Novels were tremendously popular; they morphed into saints’ lives, they were translated and adapted into many ancient languages (there’s one in Syriac about the biblical Joseph and his beloved Aseneth), they moved eastward through Byzantium and on into Russia, as far east as China, so I’ve heard. The Satyricon is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read, it still makes me laugh. And only a bit of it is left! See below. Another great novel in Latin is Apuelius’s Metamorphoses, sometimes called The Golden Ass, about the adventures of a young man who gets transformed into a donkey, and that novel has survived in its entirety. The Greek novels are mostly “romances” — they have a marriage plot — but there are all kinds of others. Historyradio.org: The classical period spans hundreds of years. Did they have literary schools that reflected any modern sensibilities, such as the stress and anxiety of urban living in a modernist sense. Or perhaps romantic idealization of nature, the way it is seen by a city dweller? Professor Richlin:  Lots of romantic idealization of nature, the Greeks invented that, too (and the Roman poet Horace wrote a comic poem satirizing that). The Romans invented satire, and Juvenal’s Satire 3 is about the stress and anxiety of urban living, though not in a modernist way. Modernism is a rejection of the classic, really, so I don’t see a big overlap. Historyradio.org: In Umbert Eco’s The Name of the Rose, there is a crime plot centering on the rediscovery of an ancient text on comedy. Which lost text would you like to see rediscovered? Professor Richlin: The rest of the Satyricon! Medieval Arabic satire shows some remarkable resemblances to the Satyricon; I have a fantasy that, somewhere, the novel was translated into Arabic before most of the Latin text was lost, and that someday we’ll find that manuscript. And I’d give a lot to have the comedies of Naevius, Plautus’s predecessor, whose tantalizing fragments make me long for even one complete play of his. The memoirs of the elder Agrippina: oh, boy. Tacitus mentions them — they must have been pretty hot stuff, in terms of telling the inside story of the house of the Caesars. The lost books of Tacitus, ditto. In Greek: the rest of Sappho! And the other women poets, esp. Nossis, whose few remaining poems are so beautiful. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history A crowd of millions cheered as Ghana became independent in 1957 (audio above). “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked-up with the total liberation of the African Continent”, Kwame Nkrumah boldly declared on the day of liberation. Yet a couple of decades later, Nkrumah has been toppled from power, has ended up in exile on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, and his pan African dream lies in ruins. In some ways, his own personal fate mirrored that of a whole continent. We talked to professor Jeffrey Ahlman, a specialist on the Ghanaian statesman, about what happened to Nkrumah, and what has been the lasting legacy of his ideas. Historyradio.org:  Let us begin at the end of Nkrumah’s life. He had quite a sad demise. He was ill, paranoid and afraid of western intelligence agencies. And he lived in exile. Did he have reason to be afraid? Professor Ahlman: There was significant reason for Nkrumah to have concerns about US and other western subversion in Ghana. In African history, the year 1960 is often remembered quite jubilantly as the “Year of Africa,” marking not only the independence of Nigeria and the Congo, but also the many states that comprised French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa. However, from the perspective of radical anti colonial figures like Nkrumah, the year opened not with jubilance, but with the troubling independence of Cameroon under a government viewed by many as an appendage of the French state. The rushed independence of the Congo and the political chaos that ensued—much of it the result of US and Belgian Cold War intrusion into Congolese democratic politics—only further added to Nkrumah’s wariness, especially as his government had committed a significant number of Ghanaian troops to the UN peace mission to the Congo. However, it was the Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba’s assassination that dramatically shook Nkrumah as, for him, the assassination marked the extremes to which capitalist powers would go to subvert the autonomy of African independence. Meanwhile, in Ghana, Nkrumah survived a number of attempts on his own life. The most famous one being the bombing in the far northern Ghanaian town of Kulungugu in August 1962 in which at least two people were killed and Nkrumah himself suffered significant injuries—injuries that some Ghanaians argue was a cause of the cancer that killed him a decade later. Eyeing what had happened to Lumumba a year and a half earlier, Nkrumah and his government read the Kulungugu attack, among the others he endured, as at least in part efforts by capitalist countries like the United States, Belgium, and Great Britain to subvert his vision for Ghana and for Africa. Given this context in Ghana and Africa more broadly, yes, he did have reason to be afraid. Historyradio.org: How did he become involved with the struggle against British Colonial Rule in The Gold Coast? Professor Ahlman: In his autobiography, Nkrumah argues that he first became aware of the “wickedness of colonialism” while in the UK while waiting for a visa to the US as Mussolini invaded Ethiopia. According to him, the expressionless response from men and women on the streets as the newspapers’ headlines announced the invasion awakened in him a desire to “play my part in bringing about the downfall of such a system.” In the United States, Nkrumah attended Lincoln University and later UPenn, while also seeking connections to African student groups as well as a number of black political and cultural institutions during his time in the country. After a decade in the US, he traveled to the UK, where he joined the political network of the Trinidadian pan-Africanist George Padmore and played a key role in helping to organize the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester—a congress that demanded an immediate end to colonial rule in Africa. It was approximately two years after the Manchester Congress that Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast at the invitation of the newly formed United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), a political party often maligned as being too moderate. During his time as the UGCC’s general secretary, he clashed with the convention’s other leaders before leaving the convention—or getting expelled depending on whose version one accepts—and forming his own party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), under the mantra of “Self-Government Now.” Why the CPP is so important to African history is that it was one of the first mass political parties on the continent, drawing supporters from a wide range of walks of life (educated, uneducated, farmers, urban dwellers, youth, women, etc) and, for many, providing a new sense of belonging in a period of rapid political and social change following WWII. Historyradio.org: Like Gandhi he was partly educated in Britain, in what way did this influence his ideas? Or were his years in the United States more significant? Professor Ahlman: I think the fundamental elements of his political education occurred in Great Britain as he came under the tutelage of George Padmore. It was here, I believe, where his ideas began to mature and gained their first coherent form in his 1947 pamphlet Towards Colonial Freedom. However, one cannot underestimate the role of his time in the US, for he arrived in the US in the midst of the Great Depression and stayed through the war years. During this time, he not only actively sought out readings by such people as Marcus Garvey and associated with Paul Robeson’s Council on African Affairs, among others, but was forced to live in the highly racialized social environment of the United States as a black man. It is hard to imagine that such an experience did not help shape his understanding of the world, colonialism, and race. Historyradio.org: Was he always a leftist? Professor Ahlman: I think in terms of his adult life, yes. Historyradio.org: When he became PM of the newly liberated Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast) he was quite popular. How popular were his ideas of pan-African unity? Professor Ahlman: I think you have to add more nuance to the question. In principle, I think many Ghanaians were supportive of some sort of largely undefined pan-African unity, especially one that—like Nkrumah suggested—placed Ghana at the center of an emerging pan-African politics. Part of this was pride; part may have been—and still may be—an authentic hope for what unity could bring to the future of both Ghana and Africa. On the other hand, many questioned the resources spent in pursuing Nkrumah’s continental ambitions. This included the aid Ghana offered to other countries and liberation movements as well as the time Nkrumah spent away from the country. By as early as 1958, if not earlier, criticism of the resources spent on Nkrumah’s pan-African policies had become a potent critique of the government when marshaled by some opposition officials. Historyradio.org: Why do you think the idea of pan-Africanism failed? Professor Ahlman: I don’t believe it did, particularly because I don’t think we can talk about pan-Africanism in the singular. There were/are many different pan-Africanisms—diasporic, continental, political, social, cultural, economic, etc. What may have failed was Nkrumah’s particular vision of a United States of Africa. However, even Nkrumah shouldn’t be beholden to that singular definition of pan-Africanism, especially when answering rather normative questions like whether he succeeded or failed. In his life, Nkrumah came to influence, embody, interact with, and shape a number of competing, if not contradictory forms of pan-Africanism. His flirtation with Garveyism may not have meshed organically with his socialism and aspects of the Ghanaian nation-building project at home and the Ghanaian exceptionalism that seemed to follow in its wake does not easily fit within the continental vision he so famously articulated. Historyradio.org: He launched quite a lot of programs in those early years, how successful was he in modernizing Ghana? Professor Ahlman: Ghana has not seen a leader like him to date. He transformed the country politically, socially, culturally, economically, and infrastructurally. He shepherded in the development of the city of Tema, transforming a previously small fishing village into the industrial engine of the new Ghana. Similarly, he also ushered in the damming of the Volta River that, through the electricity it produced, electrified much of the country and still does so today. However, the greatest impact his government had was in its promotion of fee-free primary education. This program democratized education in the country, allowing untold numbers of boys and girls who may not have had the opportunity to go to school before gaining an education. Historyradio.org: When did his downfall begin? And why did he eventually lose his grip on power? Professor Ahlman: His downfall began with the 1966 coup. People were talking in unspecific ways about what Ghana might look like without Nkrumah prior to the coup. However, it was always in vague terms. He and his government appeared strong on the eve of the coup and the coup surprised many. This is not to say that many were content with the state of affairs in Ghana at the time. The reality was much more complicated. Instead, even as late as the month of the coup, many people had come to terms with a reality that the one-party political context created by Nkrumah and the CPP represented the reality that they must live with for the foreseeable future. Historyradio.org: In what way would you say the Cold War affected the idea of pan-Africanism? Professor Ahlman: I think it constrained the possibilities open to African thinkers and leaders as they sought to reimagine the new world created by decolonization. As individual countries and  liberation movements faced pressures from the US, France, the UK, Belgium, and the Soviet Union, many found it difficult to break from the bifurcated global model that so defined the Cold War in their efforts to make a reality the futures they imagined. Historyradio.org: How is Nkrumah remembered in Ghana today? Do they celebrate him, or lament his failings? Professor Ahlman: Nkrumah and his ideas appear to be gaining in popularity in Ghana again. However, Ghanaians tend to have a complicated relationship with Nkrumah, especially those who lived through his rule. Many truly appreciate how he transformed Ghana into a major player on the international stage during his tenure and, at the same time, built roads, schools, healthcare facilities, etc. Yet, many of the same people recall the atmosphere of fear and suspicion that accompanied a government that in many ways policed many forms of political and social expression, particularly those forms did not fit within the ideological confines of an orthodox decolonization-era Nkrumahism. Historyradio.org: What is the legacy of Pan Aficanism today? Professor Ahlman: I’m not sure how to answer this given that there are still pan-African thinkers today, both in Africa and the diaspora. They are actively trying to reflect on the legacies of earlier generations of thinkers like Nkrumah, Du Bois, Padmore, Stokely Carmichael, Malcom X, and others. At the same time, they are actively trying to construct their own pan-African visions that not only take into account contemporary realities in Africa, the diaspora, and the world, but are also experimenting with methods and ideas—small and large—to bring their visions for the future into a reality   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyThe crowds waited in anticipation as the pompous fanfares marked the opening of the red carpet, a crowd of slick journalists rushed to the front fence. An even larger crowd consisting of “common men” were held back at the perimeter – like some reserve force. And then they arrived, the dashing superstars in their lavish costumes. The simultaneous flashes of hundreds of cameras enlightened the long expected arrivals from constantly shifting angles. Some of them sweated, others blinked, but they all kept their faces. They smiled because they were used to it, and they lifted their arms and waved. They paraded along the marked lines giving autographs, and they were all in a splendid mood. “The film was excellent, Mark Thompson! How did you feel upon receiving the award”“It was a great honor, of course.”“How do you feel about being nominated as the most sexy man in the business”“I appreciate good taste when I see it”, the middle aged actor said and put on his best grin.Those who heard him – and there were plenty of these – roared with laughter. They would have escorted him to his limousine, but sunglassed guards – probably picked or perhaps even bred for size and grim appearances – blocked their way. Strangers struggled, they shouted after him, and for their sake Mark Thompson stopped, walked over to the fence where they stood and signed several autographs. Then he moved on to the next fence closer to the parking lot. There were three of them along the way, and Mark Thompson radiated even more humor and wit at the two next ones. He was warming up. Only the last two hundred meters did he walk a little faster when he noticed an open limousine waiting for him. He sighed when the car doors slammed shut behind him, because he now was protected from a multitude of stares by bullet proof colored glass. But a sigh was all he could manage because even if they could not see him, he was able to see them, the vast moving crowd, an organism by itself, twisting and turning, giving off sounds of hysteria, of admiration and sometimes – more often than people realize – of disgust and resentment. The car navigated through the streets of the city center, and stopped by the venerable Grand Hotel. The door opened, and again he was exposed. But there was that million dollar, tastefully bleached smile that had melted so many hearts, and there was that sharp tongue that always knew how to dodge awkward questions. It had served him so well, and it only became more and more efficient with age. It ripened like a fine wine. At the reception, men and women he had never met and sometimes not even knew existed told him from a mahogany podium about how he had completely altered their lives, sometimes saved them from bad marriages, improved their sex lives and prevented suicides. Of course, he had no choice but to be humbled by his enormous power, such good fortune that life had bestowed upon him. He was obliged to tell them of his own struggles, and how thankful he was that he had made it, arrived at his station, and how they too could make it if they just followed their dream. Ever onwards and upwards. There was fine dining, exquisite cuisine, which he enjoyed in silence, while hum and chatter, and toasting glasses sounded over his head. Then he got up, excused himself and rushed through the velvet corridors for the bathroom. But a young blonde had made it passed the guards, was blocking his way and was flashing her excellently sculpted breasts. Then, there was a bizarre situation in which a gigantic two meter black body guard chased the tiny creature down the corridor. Mark Thompson walked by and smiled.“They never stop”, he told the guard, “they can’t help it. You’re doing a great job, thank you, but be gentle on her. She is drunk and very young.”“Yes sir”, said the giant bodyguard. He did his thing in the toilet, washed his hands in the gilded sink, and returned to his seat. His agent was on the phone, several radio stations wanted his views on some matter. He found a quiet corner, and called them. He preferred these brief phone interviews. No one could see his face, he could even do them in the nude at home, if he wanted. But somehow it never seemed right. Even in their voices, he could sense their eyes. At ten o’clock that evening he called it a day. He had been at it since morning. Then there was the routine of leaving the building, the choreographed exit, the waiting door. The relief of departure, the oddness of seeing those ordinary people walking along the bar strip as his limousine passed. The loud music, the distant laughter. He had been 18 once, hadn’t he? He had not always had this life. Many many years ago, he too could walk down that strip, and no one would even look twice at him, a pimpled mumbling nerd. The girls had even giggled at him with pity, the pathetic boy who would never get laid. The cortege struggled through traffic, but as they entered the more affluent areas, people and vehicles magically dispersed. He was left with majestic glass and steel constructions, all polished and glimmering, fancy restaurants with private entrances and then the villa area: well kept gardens with pools hidden by carefully landscaped residential palaces. As dusk fell, the stars had come out and they hung over his home, stretching endlessly towards a million dollar horizon and view. Below them lay the vast pulsating metropolis. On top of the hill stood his isolated palace, his marble columns, his tiled walkways. Another open door was waiting for him, and he rushed towards it. He had made sure that it had been made of the most quirky wood he could find. It stood out because it had the texture of an English cottage door. The faces that met him, his servants, were friends at least, he thought. He paid them enough to fake it.“Is she still awake?” he asked as the maid took his coat.“Yes, sir. She is awake”He then stopped by the stairs, and wondered whether he would he would be brave enough to enter her room. But the memories overwhelmed him, and he bit his lip as climbed the steps.There was the door he dreaded. He leaned his forehead against it as he knocked. It squeaked open, and the silhouette a huge bed and a dying woman was visible against the moon light from a half open window. He walked those final steps to the vacant chair, and an imperceptible breeze silently swung the door shut behind him. by Mchael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureIn the second week of February 1949, 3 men were charged with provoking the death of over ten people in Ecuador. The method of their crime: creating a radio play based on H.G. Wells and then letting it loose on an unsuspecting public. It was an incident far more sinister than the panics that followed the 1938 broadcast in America when Orson Welles had first dramatised H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds on radio. Not even the effect of a similar 1944 radio broadcast in Chile could compare when it came to the number of deaths and the level of devestation. On the fateful night of February 12’th, writers for Associated Press and Reuters reported back to the US and Britain: «The mob attacked and burned the building of the newspaper, El Comercio, which housed the radio station and killed fifteen persons and injured 15 others.» Fake news The radio broadcast was the brain child of Leonardo Paez (top photo), director of art at Radio Quito and Eduardo Alcaraz, the station’s dramatic director. The two had become familiar with the 1938 incident in America and the 1944 incident in Chile, which both caused widespread panic, but which also exposed the power of radio. In both those cases, it was announced ahead of schedule that the broadcast would be a fictional dramatisation. Leonardo Paez, a native of Quito, was not only a journalist, but also a singer, composer, poet and producer of radio. In an interview with El Dia, Alcaraz later said that he begged Paez to announce at the beginning of the broadcast that what followed was a dramatisation, but that Paez had dismissed him. Even so, someone had planted bogus UFO reports in the newspaper El Comercio in the weeks before the broadcast. At 21.00 the night of February 12’th, the normal musical broadcast began. Halfway into a song, the news team interupted without warning stating that an attack on Ecuador was underway. Panic erupted in the streets and police were dispatched to the alleged location of a martian invasion, the town of Cotocollao. The imaginary invasion was gradually to proceed from the town of Latacunga, 20 miles south of the capital Quito, where a poisonous gas cloud was reported to kill everything in its path. Actors immitating well known authority figueres then appeared on radio confirming the crisis. Appology not accepted When the station realised that chaos was breaking out, they announced the hoax on radio. The crowd then gathered outside the radio station throwing stones and setting fire to the building. According to the Associated Press there were over a hundred people in the building. Some escaped through the back door. Others sought refuge in the top floors, where some of them jumped from the roof to escape the flames. The army was then called in with teargas and tanks to disperse the crowd and allow the firemen to do their work. At the end of the evening, bodies lay silent in the street, and the injured were shipped off to hospital. The station managers protested their innocence saying they had been unaware of the planned hoax, and the minister of defense himself was called in to investigate the incidence. Punishment Ten people were detained the night of the riot, and several were later charged, among these Leonardo Paez, Eduardo Alcaraz and the actor Eduardo Palace. Eduardo Alcaraz had fled Quito, but was arrested later in the town of Ambato. Paez, however, had escaped that night from the burning building. Seeing that his route of retreat was cut off by an angry mob and the police, he found a way of escaping via an old conservatory. A truck then took him a property near Ibarra, and he laid low until his legal difficulties were solved. 6 years later he left Ecuador and made his way to Venezuela. Paez lost his girlfriend and his nephew to the chaos created by his own radioplay. They died in the riots. He would never return to Ecuador or be convicted of anything, but in 1982 he published his account of the radio play he broadcast on that Saturday evening in 1949. His book is called Los que siembran viento (Those who sow the wind). How could it happen? There has been much speculation about the causes of the panic that erupted after so many broadcasts of War of the Worlds, in the US, in Chile and in Ecuador. Just a year after the Welles broadcast the psychologist Hadley Cantril conducted a study of the effects of the radioshow in which he claimed that the cause of the confusion following the broadcast was the standards of judgment that people applied to the information they heard on radio. They simply trusted the new media of radio, and couldn’t believe that someone would deliberately lie to them. Seing the effectiveness of the broadcast as perhaps being too calculated, the writer Daniel Hopsicker even speculated that the 1938 broadcast was a psychological experiment funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, a conspiracy theory which was dismissed by Orson Welles. Michael Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short story“Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” by Kelly Link (1969- ) Dear Mary (if that is your name), I bet you’ll be pretty surprised to hear from me. It really is me, by the way, although I have to confess at the moment that not only can I not seem to keep your name straight in my head, Laura? Susie? Odile? but I seem to have forgotten my own name. I plan to keep trying different combinations: Joe loves Lola, Willy loves Suki, Henry loves you, sweetie, Georgia?, honeypie, darling. Do any of these seem right to you? All last week I felt like something was going to happen, a sort of bees and ants feeling. Something was going to happen. I taught my classes and came home and went to bed, all week waiting for the thing that was going to happen, and then on Friday I died. One of the things I seem to have misplaced is how, or maybe I mean why. It’s like the names. I know that we lived together in a house on a hill in a small comfortable city for nine years, that we didn’t have kids—except once, almost—and that you’re a terrible cook, oh my darling, Coraline? Coralee? and so was I, and we ate out whenever we could afford to. I taught at a good university, Princeton? Berkeley? Notre Dame? I was a good teacher, and my students liked me. But I can’t remember the name of the street we lived on, or the author of the last book I read, or your last name which was also my name, or how I died. It’s funny, Sarah? but the only two names I know for sure are real are Looly Bellows, the girl who beat me up in fourth grade, and your cat’s name. I’m not going to put your cat’s name down on paper just yet. We were going to name the baby Beatrice. I just remembered that. We were going to name her after your aunt, the one that doesn’t like me. Didn’t like me. Did she come to the funeral? I’ve been here for three days, and I’m trying to pretend that it’s just a vacation, like when we went to that island in that country. Santorini? Great Britain? The one with all the cliffs. The one with the hotel with the bunkbeds, and little squares of pink toilet paper, like handkerchiefs. It had seashells in the window too, didn’t it, that were transparent like bottle glass? They smelled like bleach? It was a very nice island. No trees. You said that when you died, you hoped heaven would be an island like that. And now I’m dead, and here I am. This is an island too, I think. There is a beach, and down on the beach is a mailbox where I am going to post this letter. Other than the beach, the mailbox, there is the building in which I sit and write this letter. It seems to be a perfectly pleasant resort hotel with no other guests, no receptionist, no host, no events coordinator, no bellboy. Just me. There is a television set, very old-fashioned, in the hotel lobby. I fiddled the antenna for a long time, but never got a picture. Just static. I tried to make images, people out of the static. It looked like they were waving at me. My room is on the second floor. It has a sea view. All the rooms here have views of the sea. There is a desk in my room, and a good supply of plain, waxy white paper and envelopes in one of the drawers. Laurel? Maria? Gertrude? I haven’t gone out of sight of the hotel yet, Lucille? because I am afraid that it might not be there when I get back. Yours truly, You know who. The dead man lies on his back on the hotel bed, his hands busy and curious, stroking his body up and down as if it didn’t really belong to him at all. One hand cups his testicles, the other tugs hard at his erect penis. His heels push against the mattress and his eyes are open, and his mouth. He is trying to say someone’s name. Outside, the sky seems much too close, made out of some grey stuff that only grudgingly allows light through. The dead man has noticed that it never gets any lighter or darker, but sometimes the air begins to feel heavier, and then stuff falls out of the sky, fist-sized lumps of whitish-grey doughy matter. It falls until the beach is covered, and immediately begins to dissolve. The dead man was outside, the first time the sky fell. Now he waits inside until the beach is clear again. Sometimes he watches television, although the reception is poor. The sea goes up and back the beach, sucking and curling around the mailbox at high tide. There is something about it that the dead man doesn’t like much. It doesn’t smell like salt the way a sea should. Cara? Jasmine? It smells like wet upholstery, burnt fur. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose Dear May? April? Ianthe? My room has a bed with thin, limp sheets and an amateurish painting of a woman sitting under a tree. She has nice breasts, but a peculiar expression on her face, for a woman in a painting in a hotel room, even in a hotel like this. She looks disgruntled. I have a bathroom with hot and cold running water, towels, and a mirror. I looked in the mirror for a long time, but I didn’t look familiar. