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!

 

Im Westen nichts Neues

Related image

This is the cover of the novel that we had at home, the one I read.  The hand, the barbed wire and the butterfly make an image that has stuck in my memory.  Erich Maria Remarque, born Erich Paul Remark, on this day in 1898.

Remarque is remarkable for three main reasons.

  1.  He wrote of World War 1 from the German perspective.
  2. He wrote the defining novel about a war that is celebrated in reams of poetry.
  3. He began the tradition of war veterans writing about their own experience of war.

Novels about war were not new.  Stephen Crane wrote the Red Badge of Courage in 1893 and it tells of the US Civil War from the standpoint of an ordinary soldier.  It reads like a personal account, but Crane was a novelist, not a soldier.  He was born after the war and based his book on interviews with veterans of the war.

Remarque fought in WW1, and was wounded.  He became a teacher after the war and then wrote the novel in 1928.  In the novel he is particularly hard on teachers who instill mindless nationalism in their students.  Above all it is an anti-war novel.

The Nazis hated it.  Remarque was declared “unpatriotic” and his books were removed from German libraries and added to the bonfires.  He moved to live in Switzerland.  In Germany the facts of his military service were denied by the Third Reich and his citizenship was revoked.  He moved with his wife to the USA before the outbreak of the war and eventually became a US citizen in 1947.

His sister in Germany, Elfriede Scholz, was tried on a charge of undermining morale and was beheaded.  The court stated “Your brother is unfortunately beyond our reach — you, however, will not escape us”.

Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting“. (3.42)

 

The history of my stupidity

Clamped

In a week when I injured my leg jumping from a wall and went on to get my car clamped I have to celebrate my own humanity, the flaws in myself, my own stupidity.  I present a portrait of both myself and my car sporting immobility boots.

So I can have not better companion than Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish Nobel Laureate who was born on this day in 1911.  Born in what is today Lithuania in what was then the Russian Empire, but speaking Polish, Milosz has that quality common amongst writers who struggle between their national and linguistic identities.  You will see it in Irish, Indian and African writers who write in English.  The disassociation between language and race promotes a focus on the weight of words, how words can shape meaning and identity.

Milosz was happy to resolve his identity by a refusal to identify.  To the ire of various activists he refused to be either Polish or Lithuanian.

Milosz went on to become a citizen of Nazi Poland.  He refused to become a supporter of the short lived Warsaw uprising, holding to his determination of what he was not.

Then he was a comrade of Stalinist Russian Poland and eventually became the polar opposite; a citizen of the United States of America.

As to my own stupidity….volumes could not cover it.  I could fill a library.

The history of my stupidity; by Czeslaw Milosz

The history of my stupidity would fill many volumes.

Some would be devoted to acting against consciousness,
like the flight of a moth which, had it known,
would have tended nevertheless toward the candle’s flame.

Others would deal with ways to silence anxiety,
the little whisper which, though it is a warning, is ignored.

I would deal separately with satisfaction and pride,
the time when I was among their adherents
who strut victoriously, unsuspecting.

But all of them would have one subject, desire,
if only my own — but no, not at all; alas,
I was driven because I wanted to be like others.
I was afraid of what was wild and indecent in me.

The history of my stupidity will not be written.
For one thing, it’s late. And the truth is laborious.

The F word

Wo-Manifesto; by Donal Clancy

I am not a woman, I am a feminist.
I am not gay, I am a feminist.
I am not transgender, I am a feminist.
I am not a paedophile, I am a feminist.
I am not sexually ambiguous, I am a feminist.

I am not a Nazi or a Fascist, I am a feminist.
I am not a bleeding heart liberal pinko commie snowflake, I am a feminist.
I am not a member of a deprived underclass, I am a feminist.
I am not a victim of racism, I am a feminist.
I am not a rapist, I am a feminist.

I do not believe all men are born equal, I am a feminist.
I do not believe all women are born equal, I am a feminist.
I do not believe men and women are equal, they are different, I am still a feminist.
I do believe opportunity should be equal, I am a feminist.

I am an educated middle aged straight white male. I am the enemy.

Never forget

Reichstag

Reichstag building wrapped by the artist Christo

On this day in 1933 Adolf Hitler managed to push “The Enabling Act” through the Reichstag in Germany.

This gave him the position of Dictator, and gave the minority Nazi party effective control of Germany.  Democracy was sacrificed to expedience.  The confusion of coalition government was replaced by the clarity, direction and strength of single minded purpose.  See where that ended up?

Democracy is hard.  Government is a messy process.  It is dirty, political, flawed, frustrating, time-consuming and downright annoying.  The Germans swept all that away in favour of simple solutions.

Beware politicians who seem to offer simple solutions to complex problems.  Remember the Enabling Act.  If you don’t know what it is, inform yourself.  This stuff is important to know!

Epic: by Patrick Kavanagh

I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided, who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man’s land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.

I heard the Duffys shouting “Damn your soul!”
And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen
Step the plot defying blue cast-steel –
“Here is the march along these iron stones.”

That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was more important? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind.

He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.

 

Coup d’Etat

Trump

Currently reading Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale”.  It is oddly prophetic in describing how the USA is subverted by Christian Fundamentalist Military who suspend the constitution and replace democracy with a police state.  The events set out by Atwood involve a rise in Islamic fundamentalism (remember this was written back in the 1980’s before anyone ever heard of Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden.)

An assassination of the President of the USA and an attack on the Capitol wipes out the Government in one fell swoop.  The question is of course who instigated the attack?  Was it the Islamic fundamentalists or was it the Christian fundamentalist right wing?  The events are a mirror of what happened in Germany in the 1930’s.  Hitler did not have enough seats in the parliament to form a government.  He began by eliminating his main rivals, the Communists.  The Reichstag building was burned down and the event was blamed on the communists who were eliminated from parliament.  Hitler then cut a deal with the Catholic right wing to suspend government by passing the Enablement Act.  Stormtroopers prevented Social Democrat moderates from entering the parliament building for the vote.  Democracy was destroyed by a minority group of bullies.

Atwood uses this as a model for her own military takeover of the USA.  Does it sound plausible that the hard right wing could suspend democracy?  Just look at the rise of the Tea Party republicans!  The rise in Islamic fundamentalism has generated a polarising influence in US politics.  The result is a candidate like Donald Trump who speaks of banning muslims from entry to the USA and building a wall across the Mexican border.  In times of fear and uncertainty voters seek simple answers from strong leaders.  What they get are demagogues and dictators.

The 9/11 attacks targeted the world trade centre, the Pentagon and the White House.  What would have happened if the President had been killed?  US democracy is in a precarious position.  The Handmaid’s Tale is like a manual for suspension of democracy.  It seems to me that some of the hard right have been studying up on it.  No wonder they want the book removed from required reading lists in US schools.

Maybe allowing the US population to own all those guns is not such a bad idea?  What do you think?

 

 

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!