Archive for the ‘literature’ Category

The Plague 2

So I am still ploughing my way through Albert Camus’ 1947 novel The Plague / La Peste. I am not rushing, savouring it – got plenty of time on my hands! The parallels continue to resonate. So here’s picking up from my first post on the subject…

la peste the plague albert camus 1947 1971 novel le livre de poche

I recently acquired this 1971 copy of a 1966 edition

[Sunday posting] “Only as the sermon proceeded did it become apparent to the congregation that, by a skilful oratorical device, Father Paneloux had launched at them, like a fisticuff, the gist of his whole discourse. After launching it he went on at once to quote a text from Exodus relating to the plague of Egypt, and said: “The first time this scourge appears in history it was wielded to strike down the enemies of God. Pharaoh set himself up against the divine will, and the plague beat him to his knees. Thus from the dawn of recorded history the scourge of God has humbled the proud of heart and laid low those who hardened themselves against Him. Ponder this well, my friends, and fall on your knees.”

“ ‘Ah, if only it had been an earthquake! A good bad shock, and there you are! You count the dead and living, and that’s an end of it. But this here blasted disease – even them as haven’t got it can’t think of anything else.’ ”

[on the day of the UK Government’s first daily Coronavirus news conference] “a new paper has been launched, The Plague Chronicle, which sets out “to inform our townspeople, with scrupulous veracity, of the daily progress or recession of the disease; to supply them with the most authoritative opinions available as to its future course; to offer the hospitality of its columns to all, in whatever walk of life, who wish to join in combating the epidemic; to keep up the morale of the populace, to publish the latest orders issued by the authorities, and to centralise the efforts of all who desire to give active and whole-hearted help in the present emergency.”

“During the last 24 hours there had been two cases of a new form of the epidemic; the plague was becoming pneumonic. On this very day, in the course of the meeting, the much-harassed doctors had pressed the Prefect – the unfortunate man seemed quite at his wits’ end – to issue new regulations to prevent contagion being carried from mouth to mouth, as happens in pneumonic plague. The Prefect had done as they wished, but as usual they were groping, more or less, in the dark.”

[self-reflexive about these posts] “They began to take a genuine interest in the laborious literary task to which he was applying himself while plague raged around him. Indeed, they, too, found in it a relaxation of the strain.“

“ ‘If things go on as they are going,’ Rieux remarked, ‘the whole town will be a madhouse.’ He felt exhausted, his throat was parched. ‘Let’s have a drink.’ ”

[on the day UK government calls up retired doctors and final year medical students] “ ‘Haven’t doctors and trained assistants been sent from other towns?‘
‘ Yes,‘ Rieux said. ‘10 doctors and 100 helpers. That sounds a lot, no doubt. But it’s barely enough to cope with the present state of affairs. And it will be quite inadequate if things get worse.’ “

“At 11 o’clock that night, however, Rieux and Tarrou entered the small, narrow bar of the hotel. Some 30 people were crowded into it, all talking at the top of their voices. Coming from the silence of the plague-bound town the two newcomers were startled by the sudden burst of noise, and halted in the doorway. They understood the reason for it when they saw that spirits were still to be had here.”

“ …there’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is – common decency.’
‘ What do you mean by “common decency”?’ Rambert’s tone was grave.
‘ I don’t know what it means for other people. But in my case I know that it consists in doing my job.’ ”

“ Tarrou said he knew the latest figures, and that the position was extremely serious. But what did that prove? Only that still more stringent measures should be applied.
‘How? You can’t make more stringent ones than those we have now.‘
‘ No. But every person in the town must apply them to himself.‘
Cottard stared at him in a puzzled manner, and Tarrou went on to say that there were far too many slackers, that this plague was everybody’s business, and everyone should do his duty.”

[full UK lock-down was announced last night with a rousing Churchillian speech by PM Boris Johnson] “Now, at least, the position was clear; this calamity was everybody’s business.”

