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Archive for March, 2009

March 30th, 2009 • Posted in On Politics

Comparing Ghost Stories: Rhodes and Hitler

I don’t consider the former to be in the same villianous league as the latter, more ‘man of his times’ than monster, but, after seeing this striking statue

here in Company’s Garden, Capetown yesterday afternoon, it’s hard not to make comparisons. Both men had visions of world domination, both valued high culture and education. Both apparently had similar strange ghost-related experiences, both, judging from the statue, liked to salute people by sticking their arms straight out in the air. Here are some notes from a listserve the contents of which I think have some credibility, given that well known biographies are quoted:

Cecil Rhodes was one of the richest men in the world at the turn of the 19th century, the creator of De Beers, and founder of a new country. These achievements were, apparently, the result of a one single `great idea’ one which came to him at the age of 24 following initiation into the Masonic Order while at Oxford  University. This appears to have triggered something of an epiphany, as outlined in his `Confession of Faith’ which tells of his ambition to
establish a secret society to further the interests of the British Empire and the uniting of the entire Anglo-Saxon race, including America, into one single empire.

An event in Rhodes’ life, soon after this, apparently explains the fervour with which he followed his dream: He was back at the  diamond diggings in Kimberley,  South Africa. One night,  `His friends’, according to biographer Sir Lewis Michell, `found him in his room, blue with fright, his door barricaded with a chest of drawers and other furniture; he insisted that he had seen a ghost.’ Immediately after this ‘crisis,’ Rhodes had his  `Confession of Faith’ (which also contained  his last will and testament) legally formalised by an attorney. From then on, his star ascended.

Evidently the same thing happened to someone else – Adolf Hitler. In  `Hitler Speaks’, published in 1939, Hermann Rauschning recounts an identical event. Soon after, in 1933, Hitler seized power, and at the time reportedly remarked: `I will tell you a secret. I am founding an Order.’ Pretty well exactly what Rhodes had set out to do after his illumination.  Rhodes’ secret society dedicated to ruling the world ultimately, it is argued, became reality in Hitler’s SS (Schutzstaffel). 

Oswald Spengler, in his prescient work `Decline and Fall of Civilization in the West’, (1918) described the spirit of colonial expansion which possessed Rhodes as something, `daemonic and immense, which grips, forces into service and uses up mankind.’ Both Rhodes and Hitler it seems, encountered something clearly `daemonic’ at crucial times in their careers.

Spengler continues: ’Rhodes is to be regarded as the first precursor of a western type of Caesar. He stands midway between Napoleon and the force-men of the next centuries….in our Germanic world, the spirits of Alaric and Theodoric will come again – there is a first hint of them in Cecil Rhodes.’

March 30th, 2009 • Posted in Wicked Quotes

Nonsense is Faith, and Faith, Nonsense

"This simple sense if wonder at the shapes of things, and at their exuberant independence of our intellectual standards and our trivial definitions, is the basis of spirituality as it is the basis of nonsense. Nonsense and faith (strange as the conjuction may seem) are the two supreme syblolic assertions of the turhtu that to draw out the souls of things with a syllogism is as impossible as to draw out Leviathan with a hook. The well-meaning person who, by merely studying the logical side of things, has decided "faith is nonsense," does not know how truly he speaks; later it may come back to him in the form that nonsense is faith."

G.K. Chesterton’s ‘A Defence of Nonsense’ in Essays of Today and Yesterday, from "The Defendant."

March 29th, 2009 • Posted in Literary Criticism

Paradox and Chesterton

Visited a charming little used bookstore located in a church in downtown Capetown this morning. Books bought were a bit mildewy, but irresistible for their covers and`some content. James Reeves’ A Short History of English Poetry, Letters from Madame de Sevigne, with Preface by Somerset Maugham, Samuel Butler’s Notebooks, and  GK Chesterton’s Essays of Today and Yesterday, this from the Introductory Note:

"There were masters of paradox before Mr. G.K. Chesterton, but they were, generally speaking, masters with a difference. To the writer who finds that he is facile in this mode the temptation is strong to use his gift regardless of all things. So it degenerates into a species of word-juggleery that at first astonishes by its unexpectedness, then pleases by its dexterity, and finally offends by reason if its misplaced ingenuity. Once we begin to suspect that a writer is wrestling truth to serve paradox his fate is sealed. When, however, Mr. Chesterton says, "Atheism is indeed the most daring of all dogmas," or "A satisfactory explantion can never satisfy," or "Nine times out of ten a man’s broad-mindedness is the narrowest thing about him," he is not performing verbal gymnastics but stating the truth as he sees it in the simplest and most effective way that occurs to him."

Next post: G.K. on nonsense and faith.

March 29th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Woke up this Morning…

to this:

That’s Lion’s Head. This is colourful Capetown. Visual stimuli galore. Brilliant blue, red and white flowers, orange wedding gowns, off-white seagull shit stained saluting statues, national libraries, bookstores on Long Street, bright red coloured Porsches. All coming your way.

