Dying is an art.

Image result for sylvia plath

Today is the birthday of Sylvia Plath, born in 1932 and dying of suicide in 1963, aged only 30.  Forever young, forever turgid with what may have been.

The poem below is a description of her relationship with suicide.  The death of her father when she was 8 years old remained with her all her life.  He died of complications following the amputation of his foot from diabetes.  Does the reference to her own right foot reflect this in the poem below?

Her father Otto Plath self diagnosed his illness – incorrectly.  Is this “Herr Doktor”?  This poem and “Daddy” are imbued with German imagery, Nazi imagery, Holocaust Imagery.  Having a German father and an Austrian mother during WW2 clearly carried a weight of guilt for the young Plath.

Her success in suicide was achieved ironically in an oven, gassing herself to death, a parody of the gassing and burning of the Jews in death camps.  Those were the days when we used towns gas, made from coal or naphta, which was poisonous.  These days if you stick your head in a gas oven you will simply get a headache.  Natural gas is not poisonous.

Lady Lazarus is one of Plath’s most analysed poems.  You will find analysis that claims it as a holocaust poem, survivor guilt, a feminist tirade against the patriarchy, a commentary on the vampire like demands of the audience on the artist, the legacy of her fathers early death, the abusive relationship with her husband Ted Hughes, the pressures on women to conform to a societal ideal, and so on.  It is a rich soup of imagery for any critic.

 

Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it——

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
bright as a Nazi lampshade,
my right foot

a paperweight,
my face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?——

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
the grave cave ate will be
at home on me

and I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
and like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
to annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
shoves in to see

them unwrap me hand and foot——
the big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

these are my hands
my knees.
I may be skin and bone,

nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
to last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

as a seashell.
They had to call and call
and pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

comeback in broad day
to the same place, the same face, the same brute
amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
that knocks me out.
There is a charge

for the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
for the hearing of my heart——
it really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
for a word or a touch
or a bit of blood

or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
the pure gold baby

that melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
you poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——

a cake of soap,
a wedding ring,
a gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
beware
beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
and I eat men like air.

Realpolitik and American Apple Pie

Klaus Barbie

Klaus Barbie

You can get Malibu Barbie, French Barbie and Bootcamp barbie in her cute military uniform.  But I have searched high and low and Mattel don’t seem to have produced a Klaus Barbie.  I wonder why.  He is, after all, a good all american guy.

Born Oct 25th 1913 in the Saar region of Germany (happy birthday Klaus) Barbie joined the SS in 1935 and became a Nazi party member in 1937.  In 1940 and 41 he helped to round up Dutch Jews and transport them to concentration camps.  But his real work got underway in 1942 when posted to Dijon.  He was transfereed to the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, and took over the personal duties of torture and interrogation.

In one case after beating one of his “suspects” he had him skinned alive and immersed his head in a bucket of ammonia.  For his service to the Reich the French gave him the sobriquet “The Butcher of Lyon”.  And it was not for the quality of his Cervelas.

So, you would imagine that a cruel and inhumane monster like this would be hanged, or at the very least would end his life in jail?  How wrong can you be?  Enter the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps, the CIC.  They recruited the Butcher of Lyon as a spy, beliving that the French Government was infiltrated by communists.  When the French demanded the monster they had already sentenced in absentia what did they US Army do?  Did they hand over the Butcher?  No.

Instead the CIC thought it would be a good idea to sneak Barbie out of Europe to South America.  He lived a life of wealth and luxury in Bolivia, consorting with the ruling elite.

When, at last, the Bolivian dictators were deposed the democratically elected government extradited him to France in 1983.  Indicted in 1983, sentenced in 1987, Barbie died in a French prison in 1991.

Good job USA, good job.  Hoo-ah!

 

Voyage of the Damned

gustavshroeder

Over the years I have heard many people criticize the Jews of Germany and Poland for not doing something about Nazi persecution during the Holocaust.  The two big things I have heard is 1.  Why didn’t they fight back?  and 2.  Why didn’t they leave?

In 1939 a group of 963 Jews did try to leave Germany on the MS St Louis, on what was later nicknamed the “Voyage of the Damned”.  They were treated like pariahs on their way tot he ship.  Once on board they were treated as luxury cruise passengers by the staff, on orders of the Captain.

This made the initial part of the voyage a pleasure, like a holiday.  Sadly this was not to last.

Initially bound for Cuba, they were refused entry there.  US officials tried to put pressure on Cuba to accept the refugees, but the Cubans would not agree.

The USA then refused asylum.  After making an attempt to land in Florida the Captain was sent away with a warning shot fired over his bows by the US coastguard.

The Captain then tried Canada.  Anti-Semitic politicians in that most liberal of nations succeeded in blocking their entry.

Eventually they returned to Europe where they were accepted into a number of countries as refugees.  The Captain refused to return the ship to Germany until his passengers were accepted elsewhere.  UK, France, Netherlands and Belgium accepted them in.  When France, Netherlands and Belgium were overrun by the Germans these Jews were interned and a quarter of them died in camps.

So much for suggestion 2 – Why didn’t they leave?  Jews in Germany observed this debacle and realised that nobody was putting out a welcome mat for the Jewish people in 1939.

In 1993 the Captain of the ship, the MS St Louis, Gustav Schröder, was awarded the title “Righteous among the nations” by the state of Israel.

The Burning Of The Books; by Bertolt Brecht (Michael Burch: Transl)

When the Regime
commanded the unlawful books to be burned,
teams of dull oxen hauled huge cartloads to the bonfires.

Then a banished writer, one of the best,
scanning the list of excommunicated texts,
became enraged: he’d been excluded!

He rushed to his desk, full of contemptuous wrath,
to write fierce letters to the morons in power —
Burn me! he wrote with his blazing pen —
Haven’t I always reported the truth?
Now here you are, treating me like a liar!
Burn me!