Coincidence No. 544 – Outsider

I am doing a day-long Zoom session for Documentary Campus Masterclass (was supposed to be in Copenhagen but had to be shifted online). I take a short break of 15 minutes and decide to use the time to start re-reading Albert Camus’ L’Etranger in French (the first book, other than comic books, that I have read in French for ages). The usual translation of the title is The Outsider (rather than The Stranger – it means both in French). I read the first couple of pages.

I rejoin the Zoom session and start a one-to-one meeting with a German filmmaker currently based in Thailand. From Chang Mai his very first statement is: “I did a lot of films about outsiders.”

Existentialist philosophy as propounded by the likes of Camus and Sartre has the universe as without meaning and pattern, and man as always striving to see pattern and sense in things.

the outsider albert camus novel l'etranger penguin

The Plague

Back in the good old days of my youth Corona was fizzy drinks

corona fizzy drinks pop 70s

corona fizzy drinks pop 70s truck lorry

In those days when I was doing A Level French and studying Albert Camus among others – in particular L’Etranger (The Outsider) which happily coincided with The Cure’s early single Killing an Arab, based on that slim book) – I read about Camus’ 1947 novel La Peste (The Plague) without actually reading the work itself, often considered Camus’ masterpiece. What I was left with was the notion that you can’t be individually happy without having collective happiness. I applied this in an old post – looking back no idea where it came from, probably from thinking about The Terminatora notional film collaboration between James Cameron and Albert Camus!

This day last week I walked into the small bedroom where my Penguin Modern Classics reside and spotted The Plague just above my head, reached it down and began reading on the basis that there will never be a better time to read this book.

The parallels between Camus 1940s plague in Oran, Algeria and the current global pandemic of Coronavirus or Corvid90 didn’t disappoint. Camus was evidently combining an actual outbreak of a virus in that city in his native country with the realities of living under the Nazi Occupation of France during the Second World War, during which Camus had worked with the Resistance as the editor of Combat, a banned newspaper. Nonetheless the viral spread parallels were very striking so each morning I have published on social media via Instagram a resonant quote from La Peste as I read through and thought this morning that it would be worth aggregating all those posts here on Simple Pleasures Part 4. There’s nothing like a plague to refocus you on the simple pleasures of life.

Albert Camus The Plague La Peste novel book french 1947

Adam Gee
8 March at 18:25
Seems like the perfect time to read this – so I am #Camus #Corona
Albert Camus The Plague La Peste novel book french 1947

 

“Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky.”

“No, all those horrors were not near enough as yet even to ruffle the equanimity of that spring afternoon. The klang of an unseen tram came through the window, briskly refuting cruelty and pain. Only the sea, murmurous behind the dingy chequerboard of houses, told of the unrest, the precariousness of all things in this world.”

“This bacillus is such a queer one.”
“There,” Castel said, “I don’t agree with you. These little brutes always have an air of originality. But, at bottom, it’s always the same thing.”
“That’s your theory, anyhow. Actually, of course, we know next to nothing on the subject.”

“One of the cafés had the brilliant idea of putting up a slogan: ‘The best protection against infection is a bottle of good wine’, which confirmed an already prevalent opinion that alcohol is a safeguard against infectious disease.”

“ …though in their heart of hearts they were far from recognising the enormity of what had come on them, they couldn’t help feeling, for obvious reasons, that decidedly something had changed. Nevertheless, many continued hoping that the epidemic would soon die out and they and their families be spared. Thus they felt under no obligation to make any change in their habits, as yet. Plague was for them an unwelcome visitant, bound to take its leave one day as unexpectedly as it had come. Alarmed, but far from desperate, they hadn’t yet reached the phase when plague would seem to them the very tissue of their existence; when they forgot their lives which until now it had been given them to lead. In short, they were waiting for the turn of events.”

Albert Camus The Plague La Peste novel book french 1947 picasso

4 quotes of Amos Oz

Amos Oz, 10 September 1979

10th September 1979

1

Every single pleasure I can imagine or have experienced is more delightful, more of a pleasure, if you take it in small sips, if you take your time. Reading is not an exception.