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a good look at a dead person. I have brown hair, receding at the temples, brown eyes, and good teeth, white, even, and not too large. I have a small mark on my shoulder, Celeste? where you bit me when we were making love that last time. Did you somehow realize it would be the last time we made love? Your expression was sad; also, I seem to recall, angry. I remember your expression now, Eliza? You glared up at me without blinking and when you came, you said my name, and although I can’t remember my name, I remember you said it as if you hated me. We hadn’t made love for a long time. I estimate my height to be about five feet, eleven inches, and although I am not unhandsome, I have an anxious, somewhat fixed expression. This may be due to circumstances. I was wondering if my name was by any chance Roger or Timothy or Charles. When we went on vacation, I remember there was a similar confusion about names, although not ours. We were trying to think of one for her, I mean, for Beatrice. Petrucchia, Solange? We wrote them all with long pieces of stick on the beach, to see how they looked. We started with the plain names, like Jane and Susan and Laura. We tried practical names like Polly and Meredith and Hope, and then we became extravagant. We dragged our sticks through the sand and produced entire families of scowling little girls named Gudrun, Jezebel, Jerusalem, Zedeenya, Zerilla. How about Looly, I said. I knew a girl named Looly Bellows once. Your hair was all snarled around your face, stiff with salt. You had about a zillion freckles. You were laughing so hard you had to prop yourself up with your stick. You said that sounded like a made-up name. Love, You know who. The dead man is trying to act as if he is really here, in this place. He is trying to act in a normal and appropriate fashion. As much as is possible. He is trying to be a good tourist. He hasn’t been able to fall asleep in the bed, although he has turned the painting to the wall. He is not sure that the bed is a bed. When his eyes are closed, it doesn’t seem to be a bed. He sleeps on the floor, which seems more floorlike than the bed seems bedlike. He lies on the floor with nothing over him and pretends that he isn’t dead. He pretends that he is in bed with his wife and dreaming. He makes up a nice dream about a party where he has forgotten everyone’s name. He touches himself. Then he gets up and sees that the white stuff that has fallen out of the sky is dissolving on the beach, little clumps of it heaped around the mailbox like foam. Dear Elspeth? Deborah? Frederica? Things are getting worse. I know that if I could just get your name straight, things would get better. I told you that I’m on an island, but I’m not sure that I am. I’m having doubts about my bed and the hotel. I’m not happy about the sea or the sky, either. The things that have names that I’m sure of, I’m not sure they’re those things, if you understand what I’m saying, Mallory? I’m not sure I’m still breathing, either. When I think about it, I do. I only think about it because it’s too quiet when I’m not. Did you know, Alison? that up in those mountains, the Berkshires? the altitude gets too high, and then real people, live people forget to breathe also? There’s a name for when they forget. I forget what the name is. But if the bed isn’t a bed, and the beach isn’t a beach, then what are they? When I look at the horizon, there almost seem to be corners. When I lay down, the corners on the bed receded like the horizon. Then there is the problem about the mail. Yesterday I simply slipped the letter into a plain envelope, and slipped the envelope, unaddressed, into the mailbox. This morning the letter was gone and when I stuck my hand inside, and then my arm, the sides of the box were damp and sticky. I inspected the back side and discovered an open panel. When the tide rises, the mail goes out to sea. So I really have no idea if you, Pamela? or, for that matter, if anyone is reading this letter. I tried dragging the mailbox further up the beach. The waves hissed and spit at me, a wave ran across my foot, cold and furry and black, and I gave up. So I will simply have to trust to the local mail system. Hoping you get this soon, You know who. The dead man goes for a walk along the beach. The sea keeps its distance, but the hotel stays close behind him. He notices that the tide retreats when he walks towards it, which is good. He doesn’t want to get his shoes wet. If he walked out to sea, would it part for him like that guy in the bible? Onan? He is wearing his second-best suit, the one he wore for interviews and weddings. He figures it’s either the suit that he died in, or else the one that his wife buried him in. He has been wearing it ever since he woke up and found himself on the island, disheveled and sweating, his clothing wrinkled as if he had been wearing it for a long time. He takes his suit and his shoes off only when he is in his hotel room. He puts them back on to go outside. He goes for a walk along the beach. His fly is undone. The little waves slap at the dead man. He can see teeth under that water, in the glassy black walls of the larger waves, the waves farther out to sea. He walks a fair distance, stopping frequently to rest. He tires easily. He keeps to the dunes. His shoulders are hunched, his head down. When the sky begins to change, he turns around. The hotel is right behind him. He doesn’t seem at all surprised to see it there. All the time he has been walking, he has had the feeling that just over the next dune someone is waiting for him. He hopes that maybe it is his wife, but on the other hand if it were his wife, she’d be dead too, and if she were dead, he could remember her name. Dear Matilda? Ivy? Alicia? I picture my letters sailing out to you, over those waves with the teeth, little white boats. Dear reader, Beryl? Fern? you would like to know how I am so sure these letters are getting to you? I remember that it always used to annoy you, the way I took things for granted. But I’m sure you’re reading this in the same way that even though I’m still walking around and breathing (when I remember to) I’m sure I’m dead. I think that these letters are getting to you, mangled, sodden but still legible. If they arrived the regular way, you probably wouldn’t believe they were from me, anyway. I remembered a name today, Elvis Presley. He was the singer, right? Blue shoes, kissy fat lips, slickery voice? Dead, right? Like me. Marilyn Monroe too, white dress blowing up like a sail, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Looly Bellows (remember?) who lived next door to me when we were both eleven. She had migraine headaches all through the school year, which made her mean. Nobody liked her, before, when we didn’t know she was sick. We didn’t like her after. She broke my nose because I pulled her wig off one day on a dare. They took a tumor out of her head that was the size of a chicken egg but she died anyway. When I pulled her wig off, she didn’t cry. She had brittle bits of hair tufting out of her scalp and her face was swollen with fluid like she’d been stung by bees. She looked so old. She told me that when she was dead she’d come back and haunt me, and after she died, I pretended that I could see not just her—but whole clusters of fat, pale, hairless ghosts lingering behind trees, swollen and humming like hives. It was a scary fun game I played with my friends. We called the ghosts loolies, and we made up rules that kept us safe from them. A certain kind of walk, a diet of white food—marshmallows, white bread rolled into pellets, and plain white rice. When we got tired of the loolies, we killed them off by decorating her grave with the remains of the powdered donuts and Wonderbread our suspicious mothers at last refused to buy for us. Are you decorating my grave, Felicity? Gay? Have you forgotten me yet? Have you gotten another cat yet, another lover? or are you still in mourning for me? God, I want you so much, Carnation, Lily? Lily? Rose? It’s the reverse of necrophilia, I suppose—the dead man who wants one last fuck with his wife. But you’re not here, and if you were here, would you go to bed with me? I write you letters with my right hand, and I do the other thing with my left hand that I used to do with my left hand, ever since I was fourteen, when I didn’t have anything better to do. I seem to recall that when I was fourteen there wasn’t anything better to do. I think about you, I think about touching you, think that you’re touching me, and I see you naked, and you’re glaring at me, and I’m about to shout out your name, and then I come and the name on my lips is the name of some dead person, or some totally made-up name. Does it bother you, Linda? Donna? Penthesilia? Do you want to know the worst thing? Just a minute ago I was grinding into the pillow, bucking and pushing and pretending it was you, Stacy? under me, oh fuck it felt good, just like when I was alive and when I came I said, “Beatrice.” And I remembered coming to get you in the hospital after the miscarriage. There were a lot of things I wanted to say. I mean, neither of us was really sure that we wanted a baby and part of me, sure, was relieved that I wasn’t going to have to learn how to be a father just yet, but there were still things that I wish I’d said to you. There were a lot of things I wish I’d said to you. You know who. The dead man sets out across the interior of the island. At some point after his first expedition, the hotel moved quietly back to its original location, the dead man in his room, looking into the mirror, expression intent, hips tilted against the cool tile. This flesh is dead. It should not rise. It rises. Now the hotel is back beside the mailbox, which is empty when he walks down to check it. The middle of the island is rocky, barren. There are no trees here, the dead man realizes, feeling relieved. He walks for a short distance—less than two miles, he calculates, before he stands on the opposite shore. In front of him is a flat expanse of water, sky folded down over the horizon. When the dead man turns around, he can see his hotel, looking forlorn and abandoned. But when he squints, the shadows on the back veranda waver, becoming a crowd of people, all looking back at him. He has his hands inside his pants, he is touching himself. He takes his hands out of his pants. He turns his back on the shadowy porch. He walks along the shore. He ducks down behind a sand dune, and then down a long hill. He is going to circle back. He is going to sneak up on the hotel if he can, although it is hard to sneak up on something that always seems to be trying to sneak up on you. He walks for a while, and what he finds is a ring of glassy stones, far up on the beach, driftwood piled inside the ring, charred and black. The ground is trampled all around the fire, as if people have stood there, waiting and pacing. There is something left in tatters and skin on a spit in the center of the campfire, about the size of a cat. The dead man doesn’t look too closely at it. He walks around the fire. He sees tracks indicating where the people who stood here, watching a cat roast, went away again. It would be hard to miss the direction they are taking. The people leave together, rushing untidily up the dune, barefoot and heavy, the imprints of the balls of the foot deep, heels hardly touching the sand at all. They are headed back towards the hotel. He follows the footprints, sees the single track of his own footprints, coming down to the fire. Above, in a line parallel to his expedition and to the sea, the crowd has walked this way, although he did not see them. They are walking more carefully now, he pictures them walking more quietly. His footprints end. There is the mailbox, and this is where he left the hotel. The hotel itself has left no mark. The other footprints continue towards the hotel, where it stands now, small in the distance. When the dead man gets back to the hotel, the lobby floor is dusted with sand, and the television is on. The reception is slightly improved. But no one is there, although he searches every room. When he stands on the back veranda, staring out over the interior of the island, he imagines he sees a group of people, down beside the far shore, waving at him. The sky begins to fall. Dear Araminta? Kiki? Lolita? Still doesn’t have the right ring to it, does it? Sukie? Ludmilla? Winifred? I had that same not-dream about the faculty party again. She was there, only this time you were the one who recognized her, and I was trying to guess her name, who she was. Was she the tall blonde with the nice ass, or the short blonde with the short hair who kept her mouth a little open, like she was smiling all the time? That one looked like she knew something I wanted to know, but so did you. Isn’t that funny? I never told you who she was, and now I can’t remember. You probably knew the whole time anyway, even if you didn’t think you did. I’m pretty sure you asked me about that little blond girl, when you were asking. I keep thinking about the way you looked, that first night we slept together. I’d kissed you properly on the doorstep of your mother’s house, and then, before you went inside, you turned around and looked at me. No one had ever looked at me like that. You didn’t need to say anything at all. I waited until your mother turned off all the lights downstairs, and then I climbed over the fence, and up the tree in your backyard, and into your window. You were leaning out of the window, watching me climb, and you took off your shirt so that I could see your breasts, I almost fell out of the tree, and then you took off your jeans and your underwear had a day of the week embroidered on it, Holiday? and then you took off your underwear too. You’d bleached the hair on your head yellow, and then streaked it with red, but the hair on your pubis was black and soft when I touched it. We lay down on your bed, and when I was inside you, you gave me that look again. It wasn’t a frown, but it was almost a frown, as if you had expected something different, or else you were trying to get something just right. And then you smiled and sighed and twisted under me. You lifted up smoothly and strongly as if you were going to levitate right off the bed, and I lifted with you as if you were carrying me and I almost got you pregnant for the first time. We never were good about birth control, were we, Eliane? Rosemary? And then I heard your mother out in the backyard, right under the elm I’d just climbed, yelling “Tree? Tree?” I thought she must have seen me climb it. I looked out the window and saw her directly beneath me, and she had her hands on her hips, and the first thing I noticed were her breasts, moonlit and plump, pushed up under her dressing gown, fuller than yours and almost as nice. That was pretty strange, realizing that I was the kind of guy who could have fallen in love with someone after not so much time, really, truly, deeply in love, the forever kind, I already knew, and still notice this middle-aged woman’s tits. Your mother’s tits. That was the second thing I learned. The third thing was that she wasn’t looking back at me. “Tree?” she yelled one last time, sounding pretty pissed. So, okay, I thought she was crazy. The last thing, the thing I didn’t learn, was about names. It’s taken me a while to figure that out. I’m still not sure what I didn’t learn, Aina? Jewel? Kathleen? but at least I’m willing. I mean, I’m here still, aren’t I? Wish you were here, You know who. At some point, later, the dead man goes down to the mailbox. The water is particularly unwaterlike today. It has a velvety nap to it, like hair. It raises up in almost discernable shapes. It is still afraid of him, but it hates him, hates him, hates him. It never liked him, never. “Fraidy cat, fraidy cat,” the dead man taunts the water. When he goes back to the hotel, the loolies are there. They are watching television in the lobby. They are a lot bigger than he remembers. Dear Cindy, Cynthia, Cenfenilla, There are some people here with me now. I’m not sure if I’m in their place—if this place is theirs, or if I brought them here, like luggage. Maybe it’s some of one, some of the other. They’re people, or maybe I should say a person I used to know when I was little. I think they’ve been watching me for a while, but they’re shy. They don’t talk much. Hard to introduce yourself, when you have forgotten your name. When I saw them, I was astounded. I sat down on the floor of the lobby. My legs were like water. A wave of emotion came over me, so strong I didn’t recognize it. It might have been grief. It might have been relief. I think it was recognition. They came and stood around me, looking down. “I know you,” I said. “You’re loolies.” They nodded. Some of them smiled. They are so pale, so fat! When they smile, their eyes disappear in folds of flesh. But they have tiny soft bare feet, like children’s feet. “You’re the dead man,” one said. It had a tiny soft voice. Then we talked. Half of what they said made no sense at all. They don’t know how I got here. They don’t remember Looly Bellows. They don’t remember dying. They were afraid of me at first, but also curious. They wanted to know my name. Since I didn’t have one, they tried to find a name that fit me. Walter was put forward, then rejected. I was un-Walter-like. Samuel, also Milo, also Rupert. Quite a few of them liked Alphonse, but I felt no particular leaning towards Alphonse. “Tree,” one of the loolies said. Tree never liked me very much. I remember your mother standing under the green leaves that leaned down on bowed branches, dragging the ground like skirts. Oh, it was such a tree! the most beautiful tree I’d ever seen. Halfway up the tree, glaring up at me, was a fat black cat with long white whiskers, and an elegant sheeny bib. You pulled me away. You’d put a T-shirt on. You stood in the window. “I’ll get him,” you said to the woman beneath the tree. “You go back to bed, mom. Come here, Tree.” Tree walked the branch to the window, the same broad branch that had lifted me up to you. You, Ariadne? Thomasina? plucked him off the sill and then closed the window. When you put him down on the bed, he curled up at the foot, purring. But when I woke up, later, dreaming that I was drowning, he was crouched on my face, his belly heavy as silk against my mouth. I always thought Tree was a silly name for a cat. When he got old and slept out in the garden, he still didn’t look like a tree. He looked like a cat. He ran out in front of my car, I saw him, you saw me see him, I realized that it would be the last straw—a miscarriage, your husband sleeps with a graduate student, then he runs over your cat—I was trying to swerve, to not hit him. Something tells me I hit him. I didn’t mean to, sweetheart, love, Pearl? Patsy? Portia? You know who. The dead man watches television with the loolies. Soap operas. The loolies know how to get the antenna crooked so that the reception is decent, although the sound does not come in. One of them stands beside the TV to hold it just so. The soap opera is strangely dated, the clothes old-fashioned, the sort the dead man imagines his grandparents wore. The women wear cloche hats, their eyes are heavily made up. There is a wedding. There is a funeral, also, although it is not clear to the dead man watching, who the dead man is. Then the characters are walking along a beach. The woman wears a black-and-white striped bathing costume that covers her modestly, from neck to mid-thigh. The man’s fly is undone. They do not hold hands. There is a buzz of comment from the loolies. “Too dark,” one says, about the woman. “Still alive,” another says. “Too thin,” one says, indicating the man. “Should eat more. Might blow away in a wind.” “Out to sea.” “Out to Tree.” The loolies look at the dead man. The dead man goes to his room. He locks the door. His penis sticks up, hard as a tree. It is pulling him across the room, towards the bed. The man is dead, but his body doesn’t know it yet. His body still thinks that it is alive. He begins to say out loud the names he knows, beautiful names, silly names, improbable names. The loolies creep down the hall. They stand outside his door and listen to the list of names. Dear Bobbie? Billie? I wish you would write back. You know who. When the sky changes, the loolies go outside. The dead man watches them pick the stuff off the beach. They eat it methodically, chewing it down to a paste. They swallow, and pick up more. The dead man goes outside. He picks up some of the stuff. Angel food cake? Manna? He smells it. It smells like flowers: like carnations, lilies, like lilies, like roses. He puts some in his mouth. It tastes like nothing at all. The dead man kicks at the mailbox. Dear Daphne? Proserpine? Rapunzel? Isn’t there a fairy tale where a little man tries to do this? Guess a woman’s name? I have been making stories up about my death. One death I’ve imagined is when I am walking down to the subway, and then there is a strong wind, and the mobile sculpture by the subway, the one that spins in the wind, lifts up and falls on me. Another death is you and I, we are flying to some other country, Canada? The flight is crowded, and you sit one row ahead of me. There is a crack! and the plane splits in half, like a cracked straw. Your half rises up and my half falls down. You turn and look back at me, I throw out my arms. Wineglasses and newspapers and ribbons of clothes fall up in the air. The sky catches fire. I think maybe I stepped in front of a train. I was riding a bike, and someone opened a car door. I was on a boat and it sank. This is what I know. I was going somewhere. This is the story that seems the best to me. We made love, you and I, and afterwards you got out of bed and stood there looking at me. I thought that you had forgiven me, that now we were going to go on with our lives the way they had been before. Bernice? you said. Gloria? Patricia? Jane? Rosemary? Laura? Laura? Harriet? Jocelyn? Nora? Rowena? Anthea? I got out of bed. I put on clothes and left the room. You followed me. Marly? Genevieve? Karla? Kitty? Soibhan? Marnie? Lynley? Theresa? You said the names staccato, one after the other, like stabs. I didn’t look at you, I grabbed up my car keys, and left the house. You stood in the door, watched me get in the car. Your lips were still moving, but I couldn’t hear. Tree was in front of the car and when I saw him, I swerved. I was already going too fast, halfway out of the driveway. I pinned him up against the mailbox, and then the car hit the lilac tree. White petals were raining down. You screamed. I can’t remember what happened next. I don’t know if this is how I died. Maybe I died more than once, but it finally took. Here I am. I don’t think this is an island. I think that I am a dead man, stuffed inside a box. When I’m quiet, I can almost hear the other dead men scratching at the walls of their boxes. Or maybe I’m a ghost. Maybe the waves, which look like fur, are fur, and maybe the water which hisses and spits at me is really a cat, and the cat is a ghost, too. Maybe I’m here to learn something, to do penance. The loolies have forgiven me. Maybe you will, too. When the sea comes to my hand, when it purrs at me, I’ll know that you’ve forgiven me for what I did. For leaving you after I did it. Or maybe I’m a tourist, and I’m stuck on this island with the loolies until it’s time to go home, or until you come here to get me, Poppy? Irene? Delores? which is why I hope you get this letter. You know who.   Originally published in the collection Stranger Things Happen (2001), released under a creative commons license.  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. Historyradio.org: 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. Historyradio.org:  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. Historyradio.org: 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. Historyradio.org: 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. Historyradio.org: 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. Historyradio.org:  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. Historyradio.org: 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. Historyradio.org:  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. Historyradio.org: 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. Historyradio.org:  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. Historyradio.org: 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... [...]
short storyby Michael Henrik Wynn Before king Harald began the unification of Norway, the country consisted of many smaller kingdoms, often fighting among themselves. Bands of violent thugs roamed the countryside demanding protection money from peasants, blacksmiths, carpenters and traders. And many made a claim to divinity. In one such kingdom, located in a long and narrow valley, there was a hamlet in which there lived an ugly and childless woman in her mid fourties. Her loneliness was such that she frequented neighbors at all hours making a nuisance of herself. But she was intelligent, and read the minds of her hosts with just one glance. Therefore, she never stayed long out of fear of outwearing her welcome, and eventually became known as “wandering Hilde”. It was with a certain sadness that locals observed her walking down solitary paths in the evenings, her lamp was visible from great distance in clear weather. They would see it climb the side of the valley to her farm. At least, it was a comfort that her piece of land even though it was small, was the most fertile in the valley. So, she was never short of food, only a person with whom to share it. One winter there came news from afar that a great battle was brewing. The local king was in a bitter struggle for his life with the neighboring kingdom. Men and boys gathered what weapons they possessed, kissed their wives and mothers before they rode or walked off, and were never heard of again. It was said that the neighboring king was an extremely evil man, who enjoyed seeing his enemies suffer. He would engage in the most grotesque torture with a crooked smile upon his face. It was his right as king to hold lives in the palm of his hand, and to do with them as he pleased. At one point the cruel ruler came riding down the valley with his hord of savages, his long hair streaming like some torn grey banner in the wind as he rushed forward with his lifted, blood-soaked sword. They saw the fires spread from house to house. Screams echoed far through the valley unto the plains below. Who had died? What had happened to the children? But the fate of a king is never certain. He eventually miscalculated, underestimated the hatred he had stirred up, and in a flash a crowd had ambushed him, torn him from his proud black stallion, and stabbed him hundreds of times, before placing his decapitated head on a pole. The mob then did to their enemies what they had experienced themselves. New flames flickered under the starry sky, and many young died needlessly for the wrongs of their parents. It so happened that wandering Hilde stood at the top of the enemy’s valley one morning as dawn revealed columns of drifting thick smoke, and fields of golden wheat. She observed the sacking with the distance of an outsider. What did it matter what people did, their petty arguments, she was not part of their world. She knew that the law demanded revenge and that the Gods craved it. But she did not understand it. One of these murdered children could have warmed her heart, stoked her homely fires until her ship eventually sailed for the halls of Hell. She turned with her usual melancholy, and began on her solitary trek home. She crossed the creek, navigated the rutted tracks to the mountain pass. As she was passing the treeline, she heard the neighing of a horse. She stopped, looked in all directions, but could not, at first, understand where the noise was coming from. She heard it again, and walked towards a mighty pine with thick green branches that overhung a path. Underneath it she found a small mare, and by its feet a tiny red-haired child, a girl, five winters or so that seemed to have fallen off. The child did not cry, perhaps because she had been cushioned by the soft ground, or because she was still confused from her ordeal. For a moment wandering Hilde did not know what to do. If there was a child, there was most certainly a mother. But where? “Hello, little one, where is your mother?” The girl did not speak, but pointed towards a column of smoke that rose from treetops four hundred meters away. The child then drew her hand over her throat, as if to indicate that something had been cut. Hilde did not have time to reflect on the macrabre display, for in the very next instant male shouts were not far away, and hooves trampled. Instinctively, she drew the child towards her bossom, slapped the horse on its back, sending it off riderless. She then placed herself and the child as close to the trunk as she could. They were hidden by the low branches, invisible to the panting horses that moments laters raged by. She then realized that she had forgotten to place her hand over the child’s mouth. But, as she looked down she saw that she had no need to worry. The child had buried her face against her thigh, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. So it was that wandering Hilde’s heart melted, and that she brought home an enemy offspring to her own house, fed it and treated it as if it were flesh off her own flesh. But a child can never be invisible to any neighbor. Even if she managed to hide the secret for six moons, the seventh the game was up, and the whole village debated intensly who the child might be, what linage it might have, and whether it was right to feed the blood of an enemy. The average villager, of course, would never get beyond speculation, but there was a traveling merchant, who sometimes also collected taxes. He was by no means rich, but maintained halfway houses, where the earls and their men sometimes made stops. He was obliged to wait on these, and present them with such food and drink as they demanded. But he was handsomely rewarded, even if he almost never raised his voice, or offered any comments beyond those required by his function. He was a man of fifty winters, and the locals thought him wise, and often sought his councel on matters relating to the wider world. The child and her clothes were brought before him. Grey-bearded, bushy-browed and weathered, he sat quietly on a stone in front of a flickering fire, and examined the items in silence. He could find no mark on the child’s limbs that would give any clue. But he noticed that she was well fed, and that all her skins were of fine quality and had regular stitching. Still many men with large farms had daughters, but they were seldom lavished with jewels at that age. Finally, he found a little pouch, and in it a small medallion with an emblem. If anyone had seen his grey eyes at that moment, they would have noticed his schock. But the others had grown impatient, and were looking at the landscape and walking about. They had concluded that nothing out of the ordinary would be uncovered. He slipped the pouch into his pocket without anyone noticing, smiled and schook his head. “As far as I can tell, she is of wealthy kin, but I can say nothing more.” The others sighed, and they all rode to the house of wandering Hilde the very next morning. Four horses with the elders of the village climbed the paths to her farm. They found fires burning, food cooked, clothes hanging out to dry. When they saw the child stumble