This apology of decay
The nastiness of history.
The nightmare always associated with Stephen in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
So of course the schools now avoid all the bad news by packaging history up as problems, pro and con, possible solutions… sometimes they call in over-looked voices, witnesses but always contaminated with the myth of critical thinking and the so-called uncovering the secret suppressed history and the inevitable conspiracy of some sort is urged into being so as to nudge nudge their students into the know…
An absence of any sense of chronological history sticks young people and most people in a constant present so that they can be shaped by whatever is the current powers-to-be… to be set in a present moment when to have any thoughts of the past is to be forbidden under the pain of being thought old-fashioned, out of touch… so yes it was boring for teachers to listen to students reciting the list of presidents, the monarchs of England, the wars of the various countries… but not boring for a young person as he or she would always be aware that whoever is the current rascal in charge is just that… the current one, no better and no worse than what has gone before… and so the inevitable hesitation before responding to the well crafted campaigns to sway, to give up thinking, to give up memory…
Now, the sad reality constant disillusion to be replaced by a fake revival of some recent fashion while waiting for the next “new” enthusiasm
Which might all be throat clearing for the pleasures of reading the new Library of America: THE WAR OF 1812 Writings from America’s Second War of Independence. You might know which one: the Battle of New Orleans and Andrew Jackson’s victory over the British after the treaty of peace had been signed… yeah, the writing of the Star Spangled Banner… some naval battles… and as Bob Dylan sings in his song “Narrow Way” on his latest CD: Ever since the British burned the White House down…
Of course the Library of America has been doing some strategic planning of its own: the really complex wars, the nastiest with still unsettled consequences: the Mexican American War, the Spanish American War, the Korean War and the First World War…
Just reciting the list: I leave out the more than a hundred years war against the Indians… allow me the old-fashioned word… that war which could never be resolved as to being either a simple war of conquest or of extermination.. but a hundred years war… that was something that happened in Europe…yet it continues on today, of course
Such are the thoughts and why these LOA books are so important..
But the nightmare… Hannah Green in her singularly visionary book THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE has a theme: the history of Ohio and while she is now herself long gone I can imagine sharing with her this description of the aftermath of a battle between the Americans, the English and their Indian allies. A sixteen year old Englishman John Richardson reporting later in life on what he saw in an Indian village: …were to be seen the scalps of the slain drying in the sun, stained on the fleshy side with vermilion dyes, and dangling in air they hung suspended from the poles to which they were attached together with hoops of various sizes, on which were stretched portions of human skin taken from various parts of the body, principally the hand and foot, and yet covered with the nails of those parts, while scattered along the ground were visible the members from which they had been separated and serving as nutriment to the wolf-dogs by which the savages are accompanied… stopping at the entrance of a tent occupied by a part of the Minoumini tribe we observed them seated round a large fire, over which was suspended a kettle containing their meal. Each warrior had a piece of string hanging over the edge of the vessel and to this was suspended a food, which it will be presumed we heard not without loathing, consisted of part of an American… Any expression of our feelings as we declined the invitation they gave us to join in their repast, would have been resented by the Indians without much ceremony.
Later in that year the same Richardson saw: A tall powerful man--- a chief whom I well knew… when within twelve or fifteen paces of the rifleman, he raised and threw his tomahawk, and with such precision and force that it immediately opened the skull, and extended him motionless on the earth. Laying down his rifle, he drew forth his knife, and after having removed the hatchet from the brain, proceeded to make a circular incision throughout the scalp. This done, he grasped the bloody instrument between his teeth and placing his knees on the back of the victim, while at the same times he fastened his fingers in the hair, the scalp was torn off without much apparent difficulty and thrust, still bleeding, into his bosom. The warrior then arose, and after having wiped his knife on the clothes of the unhappy man returned it to its sheath, grasping at the same time the arms he had abandoned, and hastening to rejoin his comrades. All this was the work of a few minutes.
And here is Shadrach Byfield--- what a wonderful Biblical name---Shadrach-- how few are the names now available in the current moment of this blog… describes the result of being wounded at the age 25: After a few days our doctor informed me that my arm must be taken off, as mortification had taken place. I consented and asked one of my comrades who has lately gone through a like operation: “Bill, how is to have an arm taken off?” He replied, “Thee woo’t know, when it’s done.” They prepared to blind me, and had men to hold me, but I told them there was no need of that. The operation was tedious and painful, but I was enabled to bear it pretty well. I had it dressed, and went to bed. They brought me some mulled wine and I drank it. I was then informed that the orderly had thrown my hand to the dung heap. I arose, went to him and felt a disposition to strike him., My hand was taken up and a few boards nailed together for a coffin, my hand was put into it and buried on the ramparts. The stump of my arm soon healed and three days after I was able to play a game of fives for a quart of rum.
But that sort of glib comment of Stephen’s.. a comment I have known, chewed upon, used and heard used: John Lukacs writes about Gyula Krudy, He knew something that the psychiatrists of this century do not yet know, which is that on our dreams we really don’t think differently, we merely remember differently.
And the last selection in the book is a memoir of the life of an American prisoner in Dartmoor. It is said 20,000 Americans were held as prisoners. Of course there were incidents and Lewis Peter Clover recounts the result of one of those incidents when their English guards turned on the prisoners: On the floor opposite where I messed lay a handsome youth, of about fifteen years of age stiff, and sold as marble, pierced through the heart by a bayonet. A few yards farther on, lay another: a ball had entered his forehead, and passed out at the back of his head. I examined the spot the next morning and saw part of his brains which had been dashed against the wall nearly opposite the prison door. Among the wounded… another had a most miraculous escape with his life; a musket ball had passed through his mouth from side to side, taking out nearly the whole of his teeth. I saw him after he had go well: he could take no food except with a spoon.
From ABC OF READING by Ezra Pound: Teaching. The problem of education. If I could acquire a PhD, a fancy sober sounding name for a corporation, the ability to say what follows in say 200 pages I’d be a millionaire, as now:
The teacher or lecturer is a danger. He very seldom recognizes his nature or his position. The lecturer is a man who must talk for an hour.
France may possibly have acquired the intellectual leadership of Europe when their academic period was cut down to forty minutes.
I also have lectured. The lecturer’s first problem is to have enough words to fill forty or sixty minutes. The professor is paid for his time, his results are almost impossible to estimate.
The man who really knows can tell all that is transmissible in a very few words. The economic problem of the teacher (of violin or of language or anything else) is how to string it out so as to be paid for more lessons.
This apology of decay is from Gottfried Benn… that the prose books of Gottfried Benn are not available in English is a constant proof of the sheer incompetence of all these presses devoted to translation and the same goes for their failure to translate the famous three pamphlets of Celine… which remain un-translated for entirely different reasons as does the continued failure to translate the Diaries of Ernst Junger and his various collections of essays…