2

The best way to know the soul of another country is to read its literature.

3

The kibbutz way of life is not for everyone. It is meant for people who are not in the business of working harder than they should be working, in order to make more money than they need, in order to buy things they don’t really want, in order to impress people they don’t really like.

4

I find the family the most mysterious and fascinating institution in the world.

Amos Oz

4 great Amos Oz books:

  1. Black Box
  2. A Tale of Love and Darkness
  3. To Know a Woman
  4. Don’t Call It Night

Triangulating History

22.vii.18

The river ouse at rodmell sussex virgina woolf

This I reckon is the spot (River Ouse, Rodmell)

I went to visit Monk’s House, Virginia & Leonard Woolf’s cottage in the quiet East Sussex village of Rodmell. I was here years ago with Una and it left an impression, I was happy to return. Because I arrived before opening time (the cottage is now looked after by the National Trust) I sat reading for an hour in the nearby local churchyard, St Peter’s. At noon I had a look around the gardens with its view of the South Downs and then had a look around Virginia’s bedroom, with its monk-like single bed and set of Shakespeare beautifully bound by her, and a wander through the ground floor rooms of the cottage, with paintings by Leonard’s shared woman (post-Virginia), Trekkie Parsons, who split her week between Leonard and her husband at the marital home nearby. All par for the Bloomsbury course.

st peters church rodmell east sussex

St Peter’s churchyard, Rodmell

Of course Bloomsbury is rich in colourful tales, none less fascinating than the one the National Trust volunteer at the entrance to the cottage reminded me of, the way she eventually killed herself by walking from the cottage to the river Ouse, just beyond Monk’s House’s grounds, put stones in her pockets and walked in, drowning in what a local told me is a river with strong tidal currents. Not that day – in the midst of a heatwave there was barely enough water to immerse yourself in, the level less than half-way to the line marked by green vestiges of the high water mark.

IMG_4340 garden of monks house rodmell virginia woolf

Leonard & Virginia’s beloved garden, Monk’s House, Rodmell – St Peter’s in the background

I decided to go find the spot, mainly because I wanted to walk by the river which I really love, rather than for ghoulish motivations. That no-one seemed to know where the actual spot was was more of a prompt.

view from St Peters church rodmell sussex

view from Rodmell (St Peter’s churchyard)

I’ve done this kind of triangulation of history before. Two memorable ones include figuring out where Patrick Pearse read the Proclamation of Irish Independence in 1916 and standing there exactly 100 years to the minute after that momentous event. And working out where Tony Visconti and his lover kissed by the Berlin Wall, a moment immortalised in David Bowie’s Heroes. In the latter case, my estimation was subsequently confirmed as correct.

thistles at southease east sussex by river ouse

The start of the river path at Southease

For this one I went down to Southease, the adjacent hamlet, and walked down to the river under the blazing summer sun. I walked along the raised embankment back in the direction of Rodmell. By using the spire of St Peter’s I was able to align myself with the garden of Monk’s House and there is only one natural path to that spot along the edge of a field which must have been pretty much adjoining the Woolf’s land. On the basis that Virginia would have wanted to just get to the river and do the deed the place where she walked into the river is the spot shown in the first picture above.

A very resonant and tragic act in a very beautiful and peaceful place.

river ouse at rodmell sussex southease

Coincidences No.s 344, 345 & 346

No. 344 (24.4.18)

Burke and Wills explorers Australia

Two bearded men

I am at a meeting at ITV about a project related to Burke & Wills, the Irishman and Englishman who were the first non-natives to cross the heartland of Australia in one of those mad Victorian expeditions.

I get home and in my Facebook feed is a post by an Irish colleague in digital media announcing he is moving to Brighton and does anyone know a good moving company. The one that jumps out at me among the replies is Burke & Wills.