towards a smiling Hilde, they all sighed and shook their heads in dismay. A few evenings later Thor’s wagon thundered above the mountain, his lighetning split the sky over the valley below. Then there was heavy rain, which dripped from leaves and made stones and paths slippery. But then there was quiet, total silence as a slow fog drifted in from all sides. In that fog there was suddenly the sound of a horse, and solitary cloaked rider made his was to the merchant’s house over the mountain pass. In Norway, sea gulls – the white emissaries – drift in from the endless ocean on summer breezes. As the autumn chill and darkness descend from the mountains, however, they vannish. In their place murders of crows settle upon moist fences and thatched roof tops, greeting visitors with black blinking eyes. When the rider reached the merchant’s house, the gates and shutters were therefore secured and only distant caws were heard. The traveler dismounted, knocked on the door, which creaked open releasing a slit of light. The old merchant then appeared, and bid the stranger enter. Having dispatched the child’s pouch with a messenger some days earlier, the merchant was expecting somone to come. But when he saw the rider remove his clothes his heart froze and his eyes filled with tears. Before him stood Frey, the king’s beautiful sister – and his most feared assassin. “Your highness!” he exclaimed, and immediately went to fetch his best food and drink. Frey, although fourty winters, was a rank darkhaired woman with gleaming eyes. His hands shook as he served her. The story of Frey was well known among those who travel. She had been married three times, and each time she had failed to produce offspring – and blamed her husband. Every time she had sought the help of her brother the king, who each time lured the men to their deaths so that she might marry again. The third time, however, the king had told his sister: “Frey, three good men have met their end because you are barren. Three old mothers have wept not knowing why their son had perished. Honor now demands that you pay me back.” So it was the Frey, in the service of her brother, wielded her charm, exploited her good looks and made men lower their guards, only to plunge her long dagger in their hearts while they were sleeping. “You have guessed why I have come?” she said looking at the merchant. He lowered his gaze and sighed. “Yes” “Now, tell me the story of how the pouch was found” “There is a local woman called wandering Hilde who now mothers the child…” “Wandering Hilde? Does this name have any significance? Is she not a local woman?” A sudden thought came upon the old merchant, a weak glimmer of hope. He excused himself, complained about a bad back and took a seat on the other side of the table. “It is important, Your Highness, that you know all that there is to know” “Yes, naturally” The old merchant then told the legend of wandering Hilde, and in as many strong words as he could elaborated on her character. He described her lantern climbing the hillside in the evening, and how her shadow moved from door to door after dusk. But, he had no hope that anything would make any sort of difference. The woman before him, gorgeous and black-haired as he was, was known as the coldest and most calculating creature ever seen. So, he finished his story, got up and pointed out the window. “The light you see up there, Your Highness, marks the house where wandering Hilde now lives.” He felt Frey approaching him from behind, her cold breath streamed over his shoulder as her gaze followed the direction of his finger. She then whispered: “Thanks for the story, old man” And then she opened the door and melted into the night. Frey was not in a hurry. She walked her horse slowly along the path under the light of a bleak crescent. She made sure that not many people saw her. But it would have made no difference if they did. At foot of the hillside, she dismounted and then climbed on foot untill she stood hidden behind trees at the edge of wandering Hilde’s farm. There she stood for a while, and saw a fire flicker through an open window. A young girl giggled. A long silvery dagger was then unsheathed, and human form slipped quietly to the outside wall. One of the oak shutters had been closed, and in it there was a hole. Frey then placed her eye to the opening and peered inside. Wandering Hilde, an unusually plain woman, was standing in front of a bucket of water cleaning some cloth. In the background there was a loom, and in the corner of the cramped room stood a straw padded bed. That is where the child sat smiling, and dangling her feet. Wandering Hilde was very preoccupied. At one point she realized that she she needed more water, and reached for her bucket. She made her way towards the door, which slowly swung open releasing a warm and damp stream of light into the night. Wandering Hilde did not see Frey in the shadows behind her, with her dagger raised. Frey was about to enter the room, and kill the child when something unexpected happened. Hilde sang. A very slow lullaby to calm the child. She did not look back, but the sudden voice caught Frey by surprise and she withdrew back into the dark. There she stood for a moment, sweating and shivering, not knowing why. Moments later Hilde returned, closed and locked the door, and Frey felt the tremendous solitude of the universe suddenly fall upon her shoulders as it slammed shut. She felt dizzy, and looking up at the stars, that enormous multitude of distant lights were all staring at her. The icemaid fled. First to the trees, then to her black stallion and finally to the merchant’s house. There she demanded a room and left orders not to be disturbed. A volva had once told Frey that when a woman of a certain age climbs to a high mountain pond, and looks down upon her reflection in the water under the northern light, she can see herself the way she could have been. That night, as many other nights, the Arora Borealis twisted and turned like a celestial serpent above. Frey saw this from her window, and immediately asked the merchant whether there was a mountain pond nearby as she needed to brew a magical potion. The old man then told her that four hundred meters up the road, just above the treeline, not far from the mountain pass, there was such a pond. Frey then proceeded in the direction she was given. After walking quietly through the night, her lantern swinging back and forth, her thick cloak sometimes pulled by sudden gusts, she arrived at her destination. It was dark, and the opposite bank of the pond lay shrouded in mist. But on her side, the water shimmered quietly by the moss. This was indeed mirror enough to consult the Gods! As she peered into the water she was at first releaved. There was nothing there, only her own familiar face. She smiled, shook her head. She had been needlessly worried. But then she heard a rustle in the trees. She grabbed her dagger fearing an ambush. Then she spotted a black bird against the night sky, and heard the omnious cry of a raven. Her heart froze, the dizziness returned. She noticed that her feet were soaked, and as she again looked into the water her vision seemed blurred. Who was the shadow in her reflection? For a brief moment she thought she made out wandering Hilde in the ripples. It was just a brief sensation, a palpitation in the surface, but it was overwhelming enough to make her walk back to the old merchant.There she asked for provisions, saddled up her horse and returned to her brother, the king. Ten moons later, ten riders crossed the mountain pass. A herald preceded them summoning the villagers to the hall. Eight strong and grim warriors, all wearing long swords and crossbows, then surrounded the building, and two cloaked nobles entered to consult with the elders. There was murmur inside, the men looked at each other with questioning eyes and there was much speculation about what was about to happen. As the two visitors emerged into the light falling from a shaft into the center of the room, they saw that Frey and her brother, the king, stood before them. Then the brother raised his hand, ordered silence and spoke thus: “Villagers, I am your lawfull king, and I have come among you tell you that I have heard the story of wandering Hilde from my sister. I thought long and hard about it, but did not know what to do. I then fell asleep, and in my dream I saw the many mothers who have cried during our long war. A voice then came upon me saying “Enough!”. I woke from my delirium in a pool of sweat, and walked over to my window for air. I then found a raven purching on my sill.” At this news of this omen, there was much alarm. The villagers were anxious. “It is therefore my decision as king that no harm should ever befall the child while wandering Hilde lives, and that this outsider be treated as one of your own for that period. I have come to you in person to ask you to pay allegiance and swear this to me upon one-eyed Odin himself.” The men of village were obliged to do as any lord demanded. But they needed little persuasion because the king before them was missing an eye himself. The villagers gave their oaths and made their promises, and the king then told them of the orphan’s true linage and what had become of her family. Then the king and his sister left, and they never saw either of them again. Some years later, news reached the village that he had perished when his horse fell through the ice one winter when he was crossing the fjord. His son, Harold the fair-haired, was also a just man. But the son’s mind and ambition were always focused elsewhere, and the little cluster of houses in the remote valley was forgotten. There is moss on the old gathering hall in the village. It has been there throughout living memory. The cracked log walls, slimy in rain, were dry, brown and crisp in summer evenings. On such days, the smell of pine, the crackling of fires and the clanking of a hammer on anvils sounded from the nearby houses. Children laughed – as much as children then were allowed to laugh. Wandering Hilde was not a strict woman, and when she commanded Gudrun, as she had named her adopted daughter, she made sure that her voice was always accompanied by a twinkling eye and a smile. The elders of the village sometimes arrived at the hall robed in sheepskin, looking grey and solumn. It was clear that whatever they were up to, it merrited the raising of voices and the shutting of doors. Only rarely was there an envoy from afar. Then, of course, there was music, mead and minstrels reciting long poems. Occasionally, young Gudrun tried to peer through a crack when the door was open. But she was short of height and never saw much. The heavy wooden door always creaked on its rusty hinges and closed that world from her. Eventually, she gave up, and started doing what other young girls did, learning her womanly chores, preparing herself for that day when a man might arrive to take her away. When she had experienced six winters with her new mother, one of the men appeared in the doorway of the great hall one humid afternoon in autumn and invited her in. She could hardly believe it. As she entered, she saw walls draped with red and blue cloth, and small divinities of carved oak, and barrels of drink. At the summit of the room sat a stern elderly man, and around him children gathered. He told stories of a horrific king, who had murdered his three sons. The stories were full of drama, and all the boys smiled. She realized that the man often looked at her as he recounted his tales. And somehow she did not get a friendly impression of him. His pupils were cold. The stories, however, involved many things she did not know about the village, about the kingdom, and the world beyond the crest of the great mountain. It was not her place to ask impertinent questions. Like all the other children her imagination was captivated by sea voyages, armies and battles in far flung places. This seance became a monthly feature in the calender of the village young. And on all occasions, it would end the same way. “Do you see the golden amulet on that wall?” the man would say and point at what seemed like a holy relic on a shelf. “Who does that belong to?” he would ask. “The Beast King!” the children would shout in unison. And then they would all get up, and return to their chores. Gudrun would be full of excitement, and run her mother’s side to share her new stories. But mother would always ignore her, and declared that those lies were unfit for women, and suited only for boys, and that the best thing she could do was to avoid the evil geezer and his yarns alltogether. Her mother was so in earnest about this that eventually Gudrun stopped sharing her fantasies. In stead, she would sit quietly on a mossy stone, and look down upon the valley below, her thoughts soaring over the landscape like a seagull yearning for an ocean. Stories would always stir her soul, and she began dreaming of a life of her own – the great adventure that would come with independence. But no suitors appeared on Gudrun’s doorstep, and no local boy ever showed an interest in her, and the seasons passed as she flourished into a tall and rank red-haired woman – strong, intelligent and soft-hearted. Often she would bring food for the elderly, and she would clean and do things, as if she were a servant. And she would share of her food with passing strangers, and she would try to follow the example of her mother who had saved her all those years ago. In fact, so many years had passed that whatever preceded the life she now had – whatever it might have been – had vanished into a haze. And there was no way to get it back once it had gone. Old Hilde herself had found the company that was missing from her former years, her evening fires were indeed continously stoked, but age and new worries quickly colored her brows white, and the faint sun and the northern breeze left lines on her forehead. And her steps slowed with each winter, until she moved about like a wise hag with a cane. “Dear Gudrun”, Hilde stammered from her bed one day. The shifting lights from the fire made her dying eyes shine almost magically. “Come to my side, daughter!” Gudrun got up and moved next to her mother. She lifted a skin and placed it over her mothers feet. “Gudrun, I am soon departing this world”. “No, mother, do not give up” “I am old, I feel it coming. The winters weigh heavily on my bones, I cannot carry water. That is when my own mother died.” “Yes, mother.” “I am worried about what will become of you.” “Do not worry about me, mother. I have friends, and I have work at our neighbor’s farm.” “No, child. You do not have friends. When my body is cold, you must leave me unburied, and sneak out of the valley before anyone notices” “What do you mean?” At that very moment, there was a knock on the door, and her mother waved the daughter to the side. Gudrun immediately understood that private matters would be discussed, and went for a stroll along the valley in which she had grown up. She strolled by the clear river, and climbed to the shimmering pond. She even made her way to a crest above the pass, and studied her village from a high vantage point. And she spied passed distant white peaks, and imagined an endless expanse of water. She returned in the evening mist, and noticed a throng of neighbors by the well outside her house. Her brows dropped and eyes teared up as she approached. What she had dreaded had now come to pass. The men seemed to block her, and she found it difficult to penetrate the crowd. Eventually, she fought her way in, and saw her mother lifeless in her bed, her grey gleaming eyes open, staring skywards. Gudrun looked away, and placed her face in her palms. When she glanced up, she noticed the familiar face of wise Astrid. At first she was relieved. But then she saw that wise Astrid’s wrinkles seemed petrified. Her wool-covered figure, normally so crooked, seemed strangely erect, and there was an uncompromising determination in her narrow chin. “Be gone, spawn of Loke!”, wise Astrid whispered and spat before Gudrun’s feet. Gudrun ran out the door, only to feel a man’s fist in her face. She tumbled to ground and got up, and fled into the stable to Alas, her white mare. She mounted as quickly as she could and gallopped down the road in a cloud of dust. After a few minutes she glanced back and saw her childhood home vanish behind the pines. She pulled her reigns, and her horse neighed as she halted. She then dismounted and sat down in the grass to cry. But no tears came. There was simply too much at the same time, and she had no idea what had come over her old friends. But, a life may change with the snap of fingers, only a cold stone will move with the ages. Whether this was fear, sorrow or confusion did not matter, for soon there was trampling of hooves and angry male voices. She decided to mount her horse in a futile dash for the mountain pass. Even in a that humid evening, dark-green branches drooped over her path, casting distinct shadows. And she thought she heard the distant cries of many ravens, one over the other, until they combined into a primordial laughter. And thus it was that Gudrun was ambushed by a crowd of former friends at the mountain pass, torn from her old white mare, stabbed hundreds of times, and her decapitated head placed on a pole. This was done because she was the youngest daughter of the worst man that had ever lived – even if her lineage had been kept from her until the day of her death. In olden times, the word of a king was all that prevented a smiling neighbor from ending your life. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureLewis Carroll, who wrote Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass, was, in private life, a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford named Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He latinized Lutwidge to Ludovicus or Lewis and Charles to Carolus or Carroll, and, under this name, produced the first Alice book in 1865 and the second in 1872. He produced other books as well – mostly on difficult mathematical subjects. Queen Victoria, enchanted by the Alice books, asked for all of Mr Carroll’s publications and was bewildered by the delivery of treatises on trigonometry and the binomial theory. Lewis Carroll was also the first of the great photographers, and his studies of children – especially of little Alice Liddell, who was both the heroine and the first reader of the two great books – have a charm and a mastery of technique envied by the snappers of today. He never married, he was deeply and innocently religious, he liked to be cut off from the dangerous outside world. He was happy to be enclosed by the walls of an Oxford college and to tell stories to the little daughter of Dr Liddell, the great Greek scholar. But the publication of the two Alice books brought him fame. There was something in the adult imagination and yet it pleased, and continues to please, children. Carroll was a greater man than he knew. Listen to an imaginative dramatization about how Alice in Wonderland was written, from 1937. Both the Alice books are fantasies, aspects of the love of nonsense which was prevalent in England in the Victorian age. There was no nonsense in the rest of the world. When, in the early years of the twentieth century, France began to discover the delights of nonsense, this was called surrealism, and it was regretted that the British were too old-fashioned to produce surrealists in the staid age of Victoria, and of these perhaps Lewis Carroll was the greatest. Surrealism consists in destroying the logic of ordinary life and substituting a kind of logic of the unconscious mind. Alice’s adventures take the form of dreams in which bizarre things happen, but these things are based on a more serious approach to language than we can permit ourselves in waking life. By language I mean, of course, the English language in which Carroll wrote; many of his dream-jokes are impossible to render into other tongues. If there is an insect called a butterfly, it seems dreamily logical to have a bread-and-butterfly, and Carroll’s illustrator, Tenniel, draws us one of these. The flower known as a dandelion is a dandy lion, hence it can roar. There is a school in which the lessons get shorter every day: the lessons “lessen”. If your watch stops, the dreamworld says that time has stopped. The watch of the Mad Hatter and his friends the March Hare and the Dormouse has stopped at teatime, so they must go on taking tea forever. One of the characters who appears in the looking-glass world is Humpty Dumpty, who is a talking egg. His name not merely describes him: it is him (or he). An egg has a hump above and a dump below. He is the most dangerous, and yet the most persuasive, philosopher of language imaginable. He says “There’s glory for you”, and he explains that “glory” means “a fine knockdown argument”. Alice protests, but Humpty Dumpty says “It’s a question of who is to be master, you or the word.” Words, in other words, can mean what we want them to mean or else what the logic of dreams wants them to mean. Their normal everyday meaning doesn’t apply when we pass through the looking-glass. Alice’s world is a world full of eccentric English Victorians disguised mostly as animals. Like real grown-ups they can be very rude or pompous to a child like Alice, but in her dreams Alice can answer back without being punished for her effrontery. She is temporarily living in a kind of Garden of Eden, in which total liberty seems to be possible – in Wonderland, Alice can change her shape and size merely by drinking from a bottle that says DRINK ME – but liberty is circumscribed not by notions of right and wrong but by mad logic. In the songs she hears or sings herself this mad logic seems to disappear, but there is substituted for it the spirit of parody, which implies an existing logic in the waking world. Alice knows very well a song that goes: Twinkle twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are, Up above the world so high Like a diamond in the sky. This becomes: Twinkle twinkle little bat, How I wonder what you’re at, Up above the world so high, Like a teatray in the sky. Why bat? Why teatray? For that matter, why is a raven like a writing-desk? We feel that if we dig deeply enough we shall find our answers, but there is no time for digging, except for apples. If, in French, potatoes are pommes de terre, they are apples in the earth, and digging is quite in order. It is the very English eccentricity of the denizens of Wonderland and the Looking-Glass world that endears them to us. The White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts, the White Knight, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, marvellously drawn by Tenniel, are also very fully characterized by Carroll. They speak as we would expect them to speak, and they are full of an appalling self-will and vigour. But the men are less vigorous than the women. It is a child’s world of petticoat government in which the women – mothers, sisters, governesses – are near and magisterial, as well as wantonly cruel, while fathers are more distant, nicer, and busied with their own eccentric affairs. But finally the appeal of the Alice books is to the creative imagination, by which space and time can become plastic and language itself diverted from the everyday course of straightforward communication. There is a strong poem, which Humpty Dumpty kindly explains to Alice, that sums up the possibilities of the dreaming world. It is called “Jabberwocky” and it begins: Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe. All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe. “Slithy” is both slimy and lithe, to gyre is to gyrate, to gimble is both to gambol like a lamb and to turn like a gimlet or corkscrew. Humpty Dumpty calls these “portmanteau words”, because, like portmanteaux, several things can be crammed into them. James Joyce saw the possibilities of this Jabberwocky language and, in his great novel Finnegans Wake, which presents an adult, not a child’s dream, he used the technique. What, with Carroll, began as a joke ends, in Joyce, as the most serious attempt ever made to show how the dreaming mind operates. But we leave it to the psychologists and literary critics to find in the Alice books great profundities and profound ambiguities. The Freudians have seen sexual symbols in them, which Carroll’s innocent conscious mind could not be aware of, and the Marxists have seen images of social tyranny and revolt. We are wisest if we become children again and use the books to recapture a lost innocence. We must learn to identify ourselves with a girl in a Victorian frock whose hair is long and golden and whose manner has the self-assurance of a product of the Victorian ruling class. To be honest, Alice is not a very nice little girl. She is far too sharp and bossy and proud. She lacks humility, but – and this is an aspect of the British imperialist spirit – she also lacks fear. It requires great courage, at the trial of the Knave of Hearts, with the Queen shouting “Off with her head!”, for her to cry: “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!” and to see the chaos of the mass pasteboard that, a minute ago, was an imperialist society whirling about her head. She is transported to mad colonial territories and retains something of her sanity. She is very British and very Victorian, but she is also admirably and universally human. Listen to The NBC University Theater version of Alice in Wonderland, from 1948. This abridged version of the article by the British novelist Anthony Burgess in the Unesco Courier (June 1982) was published online at the UNESCO website under a creative commons license: CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyIn 1909, Benito Mussolini was a left-wing editor of an Italian newspaper. His readers loved his serialized novel about illicit love at the top of the Catholic church in the 17th century. His book, The Cardinal’s Mistress (1910), became a bestseller. Later, when he shifted his political affiliation, marched on Rome and became dictator, he banned his own quite embarrassing sentimental yarn. This ensured the interest of the press, and it was published in English in 1929. Below you can read excerpts and some reviews, and find a link to the whole novel, which is available for free online.“Emanuel, the last, had the Maecenisni and the prodigality of the lords who governed the Italian cities in the dawn of the Renaissance. He squandered his wealth, since in him the race would be extinguished and the Principate left without an heir. Of what use to save money in anticipation of a future which would never be? It was better to live without worrying. Rejoice and forget. Then for twenty years the passion of love had seized him with such volurpe that he cursed the Principate and despised the purple of the cardinalate.He loved Claudia.This relation was universally known and for the most part condemned and regarded as a serious sin. “ “Emanuel had rejected them all. He rejected the intervention of great princes and sovereigns. He desired instead to give her in marriage toVincent Particella, son of the Councillor Ludovico, a young man of most noble qualities. But Filiberta loved, with a love that was profoundly reciprocated, the Count Antonio di Castelnuovo. From this arose the quarrel with the uncle who perhaps dreamed of finding in the house of Particella the heir of the Principate. Finally he sent her into virtual imprisonment in the Convent of the Holy Trinity. “ “Phthisis had emaciated Filiberta’s countenance and a cadaverous pallor had taken the place of the rose glow of first youth, but the eyes, which had become deeper, preserved all their passionate intensity.The eyes were fixed immovably on one point. The girl’s disordered hair fell over the pillow. Her hands lay underneath the covers, beneath which her body was indicated by a scarcely visible line.Emanuel dared not speak. The sight of Filiberta dying had turned him to stone. He was the person solely and uniquely responsible for her miserable end. He had had her imprisoned, yielding perhaps to the threats or the prayers of Claudia. He had kept her imprisoned, caring not for the protests of the people or for the prayers of her true lover. He had deprived his niece of the sun, and above all he had violated the instinct of her heart by seeking to marry her to a man whom she did not love and could never love.Emanuel Madruzzo must now eat of the fruit of his obstinacy Before him lay the innocent victim. Remorse clutched his heart. He could not succeed in calming himself with illusory hopes..” The novel is available as a free download from the Internet Archive Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureHappy new year to all the listeners of historyradio.org! We have collected some of the darker stories in our blog and radio stream, and published them in a free ebook. It will be much easier to read, on any device you may choose. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyby John Llewelyn Rhys (1911-1940) WHEN the Old Man came into the ante-room the young officers began to rise in their chairs, but he waved them back with an impatient gesture. It was warm and comfortable in there and the tenor of idle chatter continued. One could hear the crackle of a newspaper page and the sound of bidding from the four who were playing a Chinese game in the corner, their minds apparently intent on the little walls of white blocks on the table before them. ‘ Beneath the Wing-Commander’s arm were a number of files. On the outside of the files was a map. Robert recognised its shape and his heart kicked inside him. And now every pilot in the squadron was watching the senior officer, . watching him without movement of head, watching him while seeming to read, watching’ him while crying ‘Three Characters.’ The Old Man nodded, first at one, then another, and finally at Robert. Silently they rose to their feet, leaving their circles of friends, their reading, their Chinese game, and filed into ‘the neighboring room. The Wing-Commander stood by the grand piano waiting for them to gather about him. 1 IE looked suddenly older, Robert thoughts Now his hair, shone with grey, new lines emphasised the hardness of his features. But his voice was unchanged, harsh, imperious. ‘Gentlemen, the show’s tomorrow.’ He paused and looked ‘slowly at the circle of pilots. . . ‘The target, you know. Here’s the latest from Intelligence and a few other little details I want you to know.’ ? Robert heard his instructions and memorised them, with an ease born of practice, but the words seemed meaningless rattling like hail on the roof of his mind. ‘Any questions?’ But they were all old hands, and no naive youngsters among them wanted to make themselves heard. ‘Well … good luck! I know you’ll put up a good show.’ His voice was suddenly shy. ‘I wish they’d let me come with you.’ They went back to the ante-room, went on talking, reading, playing the Chinese game. Robert sat down by a friend. ‘If anything,’ Robert’s voice was quiet as be flipped the pages of a magazine, ‘if anything were . .] . to slip up . .; . tomorrow, would you attend to the odd detail?’ ‘Of course, old boy.’ ‘Tomorrow?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Tough show?’ ‘Tough enough.’ It was almost day as Robert walked over to Flights with the Squadron Leader, and cold, with the half light lying dead on the roofs of the camouflaged hangars and the wind sock napping drearily on its pole. Mechanics were beginning to start up the motors which clattered protestingly to life, back-firing and shuddering on their bearers. ‘Looks like a good day, sir?’ The leader of the raid looked up, then kicked his heel into the turf. ‘Yes; hope this frost holds off. I hope to hunt next week.’ When Robert got to his machine only the starboard engine had been started. Impatiently he watched -the efforts of the crews. If only they’d get that engine running, he thought, if only they’d get it running. He, went up to the fitter, ‘You haven’t over-doped?’ ‘ No, Sir. She’ll go now.’ Still she refused to start. He climbed up the ladder into the cock. ‘Got your throttle setting right?’ ‘Yes, sir,’ said the corporal, ‘she’ll start in a minute.’ The second pilot was inside, busy at the navigator’s table. ‘All set?’ Robert asked. ‘Bombs, petrol, and everything hunkey-dorey, sir,’ the sergeant answered. If only they’d start that engine, he thought. If only they’d get it going and we could take off. At last the motor roared to life, and be climbed into his seat, ran up the engines, pulled up the ladder and waved away the chocks. As he waited on the aerodrome, his airscrews throwing long flickering shadows, he kicked the heavy rudder violently from side to side. Where were the others? Where were the others? They would be late off the ground and there would be a row. Then he glanced at his watch, and found to his surprise that it was five minutes to his zero hour. And now the other machines were taxiing towards him, huge, heavily laden monoplanes, grim against the dawn, moving fast over the close cut turf, beating down dean thick lines through the white frost. He glanced down at the controls, felt the various cocks, checked the cylinder head temperatures, the hydraulic and brake pressures. Then, when all was ready, he pushed open the throttles, the noise increasing till it filled the long, narrow compartment, beating mercilessly upon his ears, drowning the screams of the hydraulic gear. She was heavy with full petrol and a belly full of bombs, but as he felt her becoming airborne he brought the wheel gently back and she bumped up into the air. From time to tune Robert switched on his microphone and spoke to each gunner in his turret. They were alert and cheerful, and behind him the second pilot worked at his check navigation. Sometimes they saw fishing boats whose crews waved frantically, and minesweepers busy in their deadly task, and once a convoy with destroyers like sheep dogs on its flanks. The weather was fine, with high lumps of cumulus, and they began to climb. In a little while the second pilot came forward and held up eight fingers, Robert nodded. Eight minutes. He felt cold inside, his teeth were shattering, he wished they were in the thick or It, and grinned at his companion. The target came into view, a smudge on the horizon. The leader began to give his orders over the radio, and they started a big circle so as to attack from out of the sun. As they came up the sky filled with anti-aircraft fire. The second pilot had switched on his microphone and Robert could hear him jeering at the enemy gunners, for the shooting was poor, though some of the bursts were un comfortably close. They came over the target and released their bombs. Robert watched the sky unceasingly for enemy fighters, wondering if any aircraft were lurking in its glare waiting for the anti-aircraft to cease before diving to the attack. The second pilot was busy with the camera recording the hits far below, whistling as he worked. A burst of Archies off the port wing tip made the machine rock violently. Soon they were out of range of the ground guns, and Robert saw one of the other machines break formation ‘and rock its wings. He spoke to the gunners. ‘Keep your eyes skinned. There’s a fighter about somewhere.’ Then he saw it, a lone enemy machine, a single seater fighter with square wing tips. It came up quite slowly, lazily, lying on to the tail of one of the bombers. It was so simple a manoeuvre that it might have been a pupil on his circuit at a flying training school. As it turned off, short jabs of black smoke jerked themselves from the back cockpit to the bomber. The fighter turned slowly on to its side. First smoke, then flames poured from its engine, splashing down the fuselage. In the bright sunshine, against the blue sea, the machine fell slowly, twisting, turning, diving. ‘Here they come!’ said the second pilot; and Robert saw that the sky seemed to be filled with fighters. They broke up and began to attack. Robert watched two circling him from the front. As they turned the flank his rear-gunner switched on his microphone and Robert could hear him swearing. Tracer from the enemy streamed overhead, curved in a graceful trajectory, and dropped out of sight. Then the gunner was silent Robert heard the rattle of his guns and his voice, jubilant ‘Got him, sir.’ ‘Good. Keep you eyes skinned. Be patient,’ Robert said. Now a twin-engined aircraft came up on the beam, accompanied by one of the smaller fighters, which attacked from the rear. A burst of fire shattered the roof over the second pilot’s head. The front gunner coolly brought his guns to bear. The twin was an ugly brute, the first Robert had seen with extended stabilisers on the tail. He was frightened now. His mouth dry, his hands wet inside the silk lining of his gloves. Attack after attack came up, filled the air with tracer, turned lazily away. The middle gunner brought down another fighter before he was hit in the leg. Robert sent the second – pilot back- in his place. One burst of machine-gun fire shattered half the instrument panel, sent a shower of broken glass over his knees. Darkness filled his eyes, but in his mind he could still see the face of the enemy gunner, red and foolishly grim, as he fired from the rear cockpit of the fighter. The wheel went limp in his hands, the strain of months of war, the nag of responsibility, lifted from his consciousness… Then his vision cleared, and he – pulled the aircraft level. To his surprise the fighters had vanished, and at his side was the Squadron Leader’s machine, which he thought he had seen go down. He began to sing, thumping his hands on the wheel. They were separated from the others and flew in tight formation, the Squadron Leader turning his head from time to time and grinning and doing a thumbs up. They lost height till they were just above the sea, their patterned shadows sliding effortlessly over mile after mile of water desolation. On crossing the coast their senior officer altered course for base. They flew at a few hundred feet over the sleepy countryside, their shadows now vaulting hedge and haystack. As he looked, first to the north at the black rich earth of the fens, marshalled by dykes, then south to the loveliness of Suffolk, each feature of the country fitted into its place in his mind, each town he knew, each stretch of river. How familiar, he thought. How well I know it all. Truly, England is my village. Soon the little lake, shaped like an elephant’s trunk, appeared and they dived low over the hangars, then broke away, dropped their wheels, and came to land. There were no other machines about and the camp seemed strangely deserted. A little later they walked into the mess. It was warm and comfort able in there and the words and phrases of the many conversations jumbled themselves into a haze of sound. At the table by the fire there was an empty chair at the Chinese game. When Robert saw the other players he stopped in his stride. There was Nails, who got his on the first show, and Dick, who went down in flames, and Thistle, his second pilot and Badger, who was lost in the North Sea in December. ‘Come on’ Badger said. ‘We’re waiting for you.’ ‘But I thought …’ Robert said. ‘I thought …’ A VOICE from a distance interrupted him. A woman’s voice. There were no women in the room. Then the room and the men in it were gone. Robert was lying in a bed,, in a long, dim chamber With other beds up and down its length. The face of the woman whose voice he had heard was looking at him. . It was an *frg»foh face, plain and pleasant, framed severely in a familiar headdress. ‘What was it you thought?’ the nurse was saying to him. ‘You’re all right, you know. Home in England. The second pilot brought you in.’ Robert stirred fretfully in the bed, but the pain made him lie still again. The nurse put a hand to his bandaged head to quiet him. He closed his eyes and thought of the room he had left just a moment ago. He tried to will himself back into it, to be with Badger and the others. It bad seemed so hospitable’ there, so farm, so safe, so full of friends, so free of pain. He couldn’t reach it. Almost . . . Almost . . . Not quite. He couldn’t What h~d happened to him — that he had been there with them, the brave, admired dead, and come away and couldn’t get back to them again? In pain and bewilderment be thought: ‘I wish I knew— I— wish— I knew From The Mail (Adelaide) 22 February 1941 Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyThe earth is my homeland and humanity is my family. Gibran Gibran Khalil Gibran (1883- 1931) left Lebanon for the United States in 1895 when he was twelve years old, but three years later he returned to Beirut to study Arabic. Thus 1903, the year in which he went back to Boston, may be regarded as the date when he began nearly a lifetime’s residence in North America, where he divided his time between his studio in New York and his sister’s house in Boston. Gibran thus spent the first three decades of the twentieth century in one of the world’s major centres of “modern culture”, far away from his native land, itself a major world centre of “traditional culture”. Gibran’s emigration to the west was not due to personal or family reasons. It was part of a larger, more general movement in which Syrians and Lebanese migrated to Egypt and to the Americas, fleeing from the appalling conditions resulting from the decline of the Ottoman Empire around the end of the last century. The origins of this wave of migration lay in the suppression of freedom of expression and belief and in the series of famines, epidemics, wars and earthquakes that ravaged the Levant at the turn of the century. In earlier days successive waves of migration had been motivated by trade and the other maritime activities for which the people of Phoenicia had been famous since ancient times. The novel feature of the migration at the turn of the century was that the migrants associated trading interests with cultural aims. These Lebanese and Syrian émigrés laid the foundations of culture, journalism and the arts in Egypt, establishing publishing houses, theatres, cinemas and newspapers. The same phenomenon occurred, to vary ing degrees, in North and South America. Gibran himself tried his hand at business, alternately making and losing money, while Mikhayil N’aimi, as he confesses in his book on Gibran, worked as a commercial representative. Thus it was the quest for freedom of intellectual expression and economic opportunity that drove the intelligentsia of the Arab East to migrate in successive waves either to Egypt or to South and North America. All these men and women combined the trade of journalist, writer or artist with that of dealer in stocks and bonds. Trade, art and politics almost always went together in their lives and only in rare cases did one take precedence over the others. Gibran Khalil Gibran was one of those rare cases. Gibran’s life and works present a number of distinctive geatures. First of all, he was fully a child of his times. The first three decades of the twentieth century set the tone for the new age which Gibran did not live to see. It was a time of wholesale destruction that was also marked by an upsurge of activity in culture, art and science and by an attempt to experiment with visionary ideas that had risen from the ruins. These were the decades of the First World War, the first socialist revolution, the birth of Nietzscheanism and the spread of Freudianism. All these unprecedented occurrences had a strong influence on sculpture, poetry, painting, the novel and the theatre, shattering old forms and dictating new subject-matter. Gibran was immersed in his epoch, an actor not a spectator. His migration from Mount Lebanon to Boston may be seen as the journey of a prophet. When the Ottomans began their slaughtering in the Levant, all the intelligentsia of Syria (which then included the whole of the Fertile Crescent region) fled. For Gibran and a few others, the goal was a spiritual one. For them migration was a stage which would necessarily be followed by a return to the homeland. They did not go in search of refuge, exile, trade or money, but in search of a vision, following a circular path that necessarily ended where it began. The second feature that epitomizes the life and works of Gibran is that while he lived at a geographical distance from his native land, he maintained close links with it and with its history. Although distant from Lebanon, he was always strongly influenced by émigré Arab culture and the Arabic press, and remained in constant communication with his homeland. Geographical distance gave him a broader and deeper insight into Gibran’s “modernity” was the reverse side of his deep-rooted cultural identity; his migration was at once an inward and an outward journey. Gibran’s greatest creative achievement was, then, his own life within whose short span he was only fortyeight years old when he died the public and private dimensions were indistinguishable. His views on women, marriage and the clergy were not simply theoretical standpoints expressed in his writings and drawings but represented his practical views on life, love and religion. More than half a century after the death of Gibran we are beginning to understand the major importance of his book The Prophet (1923); we should not, however, fail to recognize the equal importance of his work Jesus, the Son of Man. In fact, the key to Gibran’s works lies in his attitude towards authority, whether represented by established tradition, prevailing convention, religious institution, social structure, economic system or foreign occupying power. The “movement” that grew out of Gibran’s life and art (drawing, painting and writing) was clearly founded by a man possessed of prophetic vision. And his founding of the “Pen League”, his defence of his country against the Ottomans, his long dedication to art in his New York studio and to literature in a secluded house in Boston were for him indissociable activities. His metrical verse and his free verse, his narrative prose and dialogues, plays and novels, all served that one vision. The forms these writings took grew naturally out of I am a traveller and a navigator, and each day I discover a new country in my soul. My friend, you and I will live as strangers to this life, strangers to one another and to ourselves, until the day when you will speak and I will listen to you believing that your voice is mine, until the day when Ishall stand before you, thinking that I am before a mirror. Gibran their subject-matter, for Gibran did not set out deliberately to modernize poetry and language. His constant concern, once he had discovered his life’s mission, was to express his “vision”. Was Gibran a Romantic when he wrote A Tear and a Smile? Did he become a symbolist with The Madman, The Forerunner and The Wanderer? Was he a philosopher in The Prophet, The Garden of the Prophet and The Earth Gods and a novelist in Spirits Rebellious and Broken Wings? Gibran’s life and death, his writings and works of visual art defy such classification to which, moreover, he was opposed throughout his life. He fought against all forms of pigeonholing, against all that would straitjacket thoughts and feelings. Throughout his spiritual journey, Gibran Khalil Gibran remained true to his vision and through his art and writings in the first three decades of this century he proclaimed his prophetic message. Ghali Shukri (1935-1998) was a renowned Arab literary critic educated at the Sorbonne. From The Unesco Courier, and published online at the UNESCO website under a creative commons license: CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO 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... [...]
short storyMy name is dr. John Smith, and I am – or rather was – a GP in a mid-sized town. I am about to retire, my own health is failing, and I wish to pass on some memories of a patient that really meant a lot to me. Of course, we had no private friendship, but I did talk to him in consultations and I bumped into him now and again in the street. At the time I had just turned fifty, the desperation and ambition of my midlife crisis had passed. I had packed up my leather jackets and my tight training outfits, and had accepted that I would remain in my small practice for the rest of my life. My wife had long since packed up her things and left, allegedly on the grounds of my ties to the male patriarchy, and my son had a pregnant girlfriend in the capital, far from his patronizing, though always well-meaning father. What remained for me then was my own mother, whom I visited every Sunday in her home, bringing various things that she needed from the shops. I also learnt that my only friend, Peter, my colleague at the practice, had been offered a wonderful job in the pharmaceutical industry with a huge pay, and would be transferring some of his patients who did not want a new GP that required lengthy travels to me. I was very sad that last day I saw him in our clinic, even though I knew he would always be there for me on the phone, and that I could visit him whenever I wanted. Work not be the same. As I went through the list of my new patients, I saw that most of them were old, including old Jacob, the subject of this story. At the time, however, he was one of many, and it is in fact because he was so typical that he has remained in my mind all these years. I first saw him a Wednesday in June, and he was a tall thin man in his mid eighties. His face was wrinkled like sun dried-leather, and his brows were bushy, but he had a modest, almost shy smile, and very intelligent eyes. He seemed surprisingly agile for a man his age. Since this was our first meeting, he told me something about himself. He was not an educated man by any means, he had been a fisherman, and then a truck driver, but he had also been on some ship ages ago. This man is an anachronism, I thought, how many old sailors are left these days? I listened to his chest, made examinations, did blood work, nothing unusual. He then got up and left, and the results were Ok when they arrived, which I told him the next time. It was not until August that year that he started complaining about pain and being short of breath, and I then sent him to the local hospital for further tests, knowing his age. At this time, I was feeling a little lonely privately, and I had decided to scan all my mother’s family photos, and restore them digitally. I had nothing to do when I was alone in my apartment, and this also gave me a subject on which to chat and reminiscence with my mother. She was more than delighted, and often looked at each photo with a nostalgic smile. Everything was tied to a story, and even though she had recounted all of these stories God knows how many times, I enjoyed hearing them again. Somehow, I was reminded about who I was, and where I had come from. And this knowledge was more powerful than my wife’s irrational, but long-anticipated departure or my son’s indifference. When I returned from these meetings, I felt that I had more energy in my work, and I spoke to the likes of old Jacob, and was more dutiful in the performance of my job. Once I asked Jacob whether he had anyone to support him during his old age, knowing that my mother at least had me. “Do you know my age?”, he asked. “Yes, but still…” “Everyone I know has long since left this world, and I have no children. You see as you grow older, you will notice that one by one witnesses leave you, one by one..” “Witnesses……?” “Yes, the people who was the life you once had. Who knew you while you still were a man about town and so on.” “I don’t think I have ever qualified for that description. I have been a nerd all my life. God knows I have tried…” “I was a very smooth operator in my prime”, he said with a very unexpected confidence in his gray eyes. As I looked at his face then, I tried to restore the man in my mind the way he had once been. If you straightened out his wrinkles, if you removed the bushy brows, if you corrected his back, and if you gave him a thick black mane, perhaps oiled, he would be a very handsome man! I shuck my head at the thought. But then I looked at him, and laughed. That was a very nice moment for the two of us. And then he left. That evening I went to the shop to get things for my mother. She was very particular about what she ate. Some people think picky eating is an eccentric and demanding cry for attention, but being a doctor I knew very well that the reason was related to bowel movements and stuff that most people feel uncomfortable discussing with others. So, I got her what she demanded. I arrived at the home around seven. Evening was falling, yet no stars were up. As I entered and walked down the white linoleum corridors towards the counter, I noticed at once something new in the glances from the nurses. As I placed my hands its surface, I knew that something had happened. My mother had a sudden heart attack, and had passed away very suddenly in the evening. It had been very quick, she had not suffered, they told me. But somehow that did not matter. I almost ran home, locked the door to my apartment, drew the curtains and cried. I then sent an email to work, and called in sick. In fact I did not leave my home for three days, when I was forced to get food from the store. I spoke to no-one, and I only called my son four days after my mother’s death. I have always been reluctant to burden my son with my own feelings and problems. I have always felt that parents should remain a rock in their children’s lives, and that part of being a parent is hiding those frustrations that one feels at work or elsewhere, and provide safety and security. After all, that is what remained in my own experience. Being a doctor I have dealt with the practicalities of funerals many times. But this time it was different. Going online and visiting what seems like a brochure of various coffins somehow seems perverse. “Special autumn sale!” “20% discount on our finest model!” And when you enter the store in person, and that slick salesman slides in front you with exaggerated sympathy, accompanied by words like “payment options” and “down payment”, it adds to a certain surrealism. And that surrealism is what remains of the person that you once were. I walked down the shop floor feeling the fabric and texture of coffin interiors, the smoothness of their varnish. Then I was overcome by grief and asked for the bathroom. I sat there for ten minutes, staring at the tiled floors. As I left, I had decided upon a model, and was about to wave to the salesman, when I saw him in what seemed like a very pleasant conversation with an elderly man. I heard laughter, the old man patted the young salesman on the shoulder. When the man turned, I recognized old Jacob. His eyesight was poor, I knew, and he hadn’t seen me at the far end of the shop. I withdrew into the corner, and saw him striding about the room touching the coffins one by one. “I will take this one,” he suddenly said. Then he produced his credit card, paid and brought up what seemed like a shopping list. He had a small pencil, and then then crossed out one item. Then he left. The whole scene had come so suddenly, that I quite forgot about my own purchase. The salesman approached me, but I stood completely stunned for a while. “I will be back tomorrow,” I said and made for the exit. It was late September, and there were leaves on the sidewalk. Old Jacob was three hundred meters down the road moving very slowly. I don’t know what came over me, but I followed him at a distance. 200 meters farther on there was a huge supermarket. He then vanished in a crowd, but I tracked him down in the milk section. There he noticed me and his face lit up with that shy smile of that former smooth operator. “Hello Jacob,” I said nervously, what are you doing here?” “Shopping!” he said, “I needed some things”. Then he lifted a liter of milk and placed it in his shopping cart next to a box of coffee. “That would be it!” he said. And then he brought out his list and his small pencil, and crossed out his items. And then he left. I never saw him again. by Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyBy Margie Harris, Mobs magazine 1930(Courtesy of John Locke. His collection of her stories is available from Amazon) A mystery night club queen, with a look of death in her eyes and a little black book filled with names . . . a steadily shorter list! eattle, Queen City of the Northwest, gleaming like a great, white jewel on rising ground overlooking Elliott Bay, is a city beautiful. There roses bloom the year around. There men and women live and love and die, far from the tenements and slums of the great Eastern cities.But in Seattle lies hidden one canker spot. It is the district below Yesler Way, which is the sole blot on the city’s fair escutcheon. There is to be found the last remaining trace of those other days when lumberjacks from the woods and miners from Alaska came whooping forth with gold-filled hands, demanding of Life those things of which they had been deprived.“Below Yesler” is evil, and of all the evil things within its purlieus, none is more depraved, more terrible in the minds of the decent and law-abiding than the underworld cabaret and speakeasy operated for nearly two decades by “Scar” Argyle. There gathered waterfront thugs, gangsters, racketeers, gunmen.Most fearsome of all, to the uninitiated, was its proprietor. His face was thoroughly repulsive. A great red seam led from the stiff hair above his left temple and down across the bridge of his nose. It ended at the right jawbone after creasing the cheek deeply. In healing it had drawn the flesh so that the mouth seemed cast in a permanent sneer. The right eye was so affected that half of the lower eyelid turned down, gleaming redly.That was Scar’s reminder that he once had double-crossed “Nigger George,” a piano player. True, Scar had seen to it that there was an early funeral in George’s personal social circle, but the razor slash had put a permanent end to whatever was delightful, either in countenance or disposition, of Argyle. Now he was a leering, gross mountain of fat. For hours he would sit, seemingly without movement, his piggish black eyes searching, always searching for new methods of vile profit. On a bright afternoon in March, Scar sat cursing his luck, his failing patronage and most of all the police of his precinct. Their increasing demands for graft and favors bade fair to turn his once prosperous business into a losing venture.Only that day he had received a shipment of liquor and had paid his “delivery charge” to the policeman on the beat without demur. Later he had sent to the precinct captain the usual weekly payment for protection. Now, within the last four hours, four sergeants had slipped in to see him.One had compelled him to buy four tickets for a police ball. The next had asked for two quarts of prime liquor “for the lieutenant.” Number Three asked for a couple of drinks and then borrowed five dollars.The fourth brought the crowning blow. With him came a stranger—a supposed friend. Scar had been bullied into cashing a twenty dollar check for this man. He tore it up after they left. Too many such had bounced back from his bank. Truly the lot of an underworld cabaret owner was trouble filled.The side door bell rang as Scar cogitated on his woes, and the doorman turned to say:“Lady to see youse, Scar. Good looker!”“Hell, let her in!” Scar almost spat the words. “Probably a hen cop with another touch; they’re all that have overlooked me this week.”His eyes brightened, however, as a modishly gowned, athletic appearing girl stepped through the door and looked unconcernedly about her. Few such had been there since the days of the gold rush. When her eyes encountered his, Scar beckoned. She walked to the table and took a place opposite him.“Pat Jennings told me to see you,” she said confidentially. “My name is Kate Dever. I’m on the lam from New York—witness in a gang killing, which means a year in the sticks for me. Jennings says you need a hostess to pep up your game; I need a job. Also I know my stuff, Big Boy, and the jack I can make for you will be nobody’s business. I’ll have to do it in my own way, though; no buttinskys.”As Argyle stared suspiciously at her, the girl dropped her coat from her shoulders and removed a close-fitting hat. Scar’s eyes lighted as a throat and shoulders a Diana might have envied, were revealed. He grunted in renewed admiration as the dim lights outlined a beautiful, resolute face and a frame of dark-red hair, well kept and bobbed in the latest mode.“Hell, kid,” Scar burst forth breathlessly. “Sure! You’re fixed fer life.”The tone, the gleam in his eyes, made his meaning all too clear. Kate Dever did not seek to evade his burning glance.“Yes?” she queried coldly. “You wouldn’t kid a little girl, would you, Scar? You think you want me? Then come and take me.”The man lurched to his feet with a speed surprising in one of his bulk and clawed at her in an awkward attempt to draw her into his arms. One hand fixed itself on her shoulder. Before he could do more, she sprang up, thrusting with both hands against his chest.Scar stumbled backward a step and the girl slipped out from behind the table. In her hand, seemingly juggled out of thin air, was a gleaming Spanish dagger, needle-pointed and with a blade almost paper thin. Scar eyed the knife; noted that it was held in the thrusting position—and that the point was aimed directly at his stomach. His arms dropped to his side in token of surrender.“What th’ hell do you think—?” he began thickly.Kate, smiling now, resumed her seat.