March 29th, 2009 • Posted in On Collecting

Schiphol Surprises

Not surprisingly, there are a lot more of these

on sale here, than these

My Grandmother was half Dutch. I recall a lot of Delft in her kitchens. Have for the past ten years or so been collecting windmill designs like these.

Only  have about half a dozen items…sought and found in such locales as the aligator infested Florida everglades and the frigid hills around Sutton, Quebec. Somewhat dismayed to find this wide, authentic selection for sale at an airport, albeit one in Holland. At least mine aren’t fresh out of the kiln.


March 29th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Call me Old Fashioned

But this is a bit much

Even if the bottle has pretty little designs on it.

March 28th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Notes on the personal, musical, inexact Thomas Hardy

These notes from W.E. Williams’ introduction to Thomas Hardy, The Penguin Poets; all of which help explain why ‘The Love-Letters’ affected me so:

 C.Day Lewis: ‘Influence spotters don’t have a very happy time with him’.

"Hardy’s poems, like his novels, derive from his own nature, experience, and integrity, and its is this characteristic which makes his testimony so personal and so moving."

"…a body of poetry which is on the whole melancholy although not infrequently relieved by moods of ecstacy and humour."

"What matters to us is that this great and accomplished poetry has expressed so movingly the sadness and sorrow of human experience…a deeply personal poet…[whose] poetry is often as personal as a diary or even as a commonplace book – as it was, again, with D.H. Lawrence – and consequently his Collected Poems contians more bad pieces – like The Woman I Met – than a more self-conscious, a more professional poet, would have allowed to survive in publication. Yet it is this very element of unrefined personal testimony which makes Hardy so free from that poetic protocol which most poets are at pains to observe…a self-taught manner, with the roughness, the naivite, the vigour, the uncertainty of taste which we might infer from the term self-made…

"…one of its charactersitics is a strong allegiance to music, a fondness for lilting rhythms, a dexterity in composing refrains, and above all a sense of syncopation in the beat of his lines…early passion for music, which never deserted him.

"Inexact rhythmes and rhymes," he [Hardy] wrote, "now and then are far more pleasing than correct ones."…

"Those ‘unadjusted impressions’ which Hardy turned into poetry were observed with great fidelity…

C. Day Lewis again: "If we ignore the inherited peasant streak in Hardy we shall fail to catch teh countryman’s raw humour and his love of story for its own sake – fail to realize how many of Hardy’s subjects, trivial, melodramatic or absurd as they may seem to us, were chosen becasue they possessed for him the forces and fascination of gossip"

"…he had the occasional mannerism of inventing an odd word or reviving one fallen out of use. "

March 26th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Auden on Hardy and Free Verse

Given our bracing exchange here, Zach Wells will no doubt enjoy this quote from The Dyer’s Hand:

"My first Master was Thomas Hardy, and I think I was very lucky in my choice. He was a good poet, perhaps a great one, but not too good. Much as I loved him, even I could see that his diction was often clumsy and forced and that a lot of his poems were plain bad. This gave me hope where a flawless poet might have made me dispair…his metrical variety, his fondness for complicated stanza forms, were an invaluable training in the craft of making. I am also thankful that my first Master did not write in free verse for I might then have been tempted to believe that free verse is easier to write than stricter forms, whereas I now know it is infinitely more difficult."

March 25th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Reviews of The Letters of Samuel Beckett Volume 1, 1929–1940

The Letters of Samuel Beckett Volume 1, 1929–1940 Series: The Letters of Samuel Beckett Samuel Beckett Edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld/ Lois More Overbeck

‘In many of the letters in this volume, especially those to Nuala Costello, with whom he seems to have thought himself in love, Beckett is often brilliant, nearly always funny, but we feel, as we do with many of the early stories and poems, that he is trying too hard, that he is simultaneously showing off and protecting himself. Now and then, we hear a voice we recognize as the authentic Beckett. This happens either when he trusts his interlocutor (as he does McGreevy) and so is prepared to confess his confusions, or when he writes in a language not his own, as in the letters to Morris Sinclair and Axel Kaun, or when suffering breaks down the barriers, as at the end of the letter to McGreevy announcing his father’s death: “I can’t write about him. I can only walk the fields and climb the ditches after him” 



More here:

Steve Mitchelmore at This Space

Nick Lezard at The Guardian

Anthony Lane at The New Yorker

Dwight Garner at The New York Times

Wyatt Mason at Harper’s


March 25th, 2009 • Posted in Literary Criticism

Four conditions required for a country to create works worthy of the Canon

1. An environment vibrant enough to nurture creative output of a high quality.

2. A bold, biased, hard-nosed, lawyer-like, well-read, articulate, passionate, seriously opinionated literary critic with a list.

3. A critical mass of equally opinionated literary critics/authors/reviewers who have their own lists, and are motivated enough to argue over relative aesthetic value.

4.  (Most important): a public that cares enough about literature/poetry to read the books, discuss and defend those deemed meritorious, and keep the conversation going over the long haul.