No. 345 (7 & 8.5.18)

Ezra-Pound-poet writer

One slightly bearded man

I am reading Ezra Pound’s Cantos in the garden and look up his Wikipedia entry for some background. At one point it says: “he seemed in an “abject despair, accidie, meaninglessness, abulia, waste”. I haven’t seen the word “accidie” since Mr Fitch taught it to us in Lower Sixth English in relation to something to do with courtly love over three decades ago.

The word comes up again the next day. I am reading John Buchan’s final Edward Leithen novel ‘Sick Heart River’, a very different text and context. (Although both writers had a shared interest in hating Jews.)

No. 346 (5-9.5.18)

Harriet Shaw Weaver in 1907

One clean shaven woman – Harriet Shaw Weaver in 1907

Quakers keep coming up all week. On Saturday I’m walking from Tavistock Square to Euston and when I cut through the gardens of the Quakers HQ opposite the station (Friends House) it is swarming with delegates to some major conference, one where they review their rules (as I hear the next morning on the radio). This is the second time I’ve found myself in this cut-through garden in the last few days – a couple of  days previously it was with my friend Safiya, talking YouTube videos and channels – not too spiritual.

I am reading about Ezra Pound in Wikipedia [see above] – his father was a Quaker; he went to Quaker schools.

I am reading Finn Fordham’s book ‘Lots of Fun at Finnegan’s Wake‘ in the Humanities Reading Room of the British Library – it is the first book I have called up since the Reading Rooms moved here years ago from the British Museum, I got a new Readers Ticket on Saturday. (The last book I called up was a Dr Seuss one called ‘The Big Leap’ as I wanted to use it as the basis of a script – that was back in The British Museum circular reading room where Pound worked daily). In it I learn Joyce’s patron, Harriet Shaw Weaver, was a Quaker.

I’m pretty sure there were a couple of other path-crossings with Quakers this week – one to do with a Quaker business.

***

While on the subject of Harriet Shaw, I noticed whilst reading Finn’s book today (Finn leads the Finnegan’s Wake Research Seminar I go to every month at the University of London/Senate House) how appropriate Joyce’s patron was called Weaver as weaving the text into an organic whole seems to have been the goal/result of his compositional method in The Wake, adding layer upon layer and gradually inserting references to other parts of the text to bind it all together.

There seem to be lots of words that connect writing and material/cloth:

weaving – text – texture – textile – Stoff (Ger. material) – stuff – thread – skein

text

late Middle English: from Old Northern French texte, from Latin textus ‘tissue, literary style’ (in medieval Latin, ‘Gospel’), from text– ‘woven’, from the verb texere “to weave, to join, fit together, braid, interweave, construct, fabricate, build” .

 

 

 

 

 

Sirens

I was about to sit down to write this when Bob Geldof came on the radio to discuss his documentary ‘A Fanatic Heart’ about the Shakespeare of Ireland that is WB Yeats. During the lively and fascinating interview (with Robert Elms on BBC Radio London) he mentioned that Yeats helped secure a Civil List pension for Joyce.

Joyce and Music and specifically the Sirens chapter of ‘Ulysses’ was the intended subject of this post.

But the radio intervention provides an appropriate Overture for a piece on that chapter which begins with an Overture composed of seemingly randomly colliding sounds and words.

Yeats made a mistake (self-confessed) about ‘Ulysses’. He read parts of Joyce’s great Modernist novel in the ‘Little Review’, the American literary magazine in which it was initially published, and judged it “a mad book” (ironic, given that Geldof has just characterised Yeats as “nuts”). But on further reading Yeats changed his mind: “I have made a terrible mistake – it is perhaps a work of genius… It is an entirely new thing – neither what the eye sees nor the ear hears, but what the rambling mind thinks and imagines from moment to moment. He has certainly surpassed in intensity any novelist of our time.”

Yeats bought himself a copy of the first edition of ‘Ulysses’ (1922) like this one I saw in Dublin in December while I was over working at RTE (the launch of whose TV services Geldof also mentioned in the wide-ranging interview in relation to Ireland’s sense of itself as a nation).

1st edition of james joyce ulysses novel

This one has a €30,000 price tag. A bargain given that a copy sold in 2009 for £275,000.