“Oh, sit down, stupid,” she said quietly. “Sit down and buy me a drink. You had to learn it some time—and right at first is the best time. Remember this hereafter. I’m no man’s woman. Any man who puts his hands on me gets hurt. I know how to take care of myself morning, noon and night—also vacations. Now how about the job?”Scar had signaled for a waiter, who brought whiskey. Scar gulped down a huge portion. Kate poured a few drops in a glass with ginger ale and tossed it off.“My first and last drink in your place,” she said. “If I work here I’m served tea for whiskey, distilled water for gin and sparkling cider instead of what you call champagne. And Lord help the waiter who brings me anything else!” Here was a new type to Scar. A beautiful woman who dared to come to his own joint and flout him when the odds were all his way, would be an asset. He visioned the returning trade when the word went out through the underworld that the Argyle Club had a new hostess who could not be “made.”“You’ve got the job,” he said decisively. “Seventy-five a week and a piece of the profits over the first thousand. That’s about what I’m doin’ now.”“Big-hearted Scar!” Kate mocked him. “Hundred a week, five per cent of the gross—and I start tonight.”About to protest, Scar thought better of it and extended his hand for the underworld shake of acceptance. Instead, Kate turned sidewise, circled his arm with her left, caught the knuckles of his fist with her right and bent the member downward. Scar grinned. It was the gangster method of making the sucker loosen up from whatever he held.“Know your grapes, don’t you?” he chuckled. “Well, I’ve loosened for a yard and five per cent a week, so be here at eight. Wanna little advance?”Kate opened her purse and smiled. A wad of yellow-backed bills had been thrust in there loosely.“No, thanks,” she replied sweetly. “A nice old gentleman on the train attended to that for you. Somehow he got off at the next station; the conductor put him off. He tried to get into my berth.”“Onto all the games, hey?” Scar queried. “Now, what’s your deal?”“What are you using?” she countered, looking about at the small stage and the orchestra stand.“Pretty fair nigger string band, six dancin’ girls who double as drink grafters and cigarette girls, an’ a good boy hoofer. You sing, kid?”“Nor dance,” Kate replied. “I work from the floor; out where the money jingles and the saps need encouraging. Leave it to me, Big Fellow, and don’t mind later on if I make some changes.”Scar nodded perplexedly.“It’s O.K. by me, girlie,” he replied, “but leave Little Laura on th’ job if you can. She’s a good little guy—kinda fond of me. And by the way, kid, what’s your moniker? Got one?”Kate looked him squarely in the eye and said:“They call me ‘Cougar Kitty’—better let that spread around a little.”“She mountain lion, huh?” Scar mused. “Damn if they ain’t right.” Midnight in Scar’s cabaret was merely breakfast time in Gangland.Kate, resplendent in a gold sequin gown which cast forth points of light in every direction as she moved, sat chatting with Scar at a table near the orchestra. With them, snuggled close against the proprietor’s bulk, was the cigarette girl, Little Laura. She was a big-eyed, wistful child woman of the clinging type, but except when she looked at Scar, there was a hard little glitter in her eyes.Scar had said she was “kinda fond” of him. Strangely enough, Kate reflected, there seemed reason for the statement. Between the big-eyed girl and the gross flesh-mountain of villainy there existed some bond. When he spoke to the girl, Scar’s tone was gentle and as nearly affable as it could be. Laura was serious in her talk with him and actually seemed to enjoy his elephantine pawings.The grapevine telegraph of the underworld had carried the news of Scar’s new attraction. Already the tables had filled with a swaggering crew of gangsters, sleek haired, gorgeously dressed young gunmen, and here and there older men—cold of eye, and each seemingly determined to sit so as to face the door.Many brought their molls and, because a thug’s standing is measured by the appearance of his woman, they made a brave showing of costly garments and gleaming jewels. Only those older men, the square jawed poachers in the Land of Rackets, were alone. They hunted among the ranks of the hostesses and entertainers.Presently Kate caught Scar’s eye and nodded. He had his orders and when he lumbered to his feet and stopped the music, everyone became quiet.Scar was about to make a speech! Usually he contented himself with howling, profane comments from his chair by the orchestra.“Listen, guys and molls,” he rumbled. “Seattle ain’t so big as Noo York, but she’s just as lively, and when it comes to givin’ you the best in ent’tainment, Scar Argyle’s the boy to do it. From now on, the Argyle Club’s the live spot here. And I now takes pleasure in int’ducin’ to you Miss Kate Dever—knowed mostly as ‘Cougar Kitty,’ our new hostess.”Kate, self-possessed as her namesake in the home nest, walked to a place beside him and smiled brightly. Prolonged hand-clapping and a few cheers greeted her.“I am glad to be here,” she said, “and I want one and all of you for my best pals. Scar Argyle has given me the right to do what I please for your entertainment. The word hereafter is ‘Go as far as you like, as fast as you like, so long as you keep fairly quiet—and so long as you don’t get fresh with the new hostess.’ ”New applause burst forth and Kate nodded to the orchestra. Instantly a mad, jazzing dance number flared forth. Some derisive laughs had greeted Kate’s reference to herself and some of the bolder of the young cannons left their tables to gather around her.Scar was watching, fascinated. Kate dismissed the pleas of dance partners one by one, until Speedball Kane, a leader among the gunmen and handsome in a wild, boyish fashion, clasped her about the waist. He fell into a dance step and tugged. The smile never left her face. Suddenly her hands came up apparently to hold him off, but instead they caught both of his shoulders firmly. At the same moment she stepped forward with the speed of a striking reptile. She thrust her toe back of his left heel, then pushed him backward with all her surprising strength.Though he was a rough-and-tumble fighter trained on the docks, Speedball had not expected the reverse back-heel from a handsomely gowned night hostess. The backward thrust was too powerful, the fulcrum supplied by her foot too far below his center of balance to be resisted.The gangster crashed to the floor on his shoulders. A split-second later his head collided with the maple with a resounding thump. A roar of laughter followed. It stilled a few seconds later when the young tough failed to rise. Two of his friends moved toward him.“Leave him there,” Kate commanded coldly. “I want him to come to there so he’ll realize that he’s to keep his hands off me in future. I’m no better than he is—but I’m as good—and when I want a man’s hands on me, I’ll ask him to put them there.”Speedball stirred, blinked, dragged himself to his knees. Then his glance swept upward and encountered the gleeful eyes of Cougar Kitty. He shook his head and looked about. On every hand he saw the awe-stricken eyes of his friends. Instantly a dull red suffused his face. He gathered his muscles for a leap at the mocking girl before him.“Damn you—” he began. Then the words choked in his throat and his eyes went wide with surprise.Kate’s right hand was extended toward him. A dull ring of blued steel peeped out between her second and third fingers; the whole hand was tightening on something within her palm. Too well Speed knew what that meant.For Cougar Kitty was holding in her plump, beringed hand one of the dwarfed, vicious little plunger guns of Gangland. It was a mere ring of metal extending out of a firing chamber, back of which was a trip plunger which released the pin against a solitary bullet of heavy caliber.Speed could be forgiven for pausing. The one-inch barrel was trained directly on his forehead. A child could not miss at that distance. The crook teetered on his feet uncertainly. Then a girl’s voice cut the silence:“Slap the broad down, Speed,” it said. “Don’t spoil a good notion.”Kate smiled bleakly and waved Speed back to his place. Then came a muffled roar and gray smoke curled from between her fingers.She had fired the weapon into the floor as the best means of squaring Speedball against later accusations of cowardice. Everyone leaped up; all had some question to ask.Kate held the still smoking weapon above her head.“Sorry, boys and girls,” she said. “I hate to pull off rough stuff on our first evening together—but I had him covered—plenty. I had to let you know I meant it when I said: ‘Don’t get fresh with the new hostess.’ All right? Well, let’s play again.”She motioned to the goggling bandsmen to continue playing. Then, under cover of the opening notes, she walked straight to where Speedball was struggling into his light overcoat. He felt alone, disgraced in the eyes of the other gangsters and their molls. The red of shame colored his face, but about his mouth was the deadly white line which marks the killing rage in man. Everyone was watching openly. Kate moved as one who has decided on a definite course. Speed jerked his coat into place and clapped his hat down over his eyes. She was at his side now, hand extended.“Sit down, Speed,” she said in a tone intended for his ears alone. “If you go out now, you’ll leave these others laughing. Be nice and I’ll make it all jake for us both. Now shake hands like a sport and tell me it’s all right—even if you did start it.”Speed took her hand, shook it heartily and grinned. Too well he knew it was his only course. Unless there was more to add to the story, Gangland would be yelping taunts at him for months to come. Maybe, he reflected, he could turn the tables on this wise broad from New York if he was crafty.“I’m game; speak your piece,” he half whispered. “But don’t figure to start nothin’ more.”“Be your age,” she replied. “Now, listen, Speed, I’m starting a new racket here and I need at least one friend on whom I can depend. You made me tangle with you before your friends, but I didn’t ask you to. Now, we can be the best of friends, and at the same time I’ll show you how to get yourself some good out of it.“I’ve heard about you. They call you ‘Speedball’ because you drive the stickups and hijackers away so far and so fast, they have to wait ten minutes before they start to make an alibi. What?”Such tribute to his unerring efficiency at the wheel of a getaway car caused the young gangster to flush happily. Maybe here was a woman worth hanging about after.“No,” Kate went on as though reading his thoughts, “you don’t mean any more to me than any other man, but if you wish, I’ll let you be my Number One Pal. We’ll play around together and sometimes you can take me home—as far as the door.“What I want of you is to keep them off my back if things get rough—nothing more. If the others see us palling around together we’ll be accused of having fallen for one another. Now, say it. Want to play, or will you put on the funny hat and coat and go out and get yourself laughed at? First and last chance, boy.”“Sure, Kitty, I’ll play,” he answered, “just to square myself.”“Speedball and I are all made up ‘n’ everything,” Kate announced to the watching crowd. “And now I want you all to walk past here in line and shake hands with us both. Then we’ll all be the best kind of pals. Scar will buy a drink for the house, and I’ll show you the latest New York racket.”She was exerting herself now, putting into her simple little speech and almost childish plan of personal contact with each, all of the hard won personality she possessed. She let her eyes flicker toward Scar. He sat there, a contented mountain of evil, literally drooling over the manner in which she was earning the attention of his patrons. The idea struck the gangsters and their molls favorably. There was an instant rush to get into line. Speed fell into place beside Kate as the orchestra struck up a slow drag march. The head of the line moved forward. Kate had a bright smile, a word, a nod for each. One plump patron found himself being prodded in the ribs. Another laughed when Kate flicked his tie from under his vest. One pretty girl simpered when Kate whispered: “Gosh, kid! I’m jealous of you—you’re so darn lovely.”Scar came to his feet as the last of the line passed and bellowed for the drinks. Kate held up her hand for silence.“Wait, please,” she said. “Will the tall gentleman in dinner clothes, the one at the last table—you, handsome—; the girl with the black hair and the red dress; the man who left his hair at home but wore a horseshoe pin in his tie—and you, Mister Red Necktie—all please come forward?”The four responded somewhat sheepishly.“I want you to search my new pal, Speedball,” Kate said smilingly. “I think he’s turned dip. Look in his left, outside pocket.”Speedball did not wait to be searched. He felt in the pocket himself and gaspingly brought forth a watch, attached to which was a fine chain and gold key; a gold mesh coin purse wrapped in a handkerchief, a diamond stickpin and a thin, but costly, cigarette case.The crowd roared with laughter at Speed’s consternation. No other group could appreciate better what had happened. None had even a remote suspicion of the youth. He was a known gunman and gangster, and as such, he looked down on the dip as dips in turn look down on doormat thieves.Kate waited until there was a measure of silence.“That’s one of the New York night club tricks,” Kate laughed as she restored the property to its owners. They get you all hot and bothered over something that’s happening and then the waiters and house dips put the vacuum to you. One man swore somebody’d stolen his underwear while he waited to kiss a toe dancer whose number he’d drawn in a lottery!”“What a dame,” someone croaked admiringly. “She’s oke for me,” another chimed in. For minutes the place buzzed with admiration for Kate’s deftness. Scar bought for the house. The two losers of property would not be outdone in generosity and the girl in red, whose coin purse was restored, argued her boy friend into loosening up as well.It was daylight when the last patron left. That was Speedball, who had waited for Kate. She dismissed him with a shake of her head.“See you tonight, pal,” she said. “And wear your rod.”When Scar counted up, he found a take for the night of $900.Cougar Kitty was an established institution in Seattle’s underworld.As she walked to the corner of First Avenue to catch a cab, Kate noticed one of the waiters slipping from door to door behind her. As she entered the taxi, she saw him sprint forward and flag down another.“Drive around for half an hour,” she told the driver. He nodded joyously at such luck at the beginning of his day’s work. Kate, sitting in the center of the rear seat, used her compact mirror to watch the street behind her. She was not mistaken, the other car was dawdling along half a block behind her.“Keep ahead and when you get a chance pretend to try to lose a cab that’s following us,” Kate told the driver, putting a folded bill into his hand. “Then when you get a chance, make him pass you and cut him off at the curb. I want to talk to his passenger.”The driver looked at the bill and smiled knowingly. “I’ll have him in two blocks,” he said.At the next corner he slipped along the right hand curb until traffic changed for east-and-west travel. Then he meshed his gears and swung right up the hill to Second Avenue, going at a furious pace in low gear.At First Avenue he turned south again and stopped with a shrieking of brakes just past the building line. In a few moments the other cab charged up the hill and turned right also.“Get him!” Kate commanded. Her driver swung wide from the curb, ran even with the other cab and forced it slowly but surely against the curbing despite the other driver’s shrill curses and the sounds of his horn.A policeman ran up. “Here!” he demanded. “What’s goin’ on?”Kate opened the cab door and smiled at the officer.“The man in the other cab has been following me all over town,” she said, “and I wish to prefer a charge against him, if you please, officer.”The policeman dragged the luckless waiter from the cab by his collar.“Tell me about it,” he demanded of Kate.“He works at Scar Argyle’s,” she replied. “I was there for awhile and when I left this fellow got in another cab and followed me.”But great was the power of Scar in policedom.“I wouldn’t do that, lady,” the officer replied. “You go on about your business and I’ll keep this baby here. If you have him pinched, you got to go to court.”“All right, officer—and thanks,” Kate said as her cab moved off. It was late afternoon when Kate emerged from her tiny apartment in a huge building on the shores of Lake Union to go abroad again in a taxicab.Her first stop was at the office of The Hour, greatest of the city’s newspapers. Largess properly distributed to a reception clerk and office boy bought her way into the paper’s morgue of photographs and clippings.A chubby, partly deaf statistician was in charge. His sole desire seemed to be to prevent any intrusion into his domain. A five dollar bill again wrought wonders and soon Kate was deep in a huge envelope of clippings out of the “H” file.When she departed, the attendant also dumped out the clippings and studied them.“Humph!” he grunted. “Now I wonder?”From the newspaper office she drove to a tall building given over to plastic surgeons, beauticians and hair dressers. One of the latter “touched up” the roots of her dark-red hair. A dermatologist on the floor above injected a white liquid under her skin at the temple, massaged it, and said:“Lay a good cold-cream base under the powder. When you are ready I will radium-peel your face and we’ll hide that scar entirely.”“Thanks, doctor,” she replied. “But I’m a busy girl now.”Dinner at one of the better cafés, a picture show afterward and then Kate took a cab to the Argyle Club where she found a deferential corps of barmen and waiters ready to extend her a grinning welcome. Also she found the place well filled. Her name and fame had spread rapidly among the cannons and molls of South of Yesler.Scar too waved a warm welcome. She walked to his side in response to a beckoning finger.“Where you livin’, kid?” he demanded. “It’s a police regulation, you know.” He produced a soiled memorandum book and a stub of pencil expectantly.“Find out like you tried to this morning,” Kate jeered, but she softened the taunt with an amused smile.“That’s a bet!” Scar replied. “Think I can’t, huh?” He was in nowise disconcerted.“Not by using a waiter for a gumshoe, anyway,” Kate replied, seating herself at his table. “What did it cost you to get him loose?”“Crook of me finger,” Scar jeered in turn. “The bulls don’t want none of my boys.”“Right, Scar. Now tell me, how did you like my stuff last night? Shall I keep it up?”“That’s what I hired you for.” Scar was becoming wary now.“Then we’ll have a novelty night once each week, beginning tonight. You know what I mean? Funny light flashes, contests with everybody doing goofy things like they do at highbrow parties? Get everybody into it and the losers have to buy. Get the idea?”“The dump’s yours from now to closin’ time. Take it apart if you want to.”Kate rose, smoothed down her skirt, and said casually.“By the way, I ordered a regular stage electrician to be here at 11 o’clock to handle the lights. He’s bringing a dimmer; the rest we’ll do with the master switch.”“Bring two,” said Scar grandly, “or three—if he’s triplets. Keep on getting in the jack and you can hire the devil himself.”“No need, Scar old thing,” Kate laughed. “He’s here already—and wearing your union suit.”Scar grunted happily, the nearest to a laugh of which he was capable.“Wrong,” he said. “Mine’s two-piece.” Meanwhile Kate was going from table to table, welcoming the friends of the night before and newcomers, attracted by the news of the tiger-girl hostess at the Argyle Club.The bleak-faced victim of the pocket-picking episode of the previous night was back at his usual table in a corner across from the orchestra and not more than three feet distant from Scar’s customary seat. As Kate stopped before him, he stared at her searchingly.“Did I ever see you before?” he asked suddenly.“Surely you did,” she laughed. “I’m King Tut’s daughter. Remember how you used to hold my hand under the purple Egyptian skies—or what have you?”“Can the jokes,” the man snapped. “I’m serious.”“Oh-h-h!” Kate said derisively, “so, Mister Kinney, racketeer-in-chief and Big Fixer mustn’t be kidded by a night club hostess.”“Drop it!” the man snarled. “Forget that name here. It’s ‘Hanson’ now. What the— Say, did you know me in Detroit?” With the question he snatched at her wrist, his fingers pinching deep into her flesh.The girl did not reply, nor did she wince. Instead she leaned slightly forward, bringing her sneering, ice hard glance on a level with his own.“All right, Kinney-Hanson,” she said, and there was a deadly chill in her tones. “Don’t move that other hand. I can get you before you ever could touch your gun—and believe me, it’ll be one big pleasure to do it.”Hanson’s hard eyes searched hers angrily. The smile clung to her lips but he recognized the basilisk expression of the natural killer seeking the slightest excuse to slay. Yet he held to her wrist, trying to probe her mind—to find some reason for such bitter hatred from the mere touch of his hand.“Let go!” Kate rapped the words out venomously. “I said last night that nobody is permitted to touch me. If I let you get away with it, then I’m sunk here.” Then, in a louder tone for the benefit of those nearby, she said airily:“Unhand me, vill-yun—and when are you going to buy a drink?”Hanson’s steely fingers relaxed. He gestured to a seat across the table.“You’re a nice, pleasant little thing,” he said sarcastically, “but tell me what you want to drink—and all about Detroit.”“Champagne,” Kate replied with a disarming smile. “Detroit? No, I don’t know much about things there. A girl friend of mine was married to a boy named Wilbur Bealey—‘Wib the Gun,’ they called him. He was mixed up in a booze running gang, and soon after I left there he was killed. Someone said his own gang finished him.”“Know him pretty well?” Hanson demanded.“Oh, in a way,” Kate replied nonchalantly. “Daisy, his wife, was an old sidekick of mine, but Wib was away most of the time when I was visiting her.”“Who else did you know there?” Hanson continued.“Let me see—why, you were there! I saw you out at a Grosse Pointe roadhouse the night Merrill Orrum, the criminal lawyer, was killed.”Hanson’s eyes were pinpoint lights of green now, but his poker face did not change. Quietly he produced a cigarette and lighted it. Kate noted that the hand which held the ornate gold lighter did not tremble.He let a thin cloud of smoke drift from his mouth and Kate felt his eyes studying her critically. Her expression was bored, a trifle uninterested.“Ah yes, Merrill Orrum,” he said musingly. “I’d forgotten his name. And by the way”—he almost hissed the words—“how does it happen that you, a stranger, remember it? That was a whole year ago.”“Oh, I don’t know,” she shrugged her shoulders as though tired of the subject. “Probably it was because it was an unusual name and the papers said they—the other mobsmen—called him ‘Mary Lorum’ for a nickname, sort of a pun name. Things like that stick in one’s mind, don’t you think so?”“Not so you’d notice it,” Hanson replied quickly. “You haven’t told me all of it. Damn it, you remind me of someone—”“Some dizzy blonde from over the river in Windsor probably,” Kate suggested teasingly. Hanson’s eyes narrowed to mere slits.“Blonde!” he said explosively. “What do you know about a blonde in Detroit?”Kate laughed merrily.“Listen, Big Boy,” she replied, “What I know about all Detroit blondes is plenty. Did poor, little Hansy-Hanson get all mixed up with a fuzzy yellow-head?”Hanson flared up again at the derisive note in her voice.“Hell with her!” he growled. “I fixed her up good and plenty; don’t worry. But it’s you I’m wondering about. What’re you holding out on me?”“What would you give to know?”“Nothing or a lot; I don’t know which. I’ve got a hunch about you, Miss Cougar Kitty whatsyourname, and the first thing you know I’ll be calling the turn on you. Don’t figure me for a dumbbell.”“Do your prettiest, Big Boy,” she replied as she rose. “And if you guess right—you’ll have something coming to you. I said—‘you’ll have something coming to you’!”She accented each of the drawled words. Hanson caught a note of menace in her voice; frowned as he watched her retreating form and sought for the answer to the riddle.He motioned to Scar to come over.“Where’d you get that damned twist?” he said in a low tone. “She just called the turn on me in Detroit—cracked about ‘Wib the Gun,’ and that lousy mouthpiece, Orrum.”Scar grinned knowingly.“She’s a wise head,” he husked. “Doin’ all right here and maybe’ll stand a little watchin’. If she gets flossy she’ll go for a ride—but I ain’t worryin’ none about her. Don’t you, neither.”Further conversation ended with the entrance of Speedball Kane.“Whoopee!” Kate sang out. “Solomon in all his glory! Lookit the boy friend!”Speed was attired in his first dinner clothes. His broad shoulders filled the pinch waisted coat perfectly. He had been shaved, pomaded and massaged into the condition of pink shininess which in Gangland is accepted as perfection.It is true that he hitched once at the harness of his shoulder holster, but in Argyle Club circles that meant no more than button-fiddling meant in the higher walks of life.“Everybody give the dressed-up boy friend a hand!” Kate demanded. The guests obliged. “Boy friend and I will buy a drink now.” She continued. There was more applause. Kate drew Speed to a place near the orchestra.“Speed is to be associate master of ceremonies tonight,” she continued. “So I told him to bring his rod. His job is to see that everybody does just what I tell them to. We’re going to raise hell tonight and put a chunk under it, but we can’t do it unless everybody helps. The first number will be a button busting contest, with Scar Argyle leading off.”“Huh?” Scar grunted in amazement. “Run your own damn show.”“Burn him down, Speed, if he don’t mind,” Kate laughed. “Oh come on, chief, it’s easy. Draw a big breath, lean against the inside of the old vest and see what happens. Snap into it, dearie, take a big breath and do your stuff.” Scar’s mind dealt largely in cash-register terms. Kate had said the loser would buy the drinks. Very well, then, the idea was for him not to lose.Slowly he inflated his huge chest. His cheeks began to purple as he set his muscles and began to expand. Quickly the vast mountain of fat and muscle pressed outward. An audible “pop” followed and a button tinkled on a glass table top across the room.“One!” cheered Kate. As she spoke there were three other “pops.” “Two, three, four!” she counted. “Don’t anybody wisecrack. If Scar laughs now he’ll undress himself.” The final button held but tore its way through the buttonhole.“Fine!” Kate exclaimed. “Four buttons and one buttonhole. Now, who’s next?”Several of the gunmen patrons went into a huddle. Presently ‘Shanty’ Boles turned and said:“Us four’s buyin’ for th’ house, Kitty. Name it an’ we pays. Dat’s cheaper’n buyin’ new vests!”“Lovely!” Kate responded. “Did someone tell me Shanty wasn’t bright?”As the round of drinks was being served, the electrician touched Kate’s arm and told her the dimmer was connected.“Don’t test it,” she ordered, “just follow up the orders I gave you. Everybody out now,” she demanded, turning to the patrons. “There’s another surprise for you. We start off with a march around the room. When the lights go out, drop your partner and take the girl ahead of you for a partner. That leaves an extra man and he goes to the end of the line.“When the orchestra stops playing, everybody buys a drink for the girl with him. Remember now—no cheating or hitting in the clinches.”The orchestra struck up a jazz march and the patrons, hard-boiled thieves and killers playing a “kid” game for the first time in their lives, began to parade about the room. Kate nodded and the electrician pulled the main switch. Stygian darkness followed.“One, two, three, four, five, six!” Kate counted slowly. “Lights on!”As they flared forth everyone went into shrieks of laughter. From a recess back of the stage where Kate had concealed her, an immense negro girl had emerged, taking a place silently beside Scar. She had been well coached for, as the light came on, she leaned confidingly toward the proprietor and snuggled her head against his shoulder.Scar leaped up, glaring ferociously at Kate while the patrons vented jeers and catcalls. Kate raised her hand and said:“The house buys on that one, gang—and Scar ought to be thankful that we didn’t see her coming in with him.”The negress, grinning happily, waddled out. Kate patted Scar’s shoulder and whispered:“We’ve got to give ‘em stunts, Scar—and we can’t kid the money customers all of the time.”The evening was off to an auspicious start. Stunt followed stunt in rapid succession. The lights, on dimmers now, went up and down the range of their power; again they flashed like lightning’s play. They would go out and come on again, occasionally disclosing grim gunmen and their molls engaged in the softer process of “necking.” This brought jeers and another round of drinks.Kate kept it going at fever heat. Between dances she had the girls balancing on beer barrels laid on their sides, or trying to step through the “U” made by their arms and a broom handle. It was a real novelty to the socially starved tough boys and girls and through it all Scar sat and listened happily to the tinkle of the cash registers.Here and there heads not hard enough to resist the kick of Scar’s raw liquor, had succumbed. Shanty Boles and his moll slept side by side, their heads pillowed on the table before them. Someone had taken a lipstick and painted Shanty’s nose a violent crimson.Through it all, Hanson sat sipping his liquor, smoking innumerable cigarettes—but always watching Kate narrowly. He seemed to enjoy chatting with one of the chorus girls—Gladys King—whom he had chosen for his companion of the evening.Once, as the lights came back on, Kate saw him slip a heavy automatic back under his arm. He was taking no chances of an attack in the dark. She slipped to Speed’s side and asked:“What’s the matter with Hanson? He’s out with the gat every time the lights go down.”“He’d better,” Speed whispered. “He’s a wholesale junkie. There’s a gang back east gunnin’ for him, and some of the big boys here figure to spot him if they can get him right. He’s nudgin’ in on their racket.” As they talked, a clock outside chimed the hour of four. Thereafter, Kate kept a close check on the face of her watch.Fifteen minutes later she snapped into action. First she nodded to the orchestra with a signal for a mad jazz number, calling to the electrician, “Use your own judgment, Johnny.”With this she stepped over beside Scar and Little Laura. It seemed to Scar that her fingers, pressing on his shoulder, were unduly heavy. Thus she stood while the electrician ran the gamut of his light changes. Scar still could feel the weight of her fingers on his shoulder when the lights went completely out.There followed a moment of silence, punctuated by minor squeals of fright and laughter. Suddenly someone grunted as though in pain.A gun roared heavily in the blackness. A girl’s screaming moan sounded as a body struck the floor. The music had been silenced with the sound of the shot.Out of the babel of sound came Kate’s clear voice: “Lights—quick,” she commanded.As they came on the horrified merrymakers saw Gladys King squirming on the floor, blood flowing from a wound high up on her right shoulder. Scar leaped up and barked angrily:“Shut up your damn noise—want the bulls in here?”Kate knelt beside the injured girl. A cool-headed waiter brought water and Kate began bathing the girl’s forehead.“What was it, dear?” she asked tenderly. “What happened?”“He—he—shot me!” Gladys replied. She pointed weakly at Hanson.From the others there came a growl of anger. Gladys was a favorite. Then followed a concerted rush to the table where Hanson sat, apparently unperturbed. His eyes were half closed. But as the foremost of the gang reached him his body seemed to sag. Then he toppled and his chin struck the table with a thud.The color had drained from the flesh in his neck. Right at the edge of the hair a single drop of blood stood for a second. It rolled down inside the dead man’s collar and another welled slowly in its place.Hanson unquestionably was dead. Too many present knew the marks of the coming of the Dread One. An unerring hand had struck once at the base of the brain, severing the spinal cord.Scar glared around the room ferociously. A mighty anger shook his frame. Hanson, as an individual, meant nothing to him. As a racketeer, head of a junk-running organization of no mean proportions, his murder spelled trouble.“Who done this?” Scar roared. “Get up on your damned hind legs and have the guts to say so—” A stream of horrible profanity welled and bubbled from his lips.Kate whispered something to Speed under cover of the noise. The gangster moved quickly to Scar’s side. He talked rapidly in an undertone. At first the proprietor shook his head impatiently. Speed continued talking until silenced with a gesture.“Listen, guns and molls,” Scar said after a moment of thought. “This here thing ain’t goin’ to do us any good. Now, we’re all-right guys here tonight; there ain’t a rat or snitch in the joint. Hanson’s croaked. Nobody knows who done it, but me and Speedy figgers it will be a good idee for him to be found somewhere else. What say?”“Take the blankety-blank out and dump him in the bay,” someone growled. “That’s the ticket—out in the streets some’rs,” another said. Scar and Shanty Boles turned to the gruesome task of dressing the corpse in overcoat, gloves and soft gray hat.“Whose car are you going to use?” Kate asked quietly. Then before anyone answered, she suggested: “Better steal one, Speed, and leave him in it out in the residence district. And while we’re about it, poke a gun in his ribs hard. The blood will settle there and the dicks will think his kidnappers did it.”“Damn smart,” Scar applauded. “Go ahead, Speed. Find a likely lookin’ bus and shoot her in the alley. I’ll have a lookout waitin’.”Thus it was arranged. Hanson’s body, with a gangster on each side of it, was loaded into a stolen limousine, Speed at the wheel. Larry Michaels, his buddy, followed in another car. Within thirty minutes all were back at the Argyle Club.Scar closed soon afterward. Kitty, en route home, made certain she was not being followed. When she had disrobed and made her night toilet, she unfastened a secret compartment in a suitcase and brought to light a small memorandum book.Then she drew a heavy black line through the first of three names inscribed on its fly-leaf.The name was “Lester Kinney.” Seattle morning newspapers had good reason for first-page streamer lines that morning.Henry Wilson, a milkman, discovered Hanson’s body, rigid behind the steering wheel and with the gloved hands in driving posture. It was in a shining limousine, standing before one of the beautiful homes in the exclusive Queen Anne Hill district.Wilson notified the police and detectives made several startling discoveries. The first was a footprint in the mud of the gutter where apparently someone had stood beside the car. Plaster casts were made, but later the sleuths were chagrined to find it matched perfectly to the milkman’s brogans.Next came the news that the limousine had been stolen from a patron of the Elk’s Club. Atop of this came the medical examiner’s announcement that Hanson’s death had been brought about by someone thoroughly skilled in surgery.Then the discoloration on the side of the body was discovered. As Kate had predicted, the detectives seized on this as proof that someone had jammed a gun against the victim’s side, had kidnapped him and taken him for a ride.“Gawd, kid!” Scar said to Kate when she entered the club that night, “you sure saved ol’ Scar’s bacon with quick thinkin’ last night. Hereafter they’s another five per cent in the cut fer you.”“Thanks, Scar,” Kate said listlessly. “Who do you think did it?”Scar ruminated for a time, then said in a low voice:“If you hadn’t stood with your hand on my shoulder all the time the lights was out, I’d have said, ‘Mebbe you!’ I seen you and Hanson glarin’ at one another, an’ I copped you two watchin’ each other all evenin’. But I ain’t answerin’ any questions—nor askin’ any. I know where you was every second.”“Who was against him in the dope game here?” Kate asked after a brief pause, during which she studied Scar’s face attentively.“Mugs Dietrich,” Scar replied. “He was the big junkie until Hanson showed up nine-ten months ago. Hanson nudged in on the alky racket, but as soon as he’d built up a gang, he hijacked a trunkful of dope, coming from Kansas City to Mugs.“They was better’n fifty thousand dollars worth in it. Hanson sent for Mugs, covered him with a rod and they talked turkey. When Mugs left, he had half the dope and Hanson had half the town. That’s how Hanson worked. Since then, he’s been edgin’ in on Mugs and four-five boys on both sides has been croaked. Mugs got sore last week and cracked that Hanson better come smokin’ next time they met. That’s why the dicks is figgerin’ last night’s job as a gang-spottin’.”“Who is Hanson’s Man Friday—his next in command?” Kate asked.“A guy twicet as hard as Hanson ever wanted to be. They call him Sugarface Mallon. He’s the reason I didn’t want anybody to know Hanson was croaked here. This pritty boy came from the East with Hanson, and after the first week none of our gunnies wanted any of Sugarface’s game. He throws hot lead faster ‘n easier than anybody I ever did see—and some of the best of ‘em has come through that door there.” Thrill-seeking and curiosity brought back all of the crowd of the night before and yet others who had heard of the live-wire Cougar Kitty. It was by that title she was known in Gangland now; few could have told her last name.But it was an apathetic crowd. Even Kate’s flaming personality could not evoke a real response, except from the newcomers. The shadow of tragedy still lingered over the place.The bar patronage was holding up well, however. Some of the patrons seemed anxious to drink themselves insensible in the shortest possible space of time. These were succeeding admirably. Such failed to witness the new situation which unfolded itself suddenly.During an interval when the orchestra was silent, the doorbell pealed shrilly. When the doorman swung the steel-faced portal open, two well-dressed men stepped into the room. Both stood looking the crowd over coldly.One, the taller, might have posed for magazine collar advertisements. Nature had given him a trig slenderness, height, a handsome face and a certain air of real gentility. His companion was shorter, dark and glowering, seemingly dissipated and he had a hangdog air. As he turned it was apparent that one of his ears was badly cauliflowered. Both had one thing in common. Their air was purposeful and either could be depended on to do what was needful, no matter what the circumstances.Scar started to struggle to his feet, but sank back at a signal from Kate. Straight to the pair she went, eyes shining, teeth flashing in a smile of welcome.“Greetings, Mr. Sugarface Mallon,” she called from the middle of the floor. “Come on in, both of you. The water’s wet—and we haven’t any.”Mallon eyed her with evident admiration, yet curiously. His companion scowled darkly and whispered something. Sugarface stepped forward and took Kate’s outstretched hand.“A stranger in town, yet she calls my name,” he said suavely. “Who am I—to be so honored?”“Tell you later,” Kate said in a low tone. “Play up now.”Now Scar came lumbering forward. Mallon gave him a cold nod; his companion struck the owner’s outstretched hand aside. Scar turned and waddled back to his chair.Two of the waiters removed a somnolent drunk from one of the tables, brought a third chair and Kate, Mallon and the other man sat down. Kate and Mallon faced each other across the table; the other’s back was to the dance floor.“This is Kid Sharkey,” Mallon said, pointing to his companion. “He’s with me always—now that Hanson’s dead.”“Oh yes,” Kate said nonchalantly, “I read of it in the papers. You were his associate, weren’t you—both here and in the East?”Mallon’s eyes probed hers ominously, curiously, for a moment.“See here,” he said as though in sudden decision. “They tell me you’re a wise head; anyway you look it, and I’m going to lay ‘em right out before you. There is a whisper that Hanson was done in right in this room. It is a whisper that hasn’t reached the police, however. One of my boys heard a girl stew talking about it and came to me with the story.“Now get me right; I’m not caring one half-witted damn about Hanson being rubbed out. Probably it saved me the trouble. He was a bad one and would knock me off in a minute, but he knew I could let him draw and then kill him. For the last six months when we talked he sat with his hands folded over his most recent meal. I’d warned him to.“But I’m head of the gang now. I’m taking over where he left off. If it was one of Muggsy’s gang that croaked him, then I know where to watch. If it was done here, then there’s a new enemy for me to go gunning after.“What would you do in my place?”He fairly hissed the last words.“I’d buy a drink!” Kate said nonchalantly. “Waiter!”A red surge of color leaped to Mallon’s pale face.“Damn it!” he snarled. “Answer me, you rotten—”Kate’s hand—the right one—slipped over the edge of the table. With the index finger of the left Kate pointed casually toward it. Mallon’s eyes dropped; visioned the deadly steel muzzle of the little plunger-gun between her fingers. Kid Sharkey gasped. For the fraction of a second the weapon turned on him, then flashed back to Sugarface.“Rotten—what—?” she demanded. “Say anything that’s in your system—and if I don’t like it, then it’s my turn to say or do something—you fool. Say it!” she demanded coldly. Now she was Cougar Kitty indeed. Speedball Kane, who had lost no item of the byplay from a distance, came slipping to the table. His body was poised on the balls of his feet. The right hand was under his left lapel.Kate sensed, rather than saw him.“My affair,” she said over her shoulder. “Don’t interfere unless things get hot—and if they do, then burn Kid Sharkey down and burn him fast.”“Baby,” Speed said with deep conviction. “He’s afire now.”“What a broad!” It was Kid Sharkey’s unwilling tribute as he realized just how hot things had become.Mallon it was who broke the tension.“Stand off all around,” he said putting his hands before him on the table. “I’m apologizing—not because of the palm-gun, but because they taught me as a kid not to call girls bad names.”The deadly muzzle slipped out of sight beneath the table. Mallon had a dubious impression that it still covered his stomach.“Right,” Kate snapped. “Now what do you want to know?”“Was Hanson fixed up here? That’s all.”“He was not,” she replied steadily. “He left here about two.”“Alone?”“Alone. I think he had a telephone call.” Then, before Mallon could stop her, she called over her shoulder, “Oh, Scar!” When he lumbered over, she asked:“Hanson left last night about two, didn’t he—alone?”“Uh-huh, about then,” Scar said easily. “I got th’ idee somebody was waitin’ for him—or did he get a ‘phone call?”“Thanks!” Mallon said carelessly after a moment’s close scrutiny of the scarred, evil countenance before him.“S’all right,” Scar rumbled. “Let’s us have a drink.”“Why not?” the younger man replied lightly. “Kid, you go along and see about the trucks. I’ll be at the hangout later.”Sharkey started to protest, then rose and lurched from the place. His last glance at Kate was one of reverent worship. Kid Sharkey had seen his first real gun-moll.Mallon rose as Kate did and accompanied her to the table adjoining Scar’s lookout chair, unwittingly dropping into the seat where his chief’s body had been but a few hours before.Suddenly Kate felt his eyes on her and turned about to surprise the same searching, calculating expression she had encountered in Hanson’s eyes. She smiled, blandly, seated herself across from him and said:“Want to tell an inquisitive girl something, Mr. Mallon?”“What?” he demanded. She paused before replying, holding his glance by sheer willpower for a moment.“How is it that a man of your class, who could be anything he set out to be, is in the booze and dope game?” she said at last.“Just naturally bad, I guess,” he replied, but Kate saw she had scored her first victory in her fight to draw his interest to her personally.From then until the moment later when Mallon, now warmed by a number of drinks, began paying her elaborate compliments, Kate used her every art to let glances and half spoken sentences show him that she was not indifferent to him. At last, while the electrician had dimmed the lights to almost out, he leaned across the table and whispered:“I’m waiting for you tonight, baby—and every other night, if you say so.”Kate did not answer, contenting herself with letting her hand touch his for a moment in a quick, firm pressure. Then she excused herself and turned to the other patrons. The crowd was thinning out now. Several of the more intoxicated still slumbered in their chairs. Not more than fifteen couples were on the dance floor when Kate stopped the music with a wave of her hand and said:“Not enough pep, gang. We’re closing soon now, and let’s make it all hot ‘n everything in the meantime. Make it snappy now, for Speed and I have a surprise for you pretty soon.”The orchestra swung into a mad jazz number, quickening the cadence until the dancers’ feet literally were flying. Kate called Little Laura to her away from Scar’s side, and whispered something. The girl laughed and took a chair at a vacant table.Kate caught the electrician’s eye and nodded, holding up a silver chime whistle as a signal. He nodded and began a furious succession of light changes. They flickered up, then dimmed down to mere red-brown shapes within the globes. On again—and the electrician snapped the main switch off and on rapidly, giving the effect of lightning flashes. Once Kate caught Mallon’s eyes and tossed him an airy kiss from her fingertips. Scar, sitting three feet distant from him, scowled wonderingly.Occasionally couples would barge together on the dance floor, the girls screaming curses or ribald commands. Kate’s eyes narrowed calculatingly watching the unconscious distribution of the couples about the floor.Suddenly she sounded a musical trill from the whistle. The music rose to a shrill crescendo of noise as the electrician pulled the main switch and threw the entire club into darkness.But over the music, the shouts of laughter and the scrape of feet, there sounded ten clearly spaced blasts of Kate’s whistle as though she was marking time for the next stunt.Three sharp blasts followed one another in rapid succession. The lights flared on and the music ceased in the middle of a bar.For an instant there was a grave-like silence; then gasps of surprise—here and there a nervous titter from one of the molls.There was reason. Midway down the room, clear of the dancers and at a point where every person in the room was under her eye stood Cougar Kitty, in each hand a thirty-eight automatic. Flanking her, four at each side, stood the club’s eight waiters. Now they were masked with handkerchiefs tied across their noses to conceal mouths and chins. Each carried two snub-nose, small caliber automatics! These were trained on the dancing group and the orchestra.Kitty’s guns covered Mallon and Scar.“Up with them,” she demanded dramatically. “Drag me down a star and let me look at it. This is a stick-up and I don’t mean perhaps.”Mallon and Scar laughed happily, admiringly.“Some twist, that one,” Scar said out of the corner of his twisted mouth. “Who else’d think of a stunt like that?”With the words the tension broke. The waiters snapped the handkerchiefs from their faces, broke the seeming automatics and disclosed that they were cigarette guns, made in the shape of pistols. These were distributed to the dancers as they crowded about the smiling hostess.Kate, meanwhile, stood toying with the weapons hanging loosely at her side. She looked anxiously about for Speedball. He was at one of the tables, retying a shoelace. He looked up at her and grinned.It was Scar, master of the double-cross and personification of vileness, who was the first to sense the tenseness which had descended on the room. As he dropped his hands to the chair arms, ready to derrick his great body to a standing position, Kate whirled and leveled both guns.“Down!” she snapped savagely. “Up with them—both of you—you’re in on this too, Mallon. “Quick—fingers together behind your heads.”The muzzles of both guns jumped in unison. With the roar came a splintering crash as the missiles flew past the heads of the two men and buried themselves in the wall behind them.There was no question now of obedience. Mallon, white, silent but watchful as a snake, cradled the back of his head in his hands. Scar was slower and his gross face was splotched and purple as he too withdrew his hands from his holster.The girl’s tense figure, alone in the center of the floor as she held two redoubtable gunmen helpless, appealed to their sense of the dramatic. They were breathless with suspense when at last she broke silence to say in a lifeless monotone:“Listen everybody—I’m going to tell you about a couple of damned, lousy skunks—the two sitting there, and another I got last night—Hanson.“In a little while, I’m going out of here. It is up to you—you boys and girls who, like me, have had to fight for yourselves—it’s up to you whether I go out of here—or whether I don’t! But I’m going to take Skunk Mallon and Skunk Argyle with me! It’ll be the hot seat for them! And I’ve nothing on you!“I’m a slum kid from Brooklyn. My dad was a drunk; mother was a decent woman. I had two brothers, Wilbur and Merrill. Our family name was Orrum. Merrill, the older brother, was a good kid. He made me go to school just as he did. The other was weak, a sneak thief at twelve and an ex-con at twenty. They called him ‘Wib the Gun.’ ”Scar’s arms jerked at the words and the girl’s finger tightened for an instant on the trigger of the weapon in her right hand.“Means something to you, doesn’t it, Skunk Argyle?” she taunted. “Wib was the lad you and Hanson and Mallon, jobbed into killing his own brother that night in Detroit—the lad Mallon and Hanson killed later to stop his mouth.”Someone in the crowd grated out a curse. She continued her story.“Merrill had worked his way through law school and had taken up criminal practice. In a few years he was known as the best crook mouthpiece in Detroit. I was his helper—his private investigator.“But Merrill fell out with Hanson and Mallon, and also with Scar who was the big money back of their booze and dope running. They got poor Wib drunk one night and planted him out to kill a Federal dick near a roadhouse. They decoyed Merrill to the spot and let Wib kill his own brother.“When he found out what he’d done, he went into hiding. It took me days to find him and when I got there he was croaking. He had just enough strength to tell me the story and to let me know that Mallon had run him down and shot him to silence him.“I went crazy then. When I found where Hanson was planted out I went there one night and got into the house. I hoped to get him as he slept. But Sugarface Mallon was on the prowl and got me before I could shoot.“He tied me up. He didn’t call Hanson. He just gagged me—and for that night I was his prisoner. Figure that for yourselves.“The next morning he threw me down the front steps. He’d finished wrecking the Orrum family. Nice boy—Skunk Mallon—isn’t he?”“Hanson and Mallon disappeared,” she continued, and now she was tumbling the words forth with machine-gun speed. “But I found they were here, working with Scar Argyle on a new dope underground.“My hair was gold-yellow. I dyed it red. My figure was slight. I ate sweets, drank heavy cream, stuffed like a Strasbourg goose until I had gained twenty pounds. I went to Chicago and then New York to establish a new identity, but always I kept track of the three skunks.“You know most of the rest of it. I came here and tricked Scar into giving me work. Last night I stood beside Scar, pressing my fingers into his fat shoulder until the lights went out. Then I got Hanson in the neck with a thin, knife. I was back beside Scar when the lights went on again. He thought he had felt my hand on his shoulder all of the time.”She paused for a quick glance about the tables, flashed her eyes toward the doorway where waiters and barmen were grouped.But even that brief second of respite was enough for Sugarface. As she turned back his right hand was flitting under his coat lapel, fingers clawing for the gun butt nestling there.Cougar Kitty’s left gun jerked twice and a horrible oath spat from Scar’s lips as two black holes appeared, one above the other, in Mallon’s smooth, white forehead. He teetered for a moment in his chair, then fell sideways across Scar’s feet.The death threat in the girl’s eyes as they flickered to Scar nerved the gross man to action. He threw himself, wedged as he was in his great chair, sideways to the floor. His hand flashed with incredible speed to the butt of his gun.Cougar Kitty, her eyes pinpoints of blazing hate, waited as the thick fingers grasped the weapon, started to raise it.Crash! Crash! Crash!Her gun spoke thrice in rapid succession. A jet of blood leaped from Scar’s lips as the first bullet smashed against his set teeth.The second smashed through the center of the scar under the victim’s right eye and ploughed into the brain.The third struck squarely between the eyes—a small, purple edged perforation which wrote the final period on the life-tale of Scar Argyle.For a moment Cougar Kitty stood silent, staring at the two unmoving bodies on the floor. “Killing was too good for them!”Then with a gesture of finality she let the guns crash to the floor. Turning, her hands outstretched toward the silent group of grim-faced onlookers, she whispered:“And now—the verdict. Getaway—or?”Tense eyes stared back into hers. Still no word was spoken.Suddenly, as though an invisible wedge was driving into the group, they began to fall back.White lipped, staring unseeingly before her, Kitty passed the grimly watchful cannons and molls who lined her pathway. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyThese stories represent my first professional work as a journalist. I arrived in New York City in November 1976 at age 26, hungry for an opportunity to write full-time after spending six years practicing my craft at college and community newspapers in New England. I had just started to sell a few stories in Maine, but realized I would have to move to a big city if I was serious about switching careers from social worker to journalist. Full of hope, I quit my job in rural Maine as a senior citizens’ aide, drove to New York, sold my car, moved into an Upper West Side apartment with two aspiring opera singers, and began to look for work.   Stan Lee (1922-2018), Creator of Spiderman and the Incredible Hulk With the current rage over Superman due to last year’s hit movie, many people will purchase a copy of the comic for the first time in years, and may be disappointed to see how much it has changed. Once the largest selling comic book hero on the market, Superman was knocked out of first place long ago by Spiderman, the creation of a 56-year-old native New Yorker named Stan Lee. Besides selling about one million Marvel comics each month, Spiderman appears as a daily strip in some 500 newspapers around the world.But even without this giant success, Stan Lee would be rich and famous. His fertile mind has also given birth to the Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Doctor Strange, and a host of other modern-day mythological figures. As publisher of Marvel Comics, he rules over an empire that branches out into dozens of areas — prime-time television drama, animated cartoons, hardbound and paperback collections of comic reprints, novels about Marvel characters, toys, games, posters, clothing and much more. Most of these spin-off products are the work of other companies that have bought the rights, but Stan Lee remains the creative force behind the whole operation, as I discover during a meeting with Lee at the Marvel headquarters on Madison Avenue. “I think the title of publisher is just given to me so I can have more prestige when I’m dealing with people,” says Lee in his clipped, precise voice, as he stretches his feet onto the coffee table of his brightly decorated office. “I’m a salaried employee of Marvel — your average humble little guy trying to stay afloat in the stormy sea of culture. The company owns the properties, of course, but I have no complaints. I don’t think I could have as much anywhere else. … My main interest is to see that the company itself does well and makes as much money as possible.” He is an intense, energetic man of wiry build who dresses in a casual yet elegant manner. As he shifts the position of his arms and legs on the couch, there is something unmistakably spiderlike in the movements. For all his politeness, he cannot mask the impression that his mind is racing far ahead of his rapidly spoken words.“My involvement with this company goes back to about 1939,” says Lee. “I was always the editor, the art director, the head writer, and the creative director . In the early 1960s I was thinking of quitting. I thought I wasn’t really getting anywhere. My wife said, ‘Why not give it one last fling and do the kind of stories you want to do?’ So I started bringing out the offbeat heroes. I never dreamt that they would catch on the way they did.” He emphasizes that he did not create the characters alone, but co-created them with the help of an artist. Nevertheless, it was Lee who revolutionized the comic book industry by introducing the concept of what has been termed the “hung-up hero” — the superhero whose powers do not preclude him from having the same emotional troubles as the average mortal. This is what makes Lee’s characters so believable and so irresistibly entertaining on television. It explains why CBS’ The Incredible Hulk is a hit, and why the same network has filmed eight episodes of The Amazing Spiderman. On January 19 from 8 to 10 p.m., CBS will broadcast the pilot for a new Marvel-based series, Captain America.“Dr. Strange may come back again,” says Lee. “It was made into a two hour television movie.” His old Spiderman cartoons, too, are still in syndication. He claims to work “about 28 hours a day,” and a look at his dizzying list of activities supports this claim. Besides running the Marvel headquarters, Lee makes frequent trips to the West Coast to develop shows for ABC and CBS, writes some cartoons for NBC, acts as consultant to the Spiderman and Hulk programs, writes an introduction to each of the dozens of Marvel books published each year, writes occasional books and screenplays of his own, gives lectures all over the country, and — what to some would be a full-time job in itself — writes the plot and dialogue not only for the Spiderman newspaper strip, but also, since November, for a Hulk newspaper strip that already appears in more than 200 daily papers worldwide. Few people know Manhattan as well as Stan Lee. Born the son of a dress cutter in Washington Heights, he has made the Upper East Side his home for the past 15 years. “I’m a big walker,” he explains. “I’m a fast walker: I can easily average a block a minute. So if I want to walk to Greenwich Village, I give myself an hour — 60 blocks. I wouldn’t know what time to leave if I took a cab.”Asked about new projects in the works, Lee mentions that Marvel is planning to produce some motion pictures that will be filmed in Japan. “And I have a contract to write my autobiography,” he adds. “I was surprised and delighted that they gave me five years to do it. So I presume I’ll wait four years; maybe in that period, something interesting will happen to me.”     Bob Kane (1915-1998), Creator of BatmanAt the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, a time capsule was filled with memorabilia thought to be representative of 20th-century American culture, and scheduled to be opened by historians 5,000 years later. Among the objects chosen was a comic magazine that had appeared for the first time that year, the creation of an 18-year-old artist and writer named Bob Kane. Whoever chose the contents of the time capsule must have been prophetic, because today, 40 years later, few characters in American fantasy or fiction are so well known as Kane’s pulp hero — Batman. “It was a big success from the very beginning,” says the cartoonist, a tall, wiry, powerful-looking man of 58 whose tanned, leathery features bear a striking resemblance to those of Bruce Wayne, Batman’s secret identity. “Superman started in 1938, and the same company, D.C. Comics, was looking for another superhero. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. “The first year, Batman was more evil, more sinister. My concept was for him to scare the hell out of the denizens of the underworld. And then the second year, I introduced Robin, because I realized he would appeal to the children’s audience. That’s when the strip really took hold.” The walls of his Eastside apartment are covered with vintage hand-drawn panels by America’s most famous cartoonists, and Kane, with his casual attire, his broad New York accent, and his habit of twirling his glasses around while slumped far down in his easy chair, would not seem out of place as a character in Maggie and Jiggs. Yet he likes to consider himself a serious artist, and has, in fact, had some notable achievements in his “second career,” which began in 1966 when he resigned from D.C. Comics, on the heels of the successful Batman TV series. “I got tired of working over the drawing board after 30 years. I wanted to be an entrepreneur — painter, screenplay writer, and producer.” Since that time, he has built up a large body of work — oil paintings, watercolors, pen and ink sketches and lithographs, most of them depicting characters from Batman. They have been purchased by leading universities, famous private collectors, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. As a writer, Kane has created four animated cartoon series for television, has penned a screenplay for Paramount Pictures, The Silent Gun, has written an autobiography titled Batman and Me (due to be published next year), and has completed a screenplay for a full-length Batman movie. Recently, he has also emerged as an active participant in charitable causes, such as UNICEF, Cerebral Palsy and the American Cancer Society. From March 16 to April 8, the Circle Gallery at 435 West Broadway in SoHo will exhibit a one-man show of about 40 Kane originals. Says Kane with his typical immodesty: “I’m probably the first cartoonist to make the transition to fine art. When you do hand-signed, limited editions of lithographs, you are definitely entering the world of Lautrec and Picasso and Chagall.” Kane has lived on the East Side for the past 15 years and has no plans to leave. Asked about his early years, he tells of growing up poor in the Bronx. “I used to draw on all the sidewalks, and black out the teeth of the girls on the subway posters. I used to copy all the comics as a kid, too. That was my school of learning. … My greatest influence in creating Batman was a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci of a flying machine, which I saw when I was 13 years old. It showed a man on a sled with huge bat wings attached to it. To me, it looked like a bat man. And that same year, I saw a movie called The Mark of Zorro, with Douglas Fairbanks Senior. Zorro fought for the downtrodden and he had a cave in the mountainside, and wore a mask, which gave me the idea for Batman’s dual identity and the Batmobile.” As might be expected, Kane takes much pride in his lifelong success. “Batman has influenced four decades of children,” he declares. “It has influenced the language. … It has influenced people’s lives whereby it gives them a sense of hope that the good guy usually wins in the end. And mainly, the influence has been one of sheer entertainment. I feel that most people would like to be a Batman-type superhero, to take them out of their dull, mundane routine of everyday living. … My greatest thrill comes from my 5-year-old grandson. Little did I know when I was 18 that one day I would see my grandson wearing a little Batman costume, driving around in a miniature Batmobile and yelling ‘Batman!'” by Max Millard, from his Gutenberg ebook Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyIn 2016, China’s submission to the Academy awards followed a 7th century monk on his journey of exploration to India. The record of Hiuen-Tsiang’s (b. 602– dec. 664) travel has had an enormous impact on Chinese culture, inspiring one of the country’s age-old novels. The manuscript also contains one of the most detailed descriptions of the old Nalanada monastery in India, an intellectual powerhouse that dominated the world for a thousand years, before being reduced to ruins. In this text from 1911, a prominent sinologist comments. “Centuries before biography became a business, before the peccadilloes of royal mistresses and forgotten courtesans obtained a “market value’ the writing of the Master’s life by some cherished disciple was both an act of love and piety in the far East. The very footprints of the famous dead became luminous, and their shadows shone in dark caves that once withheld them from the world. Memory looking back viewed them through a golden haze; they were merged at last in ancient sunlight; they were shafts of God rayed in the tangled forests of time. In this spirit, then, the man of compassionate feeling, the Shaman Hwui Li took up his tablets and wrote the life of Hiuen-Tsiang. The Master had already written his immortal Great Tang Records on the Western Regions (published 646 AD), yet the sixteen years of that wonderful quest in far-off India, of cities seen and shrines visited, of strange peoples and stranger customs, cannot be crowded into one brief record. And so we watch the patient disciple waiting on those intervals of leisure when the task of translation from Sanskrit into Chinese is laid aside, when the long routine of a Buddhist day is ended, waiting for the impressions of a wandering soul in the birthplace of its faith. The Life is supplement to the record. What is obscure or half told in the one is made clear in the other. Hwui-Li begins in the true Chinese manner with a grand pedigree of his hero, tracing his descent from the Emperor Hwang Ti, the mythical Heavenly Emperor. This zeal for following the remotest ancestors over the borders of history into the regions of fable may be largely ascribed to a very human desire to connect the stream of life with its divine source. We are chiefly concerned to know that he came of a family which had already given notable men to the State, and was launched in the troublous whirl of birth and death but a little distance from the town of Kou-Shih, in the province of Honan, in the year 6oo A.D. Here and there biography leaves us a glimpse of his outward appearance as boy and man. We are told that at his opening life he was rosy as the evening vapours and round as the rising moon. As a boy he was “sweet as the odor of cinnamon or the vanilla tree.” A soberer style does justice to his prime, and again he comes before us, “a tall handsome man with beautiful eyes and a good complexion. He had a serious but benevolent expression and a sedate, rather stately manner.” The call of the West came early to Hiuen-Tsiang. From a child he had easily outstripped his fellows in the pursuit of knowledge, and with the passing of the years he stepped beyond the narrow limits of Chinese Buddhism and found the deserts of Turkestan between him and the land of his dreams. Imperfect translations from the Sanskrit, the limited intelligence of the Chinese priesthood, the sense of vast truths dimly perceived obscurely set forth, the leaven of his first Confucian training—all contributed to the making of a Buddhist pilgrim. The period of his departure, 629 A.D., was an eventful one for China. Taizong (b.598- d.649), the most powerful figure of the brilliant Tang dynasty, sat on the throne of his father Kaotsu, the founder of the line. The nomad Tartars, so long the terror of former dynasties, succumbed to his military genius, and Kashgaria was made a province of the Empire. Already the kingdom of Tibet was tottering to its fall, and Corea was to know the devastation of war within her boundaries. Ch’ang-an was now the capital, a city of floating pavilions and secluded gardens, destined to become the center of a literary movement that would leave its mark for all time. But the days were not yet when the terraces of Teng-hiang-ting would see the butterflies alight on the flower-crowned locks of Yang-kuei-fei, or the green vistas re-echo to the voices of poet and emperor joined in praise of her. Only two wandering monks emerge furtively through the outer gates of the city’s triple walls, and one of them looks back for a glimpse of Ch’ang-an, the last for sixteen eventful years of exile. Others had crossed the frontier before him, notably Fa-hian and Sung Yun in the fourth and the fifth centuries AD, others in due course would come and go, leaving to posterity their impressions of a changing world, but this man stands alone, a prince of pilgrims, a very Bayard of Buddhist enthusiasm, fearless and without reproach. As we read on through the pages of Hwui-li the fascination of the Master of the Law becomes clear to us, not suddenly, but with the long, arduous miles that mark the way to India and the journey home. Take the Master’s tattered robes, let the winds of Gobi whistle through your sleeve and cut you to the bone, mount his rusty red nag and set your face to the West. In the night you will see ‘ “fire-lights as many as stars” raised by the demons and goblins; travelling at dawn you will behold ‘ “soldiers clad in fur and felt and the appearance of camels and horsemen and the glittering of standards and lances; fresh forms and figures changing into a thousand shapes, sometimes at an immense distance, then close at hand, then vanished into the void.” The time comes when even the old red steed avails not, the Great Ice Mountains loom in front of you, and you crawl like an ant and cling like a fly to the roof of the world. Then on the topmost summit, still far away from the promised land, you realize two things—the littleness of human life, the greatness of one indomitable soul. But the superman is also very human. With the vast bulk of his encyclopedic knowledge he falls on the pretentious monk Mokshagupta in the Kingdom of Agni, he flattens him and treads a stately if heavy measure on his prostrate body. And withal clear-sighted and intolerant of shams, he is still a child of his age and religion. With childish curiosity he tempts a bone to foretell the future, and with childish delight obtains the answer he most desires. In the town of Hiddha is Buddha’s skull bone, one foot long, two inches round. “If anyone wishes to know the indications of his guilt or his religious merit he mixes some powdered incense into a paste, which he spreads upon a piece of silken stuff, and tlien presses it on the top of the bone according to the resulting indications the good fortune or ill fortune of the man is determined” Hiuen obtains the impression of a Bodhi and is overjoyed, for, as the guardian Brahman of the bone explains, “it is a sure sign of your having a portion of true wisdom (Bodhi).” At another time he plays a kind of religious quoits by flinging garlands of flowers on the sacred image of Buddha, which, being caught on its hands and arms, show that his desires will be fulfilled. In simple faith he tells Hwui-li how Buddha once cleaned his teeth and flung the fragments of the wood with which he performed the act on the ground ; how they took root forthwith, and how a tree seventy feet high was the consequence. And Hiuen saw that tree, therefore the story must be true. But it is not with the pardonable superstitions of a human soul of long ago that we need concern ourselves. The immense latent reserve, the calm strength to persist, is the appeal. It comes to us with no note of triumph for the thing accomplished or the obstacle removed, but rather underlies some simple statement of fact and is summed up in these few trite words: “We advanced guided by observing the bones left on the way.” The little incidents of life and death are as nothing to one who looks on all men as ghosts haunted by reality. And so the Master of the Law resigns himself to the prospect of a violent end at the hands of the river pirates of the Ganges, to the miraculous interposition of a timely storm, with the same serenity with which he meets the long procession streaming out of Nalanda in his honor, with its two hundred priests and some thousand lay patrons who surround him to his entry, recounting his praises, and carrying standards, umbrellas, flowers, and perfumes. “The tradition of the old people is this: To the south of the convent, in the middle of an Amra garden, is a pool. In this pool is a Naga called Nalanda, and the convent built by the side of the pool is therefore called after his name. Again there is a saying that Tathagata whilst a Bodhisattva was the king of a great country and built his capital in this place. He was deeply affected towards the orphans and destitute, and, ever moved by this principle, gave away all he had for their good. In memory of this goodness they named the place ”doing charitable acts without intermission,” The place was originally the garden of the lord Amra. Five hundred merchants bought it for ten lacs of gold pieces, and presented it to Buddha. Here Buddha preached the law for three months, and most of the merchants obtained the fruit of Arhatship, in consequence. After the Nirvana of Buddha an old king of this country called Sakraditya, from a principle of loving obedience to Buddha, built this convent. After his decease his son seized the throne, and continued the vast undertaking; he built, towards the south, another temple. Then his son built a temple to the eastward. Next, his son built a temple to the north-east. Afterwards the king, seeing some priests who came from the country of China to receive his religious offerings, was filled with gladness, and he gave up his royal estate and became a recluse. His son succeeded and built another temple to the north. After him a king of Mid-India built by the side of this another temple. Thus six kings in connected succession added to these structures. Moreover, the whole establishment is surrounded by a brick wall, which encloses the entire convent from without. One gate opens into the great college, from which are separated eight other halls, standing in the middle. The richly adorned towers, and the fairy -like turrets, like pointed hill- tops, are congregated together. The observatories seem to be lost in the vapours of the morning, and the upper rooms tower above the clouds. From the windows one may see how the winds and the clouds produce new forms, and above the soaring eaves the conjunctions of the sun and moon may be observed.” There are moments of sheer delight when scenes of physical beauty are fair enough to draw even a Buddhist monk from his philosophic calm, when even Hiuen-Tsiang must have become lyrical in the presence of his recording disciple. Who would not be the guest of the abbot of Nalanda monastery with its six wings, each built by a king, all enclosed in the privacy of solid brick? “And then we may add how the deep, translucent ponds, bear on their surface the blue lotus, intermingled with the Kie-ni flower, of deep red color, and at intervals the Amra groves spread over all, their shade. All the outside courts, in which are the priests’ chambers, are of four stages. The stages have dragonprojections and colored eaves, the pearl-red pillars, carved and ornamented, the richly adorned balustrades, and the roofs covered with tiles that reflect the light in a thousand shades, these things add to the beauty of the scene.” Here ten thousand priests sought refuge from the world of passing phenomena and the lure of the senses. Wherever our pilgrim goes he finds traces of a worship far older than Buddhism. He does not tell us so in so many words, yet underneath the many allusions to Bodhitrees and Nagas we may discover the traces of that primitive tree and serpent worship that still exists in remote corners of India, as, for instance, among the Naga tribes of Manipur who worship the python they have killed. In Hiuen’s time every lake and fountain had its Naga-raja or serpent-king, Buddha himself, as we learn from both the Si-yu-hi and the Life, spent much time converting or subduing these ancient gods. There were Nagas both good and evil. When Buddha first sought enlightenment he sat for seven days in a state of contemplation by the waters of a little woodland lake. Then this good Naga “kept guard over Tathagata ; with his folds seven times round the body of the Buddha, he caused many heads to appear, which overshadowed him as a parasol ; therefore to the east of this lake is the dwelling of the Naga.”…. The Buddha sat for seven days contemplating this tree ; “he did not remove his gaze from it during this period, desiring thereby to indicate his grateful feelings towards the tree by so looking at it with fixed eyes.” Hiuen Tsiang himself and his companions contributed to the universal adoration of the tree, for, as that impeccable Buddhist the Shaman Hwui-li rather baldly states, “they paid worship to the Bodhi-tree.” How did Buddhism come to be connected in any way with tree and serpent worship? The answer is, through its connection with Bralimanism. As Buddhism was Brahmanism reformed, so Brahmanism in its turn was the progressive stage of tree and serpent worship. Siva the destroyer is also Nag Bhushan, “he who wears snakes as his ornaments.”… But Hiuen-Tsiang was born into a world that beheld the tree of Buddhism slowly dying from the top. He bore witness, if unconsciously, to a time of transition and a noble faith in decay, and the swift, silent growth of jungle mythology around the crumbling temples of Buddha. His record of these sixteen years of travel is a priceless one, for through it we are able to reconstruct the world and ways of Buddhist India of the centuries that have passed. Yet far more priceless still is that record, read between the lines, of a human soul dauntless in disaster, unmoved in the hour of triumph, counting the perils of the bone-strewn plain and the unconquered hills as nothing to the ideal that lay before him, the life-work, the call of the Holy Himalayas and the long toil of his closing years. It is difficult to over-estimate his services to Buddhist literature. He returned to his own country with no less than 657 volumes of the sacred books, seventy-four of which he translated into Chinese, while 150 relics of the Buddha, borne by twenty horses, formed the spoil reverently gathered from the many lands we call India. And so we leave him to his rest upon Mount Sumeru, where once his venturous soul alighted in the dreams of youth, with the serpents coiled beneath its base, with its seven circling hills of gold and the seven seas between, and the great salt ocean encompassing them all. May 6th, 1911″ by sinologist Launcelot Alfred Cranmer-Byng (1872-1945).   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history  In a story by Edgar Rice Burroughs an explorer chops his way with a machete through the Cambodian jungle to a lost world – a remnant of ancient Angkor still thriving. The tale of “The Land of Hidden Men” may be an entertaining yarn, but Angkor Wat – one of the greatest cultures of the medieval world- was swallowed by the jungle, and then rediscovered in the nineteenth century. The ancient kingdom boasted 102 public hospitals. Only one first-hand account of its capital exists, from the pen of Zhou Daguan, a contemporary Chinese diplomat who later published a book entitled “The Customs of Cambodia”. Zhou Daguan was born Zhou Dake, in a small town in a coastal region of China. For some reason, he changed his name after he returned from Cambodia. Some speculate that the Chinese emperor planned to attack Cambodia, and that that might be the reasons for the many details in Daguan’s book. His text only caught the attention of the world after it was translated into French by Paul Pelliot in 1902. The following are excerpts:   “This Tche-la is also called Tchan-la. The native name is Kan-po-tche. The current dynasty, based on Tibetan religious books, calls this country Kan-p’ou-tche, phonetically close to Kan-potche. The royal palace, as well as official buildings and noble residences, all face east. The royal palace lies north of the Golden Tower and the Golden Bridge. Where the sovereign conducts his affairs, there is a golden window; to the right and left of the frame, on square pillars, there are mirrors, about forty to fifty, arranged on the sides of the window. The sill of the sovereign’s window is shaped like an elephant. Everyone, starting with the sovereign, both men and women, wear their hair in a bun and have bare shoulders. They simply wrap a piece of cloth around their waist. There are many rules regarding the fabrics based on each person’s rank. Only the prince can wear continuous patterned fabrics. He wears a golden diadem, similar to those on the heads of vajradharas. Sometimes, he does not wear a diadem and simply wraps a garland of fragrant flowers reminiscent of jasmine in his bun. Among common people, only women can dye the soles of their feet and the palms of their hands; men would not dare to. High officials and princes can wear fabrics with widely spaced patterns. Only officials may wear fabrics with two groups of patterns. Among common people, only women are allowed to wear such special types of cloth. But even if a newly arrived Chinese wears a fabric with two groups of patterns, it is not considered a crime because he is “ngan-ting-pa-cha”, a person who does not know the rules. When officials go out, their emblems and their entourage are arranged according to their rank. The highest dignitaries use a golden palanquin and four parasols with golden handles; the following have a golden palanquin and two parasols with golden handles, then a golden palanquin and one parasol with a golden handle, and finally a simple parasol with a silver handle.” “Both regular writings and official documents are always written on deer or deer skin and similar materials, dyed black. Each person cuts the skins to their liking, depending on their dimensions in length and width. People use a kind of powder that resembles Chinese chalk and shape it into sticks, which they call “so.” Holding this stick in hand, they write characters on pieces of skin, these do not fade. When they finish, they place the stick behind their ear. They can also recognize a writer by his characters. The characters will fade, however, if you rub them with something wet. All documents are written from left to right, not from top to bottom. These people always make the tenth Chinese lunar month the first month of their year. In front of the royal palace, a large platform is assembled that can accommodate more than a thousand people, and it is entirely adorned with lanterns and flowers. In front, at a distance of twenty paces, using pieces of wood placed end to end, a high platform is assembled, similar in shape to scaffolding for the construction of the Buddhist mounds we now call “stupas”. Each night, three, four, five, or six of these platforms are constructed. Fireworks and firecrackers are placed at the top. These expenses are borne by the provinces and noble houses. When night falls, the sovereign is invited to witness the spectacle. Rockets are launched, and firecrackers are lit. The rockets can be seen from over a hundred miles away, and the firecrackers are as large as boulders, and their explosion shakes the entire city. Mandarins and nobles contribute with candles and areca nuts. The sovereign also invites foreign ambassadors to the spectacle. This continues for fifteen days, and then everything stops. Every month, there is a festival. In the fourth month, they play ball. In the ninth, they enumerate. Enumerating means gathering the population from all over the kingdom and reviewing them in front of the royal palace. In the fifth month, they fetch water for the Buddhas. They gather the Buddhas from all over the kingdom, bring water, and, in the company of the sovereign, wash them. In the sixth month, they navigate boats on dry land. The prince climbs a belvedere to watch the festival. In the seventh month, they burn rice. At this time, the new rice is ripe, and they fetch it outside the South Gate and burn it as an offering to the Buddha. Countless women go to this ceremony by cart or on elephants, but the sovereign stays at home. In the eighth month, there is dancing. The term “ngai-lan” means “to dance.” They designate actors and musicians who come to the royal palace every day to perform “ngai-lan.” There are also pig and elephant fights. The sovereign also invites foreign ambassadors to attend. The sovereign holds court twice a day for government affairs. There is no schedule. Officials or people who wish an audience wait on the ground outside. After a while, distant music is heard in the palace. Then the sound of conch shells outside announces his arrival. I have heard that the sovereign travels in a golden palanquin to these meetings; he does not come from far away. A moment later, two palace maidens raise the curtain with their delicate fingers, and the sovereign, holding a sword, appears standing at the golden window. Ministers and people fold their hands and touch their foreheads to the ground. When the sound of the conch shells ceases, they can raise their heads. It is at this moment that the sovereign takes his seat, and on such occasions, he is always seated on his lion’s skin, a royal heirloom. As soon as the matters to be handled are completed, the prince turns around, the palace maidens lower the curtain, and everyone stands up.”   The excerpts come from Paul Pelliot’s French translation, first published in 1902 (then revised before his death and published in 1951). Below is Monash University’s youtube reconstruction of medieval Angkor, from 2017.     Like this:Like Loading... [...]
creative writing / literatureThere is no longer any need to argue that the communications satellite is ultimately going to have a profound effect upon society; the events of the last ten years have established this beyond question. Nevertheless, it is possible that even now we have only the faintest understanding of its ultimate impact upon our world. There are those who have argued that communications satellites (hereafter referred to as “comsats”) represent only an extension of existing communications devices, and that society can therefore absorb them without too great an upheaval. I am reminded rather strongly of the frequent assertions by elderly generals immediately after August 1945 that nothing had really changed in warfare because the device which destroyed Hiroshima was “just another bomb”. Some inventions represent a kind of technological quantum jump which causes a major restructuring of society. In our century, the automobile is perhaps the most notable example of this. It is characteristic of such inventions that even when they are already in existence, it is a considerable time before anyone appreciates the changes they will bring. To demonstrate this, I would like to quote two examples, one genuine, one slightly fictitious. For the first I am indebted to the Honorable Anthony Wedgewood Benn, now UK Minister of Technology, who passed it on to me when he was Postmaster General. Soon after Mr. Edison had invented the electric light, there was an alarming decline in the Stock Exchange quotations for the gas companies. A Parliamentary Commission was therefore called in England, which heard expert witnesses on the subject; I feel confident that many of these assured the gas manufacturers that nothing further would be heard of this impractical device. One of the witnesses called was the chief engineer of the Post Office, Sir William Preece – an able man who in later years was to back Marconi in his early wireless experiments. Somebody asked Sir William if he had any comments to make on the latest American invention – the telephone. To this, the chief engineer of the Post Office made the remarkable reply: “No Sir. The Americans have need of the telephone but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” The second example is due to my friend, Jean d’Arcy, Director of Radio and Visual Information Services Division of the United Nations. He has reported to me the deliberations of a slightly earlier scientific committee, set up in the Middle Ages to discuss whether it was worth developing Mr. Gutenberg’s printing press. After lengthy deliberations, this committee decided not to allocate further funds. The printing press, it was agreed, was a clever idea, but it could have no large-scale application. There would never be any big demand for books for the simple reason that only a microscopic fraction of the population could read. If anyone thinks that I am labouring the obvious, I would like him to ask himself, in all honesty, whether he would have dared to predict the ultimate impact of the printing press and the telephone when they were invented. I believe that in the long run the impact of the communication satellite will be even more spectacular. Moreover, the run may not be as long as we think. The human mind tends to extrapolate in a linear manner, whereas progress is exponential. The exponential curve rises slowly at first and then climbs rapidly, until eventually it cuts across the straight-line slope and goes soaring beyond it. Unfortunately, it is never possible to predict whether the crossover point will be five, ten or twenty years ahead. However, I believe that everything I am about to discuss will be technically possible well before the end of this century. The rate of progress will be limited by economic and political factors, not technological ones. When a new invention has a sufficiently great public appeal, the world insists on having it. Look at the speed with which the “transistor revolution” occurred. Yet what we now see on the technological horizon are devices with far greater potential, and human appeal, even than the ubiquitous transistor radio. It must also be remembered that our ideas concerning the future of space technology are still limited by the present primitive state of the art. All of today’s launch vehicles are expendable, single-shot devices which can perform only one mission and are then discarded. It has been “recognized for many years that space exploration, and space exploitation, will be practical only when the same launch vehicle can be flown over and over again, like conventional aircraft. The development of the reusable launch vehicle, the so-called “space shuttle” will be the most urgent problem of the space engineers in the 1970s. It is confidently believed that such vehicles will be operating by the end of the decade, the end of the 1970s. When they do, their impact upon astronautics will be comparable to that of the famous DC-3 upon aeronautics. The cost of putting payloads and men into space will decrease from thousands, to hundreds, and then to tens of dollars per pound. This will make possible the development of multipurpose manned space stations, as well as the deployment of very large and complex unmanned satellites which it would be quite impractical to launch (from Earth) in a single vehicle. It must also be remembered that comsats are only one of a very large range of applications satellites; they may not even be the most important. The Earth Resources satellites will enormously advance our knowledge of this planet’s capabilities, and the ways in which we may exploit them. The time is going to come when farmers, fishermen, public utility companies, departments of agriculture and forestry, etc. will find it impossible to imagine how they ever operated in the days before they had space-borne sensors continually scanning the planet. The economic value of meteorological satellites and their potential for the saving of life has already been demonstrated. Another most important use of satellites, which has not yet begun, but which will have an economic value