Yeats was an early champion of Joyce. They first met in October 1902 at the National Library in Dublin (which I visited a few minutes after taking that picture of the 1st edition, it’s literally a stone’s throw away). Yeats was 39 at the time, Joyce half the age at 20. As they parted Joyce declared: “I have met you too late. You are too old.” The kind of thing Geldof would have said when the Boomtown Rats first made their mark.

When Joyce travelled to Paris in 1902 and 1903 he passed through London and hooked up with Yeats (who lived a stone’s throw from Euston), had dinner with him and allowed Yeats to introduce him to his London literary circle.

Here’s another piece I wrote (Yeats Mates) prompted by the Robert Elms show about Yeats (in London). I wrote that piece back in 2015, the 150th anniversary of Yeats’ birth, on 14th June, the day after his birthday and the events described in that post. Yeats’ birthday is therefore the day after Robert Elms’s (which I happen to know as it is the same day as my wife’s) and three days before Bloomsday (the day Ulysses takes place on): 16th June. Things seem to be aligning themselves.

So Geldof, a musician, was talking about Yeats, a poet/writer, as I was preparing to compose a piece on the chapter of ‘Ulysses’ which examines “what … the ear hears”, the seduction of Music.

Last night I went for the second time to the Charles Peake Ulysses seminar, a seminar series that has been running monthly for yonks. I was first told about it some ten years ago by Fritz Senn at the Stiftung James Joyce in Zurich but I never quite got my act together to track it down. Until December, prompted by a visit to the shop where Leopold Bloom bought the bar of lemon soap he has it his pocket throughout 16th June 1904. I wrote about that visit here (Back in the Old Country).

sign for Charles Peake ulysses seminar university of london senate house

On my first visit to the seminar I was welcomed with enthusiasm: “You’re timing is lucky – we’re just starting a new chapter.” I didn’t quite appreciate the significance of this until it became evident that the group had spent 4 years doing the last chapter. When we reached the end of our session someone commented, straight faced, no messing: “Great session, folks – we did 76 lines!”

So the rambling mind comes to the point of this post (which will be an evolving post). While we were working our way word by word, comma by colon, through the next few lines last night I made an observation that when the boots (servant) in the Ormond Hotel bar on the north bank of the Liffey (where the Sirens chapter largely takes place) slams down a tray of tea things for the two barmaids who are those said Sirens, it is like the cymbals player in an orchestra, a lowly member of the ensemble delighting in his simple task and loud execution. For some reason it brought to mind the crescendo of Hitch’s ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ (1956 US version) in the Technicolor Albert Hall.

The crashing tea tray made me reflect on the sequence of non-verbal sounds in the chapter so I took a notion to make a list of those sounds and see what patterns emerge.

So here is a list of the sounds making up the music-focused chapter (No. 11) of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ – ‘Sirens’:

(page references are to the Danis Rose edition of 1997 (Picador) which my Mrs bought me two decades ago as ‘Ulysses’ emerged as my favourite book)

  1. the “ringing steel” of hoofs from the cavalcade passing by the bar (p.246)
  2. tittering of Lydia Douce (one of the barmaids)
  3. laughter of same
  4. “chattering china” of tea for Lydia and Mina Kennedy (the other barmaid) followed by the tea tray being “banged” on the counter by the boots
  5. steel and hoofs (reprise) “steelhoofs ringhoof ringsteel” (p.247)
  6. “shrill shriek of laughter” of Mina (p.248)
  7. “huffed and snorted” – Lydia
  8. Lydia “chimed in in deep bronze laughter”
  9. “giggling peal young goldbronze voices blended” – both barmaids “high piercing notes”
  10. “panting, sighing, sighing”
  11. Mina “gigglegiggled”
  12. Lydia “spluttered … choking … laughter … coughing” “a splended yell, a full yell of full woman”
  13. [to be continued – from p.249]

List of the Day: Jack Kerouac, 27 items

img-jk-radio

Essentials of Spontaneous Prose

1. Write on, cant change or go back, involuntary, unrevised, spontaneous, subconscious, pure
2. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild type written pages, for your own joy
3. Submissive to everything, open, listening
4. Be in love with your life every detail of it
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what it is
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. Work from the pithy middle eye out, from the jewel center of interest, swimming in  language sea
17. Accept loss forever
18. Believe in the holy contour of life
19. Write in recollection and amazement of yourself
20. Profound struggle with pencil to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
21. Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
22. No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language, and knowledge
23. Write for the world to read and see your exact pictures
24. In Praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
25. Composing wild, undisciplined pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
26. You’re a Genius all the time
27. Writer-Director of Earthly Movies produced in Heaven, different forms of the same Holy Gold

The Subterraneans

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1958

Here’s a beautiful copy of Jack Kerouac’s ‘The Subterraneans’ I bought in Old Capitol Books in Monterey, California. It dates from 1958 and inside was the original receipt for $1.45 plus tax, a grand total of $1.51, from the UCLA bookshop.

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1958

I began reading it on 7th August 2015 on the BART from San Francisco to Oakland. I read some of it in North Beach the next day, at Columbus & Filmore, in a coffee shop with a jazz band playing on a chilled out Sunday afternoon. I finished it today in Chancery (not Heavenly) Lane, at the heart of the British establishment (a Molotov cocktail’s throw from Gray’s Inn).

Anyhow, because like most of Kerouac’s novels ‘The Subterraneans’ is a roman à clef, I thought it would be worth sharing who is who in the book in terms of the real-life counterparts/inspirations of the characters to save other readers the hassle of figuring it out:

  • Adam Moorad = Allen Ginsberg (poet)
  • Frank Carmody = William Burroughs (writer)
  • Leroy = Neal Cassady (cocksman and Adonis of Denver)
  • Yuri Gligoric = Gregory Corso (poet)
  • Austin Bromberg = Alan Ansen (poet/playwright)
  • Sam Vedder = Lucien Carr (killer)
  • Harold Sand = William Gaddis (novelist)
  • Annie = Luanne Henderson (cool chick)
  • Balliol MacJones = John Clellon Holmes (author of first Beat novel)
  • Larry O’Hara = Jerry Newman (record producer)
  • Arial Lavalina = Gore Vidal (writer)
  • Jane = Joan Vollmer (Beatess & Mrs Burroughs)

The central character/love interest Mardou Fox in real life was Alene Lee. She was mixed race, black and half-Cherokee. Kerouac met her in the summer of 1953 when she was typing up manuscripts for William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Burroughs & Ginsberg were sharing an apartment on the Lower East Side of New York at the time. Alene also shows up as Irene May in Kerouac’s ‘Big Sur’. Ginsberg was with her when she died at Lenox Hill Hospital, NYC in 1991. This is what she looked like:

alenelee

Foxy

Here’s a couple of related past posts:

4 Characters from On The Road

4 More Characters from OTR

OTR Triptych

Highway 1 Revisited

Coincidence No.388: Sisyphus

 

mythofsisyphusThis morning I was talking to Enfant Terrible No. 1 (who is currently doing a Philosophy course) about Camus and Existentialism. I mentioned Sisyphus, an important figure for Camus, and the image that first comes to mind when I think back to my undergraduate studies of Camus, alongside the killing of the Arab on the beach.

the-cure-killing-an-arab

This evening I was working on my family tree and added Karl Radek, a cousin of my grandmother Dora, and an international Communist leader to boot (in the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution). His real name was Karol Sobelsohn and he took the name Radek from a favourite character, Andrzej Radek, in ‘Syzyfowe prace‘ (‘The Labour of Sisyphus’), written in 1897 by Stefan Żeromski.

800px-%d1%80%d0%b0%d0%b4%d0%b5%d0%ba

Sisyphus coming up twice in 12 hours – a bit Twilight Zone but I imagine he’ll be happy to be remembered.

camus-sisyphus

 

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