of thousands of millions of dollars a year, is their use for air-traffic control. It appears possible that the only real solution to the problem of air congestion, and the mounting risk of collisions, may be through navigational satellites which can track every aircraft in the sky. Arthur C. Clarke predicts the internet, creative commons video from ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company): In dealing with telecommunications problems it is convenient and often indeed essential to divide the subject according to the type of transmission and equipment used. Thus we talk about radios, telephones, television sets, data networks, facsimile systems, etc. as though they were all quite separate things. But this of course is a completely artificial distinction; to the communications satellite, which simply handles trains of electric impulses, they are all the same. For the purposes of this discussion I am therefore looking at the subject from a different point of view, which may give a better overall picture. I am lumping all telecommunications devices together and am considering their total impact upon four basic units in turn. Those units are the Home, the City, the State, and the World. Note that I start with the home, not the family, as the basic human unit. Many people do not live in family groups, but everybody lives in a home. Indeed, in certain societies today the family itself is becoming somewhat nebulous around the edges, and among some younger groups is being replaced by the tribe – of which more anon. But the home will always be with us. There was once a time when homes did not have windows. It is difficult for those of us who do not live in caves or tents to imagine such a state of affairs. Yet within a single generation the home in the more developed countries has acquired a new window of incredible magical power – the TV set. What once seemed one of the most expensive luxuries became, in what is historically a twinkling of an eye, one of the basic necessities of life. The television antenna swaying precariously above the slum dweller’s shack is a true sign of our times. What the book was to a tiny minority in earlier ages, the television set has now come to be for all the world. It is true that, all too often, it is no more than a drug like its poorer relative, the transistor radio seen pressed to the ears of the blank-faced noiseaddicts one sees walking entranced through the city streets. But, of course, it is infinitely more than this, as was so well-expressed by Professor Buckminster Fuller when he remarked that ours is the first generation to be reared by three parents. All future generations will be reared by three parents. As René Maheu, Director-General of UNESCO, remarked recently, this may be one of the real reasons for the generation gap. We now have a discontinuity in human history. For the first time there is a generation that knows more than its parents, and television is at least partly responsible for this state of affairs. Anything we can imagine in the way of educational TV and radio can be done. As I have already remarked, the limitations are not technical, but economic and political. As for economic limitations, the cost of a truly global satellite educational system, broadcasting into all countries, would be quite trivial compared with the long-term benefits it could bring. Let me indulge in a little fantasy. Some of the studies of educational comsat broadcasts — let us call them EDSATS — to developing countries indicate that the cost of the hardware may be of the order of $1 per pupil per year. I suppose there are about a thousand million children of school age on this planet, but the number of people who require education must be much higher than this, perhaps two thousand million. As I am only concerned with establishing orders of magnitude, the precise figures don’t matter. But the point is that, for the cost of a few thousand million dollars a year, a few per cent of the monies spent on armaments could provide a global EDSAT system which could drag this whole planet out of ignorance. Such a project would seem ideally suited for UNESCO supervision, because there are great areas of basic education in which there are no serious disagreements. The beauty of television, of course, is that to a considerable extent it transcends the language problem. I would like to see the development, by the Walt Disney studios or some similar organization, of visual educational programmes which do not depend on language, but only upon sight, plus sound effects. I feel certain that a great deal can be done in this direction, and it is essential that such research be initiated as soon as possible, because it may take much longer to develop appropriate programmes than the equipment to transmit and receive them. Even the addition of language, of course, does not pose too great a problem since this requires only a fraction of the band-width of the vision signal. And sooner or later we must achieve a world in which every human being can communicate directly with every other, because everyone will speak, or at least understand, a handful of basic languages. The children of the future are going to learn several languages from that third parent in the corner of the living room. Perhaps looking further ahead, a time is going to come when any student or scholar anywhere on Earth will be able to tune in to a course in any subject that interests them, at any level of difficulty they desire. Thousands of educational programmes will be broadcast simultaneously on different frequencies, so that any individual will be able to proceed at his own rate, and at his own convenience, through the subject of his choice. This could result in an enormous increase in the efficiency of the educational process. Today, every student is geared to a relatively inflexible curriculum. He has to attend classes at fixed times, which very often may not be convenient. The opening up of the electromagnetic spectrum made possible by comsats will represent as great a boon to scholars and students as did the advent of the printing press itself. The great challenge of the decade to come is freedom from hunger. Yet starvation of the mind will one day be regarded as an evil no less great than starvation of the body. All men deserve to be educated to the limit of their capabilities. If this opportunity is denied them, basic human rights are violated. This is why the forthcoming experimental use of direct broadcast EDSATS in India in 1972 is of such interest and importance. We should wish it every success, for even if it is only a primitive prototype, it may herald the global educational system of the future. It is obvious that one of the results of the developments we have been discussing will be a breakdown of the barrier between home and school, or home and university, for in a sense the whole world may become one academy of learning. But this is only one aspect of an even wider revolution because results of the new communications devices will also break down the barrier between home and place of work. During the next decade we will see coming into the home a general purpose communications console comprising TV screen, camera, microphone, computer keyboard and hardcopy readout device. Through this, anyone will be able to be in touch with any other person similarly equipped. As a result, for an ever increasing number of people in fact, virtually everyone of the executive level and above, almost all travel for business will become unnecessary. Recently, a limited number of the executives of the Westinghouse Corporation in the United States who were provided with primitive forerunners of this device, promptly found that their travelling decreased by 20 per cent. This, I am convinced, is how we are going to solve the traffic problem and thus, indirectly, the problem of air pollution. More and more, the slogan of the future will be, “Don’t Commute – Communicate”. Moreover, this development will make possible and even accelerate another fundamental trend of the future. It usually takes a genius to see the obvious, and once again I am indebted to Professor Buckminster Fuller for the following ideas. One of the most important consequences of today’s space research will be the development of life-support, and above all, food regeneration systems for long duration voyages and for the establishment of bases on the moon and planets. It is going to cost thousands of millions of dollars to develop these techniques, but when they are perfected they will be available to everyone. This means that we will be able to establish self-contained communities quite independent of agriculture, anywhere on this planet that we wish; perhaps one day even individual homes may become autonomous closed ecological systems producing all their food and other basic requirements indefinitely. This development, coupled with the communications explosion, means a total change in the structure of society. But because of the inertia of human institutions, and the gigantic capital investments involved, it may take a century or more for the trend to come to its inevitable conclusion. That conclusion is the death of the city. We all know that our cities are obsolete, and much effort is now going into patching them up so that they work after some fashion, like thirtyyear-old automobiles held together with string and wire. But we must recognize that in the age that is coming. The city – except for certain limited applications – is no longer necessary. The nightmare of overcrowding and traffic jams which we now endure is going to get worse, perhaps for our lifetimes. But beyond that is a vision of a world in which man is once again what he should be, a fairly rare animal, though in instant communication with all other members of his species. Marshall McLuhan has coined the evocative phrase “the global village” to describe the coming society. I hope “the global village” does not really mean a global suburb, covering the planet from pole to pole. Luckily, there will be far more space in the world of the future, because the land liberated at the end of the agricultural age now coming to a close after ten thousand years will become available for living purposes. I trust that much of it will be allowed to revert to wilderness, and that through this new wilderness will wander the electronic nomads of the centuries ahead. It is perfectly obvious that the communications revolution will have the most profound influence upon that fairly recent invention, the nation-state. I am fond of reminding American audiences that their country was created only a century ago by two inventions. Before those inventions existed it was impossible to have a United States of America. Afterwards, it was impossible not to have it. Those inventions, of course, were the railroad and the electric telegraph. USSR, China – in fact all modern states could not possibly exist without them. Whether we like it or not, and certainly many people won’t like it, we are seeing the next step in this process. History is repeating itself one turn higher on the spiral. What the railroad and the telegraph did to continental areas a hundred years ago, the jet plane and the communications satellite will soon be doing to the whole world. Despite the rise of nationalism and the surprising resurgence of minority, political and linguistic groups, this process may already have gone further than is generally imagined. We see particularly among the young, cults and movements which transcend all geographical borders. The so-called “jet set” is perhaps the most obvious example of this transnational culture, but that involves only a small minority. In Europe at least, the Volkswagen and Vespa sets are far more numerous and perhaps far more significant. The young Germans, French, and Italians are already linked together by a common communications network, and are impatient with the naive and simple-minded nationalism of their parents which has brought so much misery to the world. What we are now doing – whether we like it or not – indeed whether we wish to or not – is laying the foundation of the first global society. Whether the final planetary authority will be an analogue of the federal systems now existing in the US or the USSR I do not know. I suspect that, without any deliberate planning, such organizations as the world meteorological and earth resources satellite system, and the world communications satellite system (of which INTELSAT is the precursor) will eventually transcend their individual components. At some time during the next century they will discover, to their great surprise, that they are really running the world. There are many who will regard these possibilities with alarm or distaste, and may even attempt to prevent their fulfilment. I would remind them of the story of the wise English king, Canute, who had his throne set upon the sea-shore so he could demonstrate to his foolish courtiers that even the king could not command the incoming tide. The wave of the future is now rising before us. Let us not attempt to hold it back. Wisdom lies in recognizing the inevitable – and cooperating with it. In the world that is coming, the great powers are not great enough. Let us look at our whole world – as we have already done through the eyes of our moonbound cameras. I have made it obvious that it will be essentially one world – though I am not foolish or optimistic enough to imagine that it will be free from violence and even war. But more and more it will be recognized that all terrestrial violence is the concern of the police – and of no one else. And there is another factor which will accelerate the unification of the world. Within another lifetime, this will not be the only world, and that fact will have profound psychological impact upon all humanity. We have seen in the annus mirabilis of 1969 the imprint of man’s first footstep on the moon. Before the end of this century, we will experience the only other event of comparable significance in the foreseeable future. Before I tell you what it is, ask yourselves what you would have thought of the moon landing, thirty years ago. Well, before another thirty have passed, we will see its inevitable successor – the birth of the first human child on another world, and the beginning of the real colonization of space. When there are men who do not look on Earth as home, then the men of Earth will find themselves drawing closer together. In countless ways this process has already begun. The vast outpouring of pride, transcending all frontiers, during the flight of Apollo 11 was an outstanding indication of this process. Whether or not one takes it literally, the myth of the Tower of Babel has an extraordinary relevance for our age. Before that time, according to the book of Genesis (and indeed according to some anthropologists) the human race spoke with a single tongue. That time may never come again, but the time will come, and through the impact of comsats, when there will be two or three world languages which everyone will share. Far higher than the misguided architects of the Tower of Babel ever could have imagined – 36,000 kilometres above the equator – the rocket and communications engineers are about to undo the curse that was then inflicted upon our ancestors. So let me end by quoting the relevant passage from the 11th chapter of Genesis, which I think could be a motto for our hopes of the future: And the Lord said: “Behold they are one people and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do, and nothing that they propose to do now will be impossible for them.” A 1970 text by Arthur C. Clarke from The UNESCO Courier, originally published online at the UNESCO website under a creative commons license: CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyThe ruins of Angkor were long hidden by the Cambodian jungle. Early explorers  such as the French artist Louis Delaporte (1842-1925) sketched the glory of what they found. Little did they know that the past was even more magnificent than they imagined. Just over a hundred years later, new laser technology, or lidar, is able to strip away the overgrowth of centuries, and bring to light a clearer outline of  that lost civilization. Now we can finally begin to understand what Angkor was and why the empire faded. Much still remains a mystery, but we were able to get some preliminary answers from dr. Damian Evans of the French Institute of Asian Studies (EFEO). Historyradio.org:  In what way does your new Lidar findings expand or confirm the view of Angkor presented by Zhou Daguan in his 12’ century travel narrative? Damian Evans: There has always been a degree of uncertainty about the urban context of the temples, because it was made of perishable materials which have rotted away. However Zhou Daguan mentioned a system of residence in which multiple households were arrayed around communal ponds. Using the lidar we have identified patterns in the ground surface that we can identify as remnant traces of ponds, and earthen occupation mounds on top of which people built their houses. We’ve mapped a vast network of these features, several thousand of them, which essentially confirms the account of Zhou Daguan as it relates to residential patterning. Historyradio.org: Marco Polo speaks of a great empire in Asia (not China), is there any chance he might have mentioned Angkor? Damian Evans: There’s no evidence for that unfortunately. The Khmer Empire was one of many large political entities which flourished in the region at that time, so it’s not necessarily the case. Historyradio.org:  What was the population of an average city in the Angkor Empire and what was the total population? Damian Evans: For population estimates we need to know two things: the spatial layout of the settlements, and the density of the neighborhoods. We have only just recently come to terms with the layout of the cities using lidar and other mapping techniques, and figuring out the density of inhabitants per hectare is the domain of household archaeology, which has really only just begun at Angkor. So we haven’t yet had the opportunity to sit down and make precise calculations, and we are still missing some crucial information. We can say though that figures in the one million rage for a population of Angkor are probably way too high, and I would say that there are several hundred thousand people at the capital, and some tens of thousands of people at each of the major regional centres. Historyradio.org:  What was the most surprising thing that you discovered? Damian Evans: There are still quite a few features that we discovered that we don’t understand. There are large grids of mounds covering several hectares, and strange geometric shapes carved into the surface of the landscape. They don’t seem to have had any agricultural or residential function, and when we excavate them there is nothing inside, so they are not burial sites. They may have some larger symbolic meaning as geoglyphs or something, we don’t know. Work on that is ongoing, as they have turned up everywhere and were obviously an important component of the built environment, and perhaps also of a kind of sacred geography whose meaning is obscure to us. Historyradio.org:  Has this form of archaeology uncovered anything new about the lives of ordinary people in Angkor? Damian Evans: Not directly, no, aside from confirming the residential patterning. One of the great values of lidar though is that it provides a very detailed and comprehensive picture of the built environment that allows field archaeologists to target excavations very precisely on areas that we know will deliver the most useful information. That work will now begin to deliver a wealth if information about the everyday life of the people. The insights from lidar are more orientated towards large-scale factors such as water management, landscape change, the structure of the urban environment, that kind of thing. One thing we can say is that people were living in a very densely inhabited space in the downtown area of Angkor, and with a lack of sanitation disease must have been an extremely serious issue. Historyradio.org: Why are there so few traces of this empire in the historical sources? Damian Evans: There is a local tradition of carving inscriptions in stone, and there is a corpus of around 1300 of those inscriptions. It is a rich historical record that informs most of what we know about the Khmer. In terms of accounts from outsiders, early sources are very few and far between so there are huge gaps in our knowledge. Later historical sources in the medieval period are very trade-centric, and are dominated by European accounts. Societies heavily engaged in commerce and/or located in coastal areas to take advantage of maritime trade are heavily privileged in these accounts. Angkor was engaged in trade to a certain extent, but it was most of all an inland agrarian empire and not of great interest to traders and trade emissaries, with the exception of Zhou Daguan. Historyradio.org:  Why and when did Angkor disappear? Damian Evans: It’s a complex question, there are many theories to do with war, overextension of the empire and so on, but none of the theories really stand alone as sufficient explanations. Increasingly we are seeing that their water management system evolved over centuries in a way that was problematic and ultimately unsustainable; because it was crucial for the success and maintenance of Angkor as the capital region, when the water management system ultimately failed – perhaps in the face of extreme climatic events – the royal court decided to relocate towards the coast and re-orient the economy towards commerce. Historyradio.org:  If Angkor had such extensive building complexes, canals and waterways, isn’t it natural to assume that they were advanced in the fields of science, mathematics and engineering? Do we know the names of any prominent scientists from the Angkor period? Damian Evans: Not really, no, although there are mentions of some specific professions like architects who seemed to be quite prominent within the royal court. The inscriptions in stone that are our main historical sources are not really informative on such kinds of issues, as they are mostly poetic dedications to the gods which glorify the rulers and list donations to the temples. So we know very little of the mechanics of how things were built and why, and by who. Looking at the extremely precise way that the temples were built however there would have been a cohort of professionals who were very skilled in these fields, and who had the benefit of thousands of years of technical knowledge inherited from China and India and beyond. Historyradio.org:  What sort of language did the ancient Khmer have, and are there any remains of their literature, either in their own language or in translations in other languages? If not, why not? After all ancient Greek sources often survived in Arabic translations? Damian Evans: They had their own language which is the ancestral language of modern Khmer, although they had no indigenous script and expressed it in writing in a script that was borrowed from India. The language is intelligible to scholars. The high language of religion and the royal court was also borrowed from the Indian tradition – it was Sanskrit, which of course can also be translated easily enough. The corpus of 1300 or so inscriptions has been mostly translated into French. Historyradio.org:  The lidar technology that you used has been applied most recently on the ancient Maya. Is there any room for improvements in the technology? What will be possible in the near future? Damian Evans: At the moment the technology is still very expensive. In the future, as lidar instruments become miniaturised and as UAV technology develops, we should start to be able to cover wide areas with that combination. For now though it is not practical to cover wide areas on the scale of Angkor for example with UAV technology. But that will come soon I think in the next few years. Unfortunately there are technical limitations which prevent high-resolution space-based lidars. But in a decade or two we might achieve that as well, which will provide cheap global coverage. The amount of archaeological material that will be uncovered then will be extraordinary. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureA few years back Ify Iroakazi, a Nigerian drama student, sat down and wrote a fantasy novel, a dark 400-page epic about war between kings, magic and revenge. However, writing such a book is one thing, getting it out to the public is another. We asked him some questions about the difficulties he has faced as an African. Historyradio.org: There can’t be that many African fantasy epics? Why did you decide to write a fantasy novel? Ify Iroakazi: I chose fantasy because this literary genre affords me the opportunity to explore life and reality beyond this material world. I think that it is only in fantasy that writers stretch their imaginative string to its limit. Your imagination must be highly fertile before you will be able to write a great fantasy novel. Take Harry Potter and the Songs of Ice and Fire (Game of Throne) series, The Wheel of time, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and many more. The writers of these fantasy novels taught me that fantasy writers are not only writers, but also inventors and creators. We invent objects and create beings in fantasy books. And by reading these works, readers will enrich their lives. Historyradio.org: Which writers would you say inspired you the most? Ify Iroakazi: A lot of writers inspired me. I am simply a lover of words and beautiful sentences. I enjoy fiction and non-fiction – there are no limts – I am good as long as I have something new to learn or faint memories to rekindle. But I would say that Shakespeare’s The Tempest introduced me to fantasy. Historyradio.org: When you wrote the novel, did you have any idea about how you would go about getting it published? Ify Iroakazi: No. I knew absolutely nothing about publishing when I began writing this work, but I believed like every other writer that somehow it would be published. Even when I was done writing, I still was not sure of the direction. Historyradio.org: Tell us something about the difficulties you have faced? Ify Iroakazi: The first difficult was money. I was and still am very poor. There is no shame in telling the truth about yourself. Born and raised in an environment where I lack the basic necessities of life, I struggle to survive each day. I am very ambitious and I would dare even the devil (hahaha) to change my narrative. My worst ambition was trying to get a university education. This is truly the worst. I think poverty is the major challenge in this part of the world. People rarely afford what to eat, decent shelter and decent clothes. I could not afford the services of proofreaders/ editors when I was done writing the final manuscript. This is one of the reasons it took so long for the book to be published. Another difficulty is finding interested literary agents and traditional publishers to pitch my manuscript. I tried few online. Well, I don’t want to go into my experiences here. But just remember that I am a Nigerian. The first person (I think he is also the only person) who has ever trusted and believed in me outside the shores of Nigeria is a Norwegian guy I met on Facebook. He edited this work for me and helped with the publishing as well. Historyradio.org: You don’t even own a computer, do you? How did you manage to get the text into a digital format? Ify Iroakazi: No, I don’t own a computer. I wrote the greater part of the work on paper, a large exercise for a book, and then paid for it to be typed. The last part of it I typed with my phone using an app. Historyradio.org: What about the price of the book, can you afford to buy your own book? Ify Iroakazi: Hahahaha…This is a very funny question. But unfortunately the answer is that I cannot afford the paperback of my own book which is 14.99 USD. The one I think I would have been able to afford was the Kindle version which is 4.99 USD if Amazon had not restricted readers in Africa from accessing it. Historyradio.org: What about other Africans, can they buy it? Ify Iroakazi: I think not as many as those on the other side of the planet can afford the paperback. Like I said earlier, Amazon restricts readers in Africa from accessing the cheaper version, the eBook. Historyradio.org: What about payment. Not all payment options are available to Africans, are they? Ify Iroakazi: No. This was also the difficult I faced during the time I was trying to publish this work. Amazon KDP doesn’t do direct deposits into bank accounts in Nigeria. Writers and publishers here have to go through certain intermediaries to receive their royalty. Some of these intermediaries include PayPal and Payoneer, but unfortunately PayPal currently does not allow deposits into account holders receding in Nigeria. You could send out money but can’t receive. Payoneer is the payment option that is currently working for Nigerian KDP authors and publishers. Historyradio.org: We have heard that you have no birth certificate and no identity card, is this common in Africa? How did this affect your publishing efforts? Ify Iroakazi: Yes it is common in Nigeria, probably all over Africa, in that most people were not given birth to in an established hospital. In fact, most of us were born at home. In the farm, etc. So your birth certificate is always a court affidavit which you get later in life when official necessities call for it. Well, I didn’t care about an identity card, especially the National Identity card, because of the bottleneck involved in getting one until I was asked to fill information from such a card during publication. Historyradio.org: Now the book has been published, has there been a lot of attention? Ify Iroakazi: Well, NO is the answer for now. But it’s too early for that. The book is not a month old. However, I have been getting  a lot of of congratulations from many people. Many from my university chat and call to know how they can get my book. Historyradio.org: Do you have a marketing plan? Ify Iroakazi: For now I don’t have a very serious marketing plan other than a kind of book signing in December. I am hoping to make my book available to those those who have the resources to support me come December. I have plan of using that medium to get my books to local libraries and those who love reading, but cannot afford to buy a book. Historyradio.org: If you were to give any advice to other African who try to self-publish a book, what would that be? Ify Iroakazi: Be ready for the challenges would be my advice. Historyradio.org: What is next for you now that this book has been published? Ify Iroakazi: Next is to take my time and decide on my next move.   Ify’s novel is available from Amazon.  Click the link below to get it:   Like this:Like Loading... [...]