EXTRACT FROM: Slavoj Zizek Violence: Six Sideways Reflections London: Profile Books, p 51-2.
The Muslim crowds did not react to the Muhammad caricatures as such. They reacted to the complex figure or image of the West that they perceived as the attitude behind the caricatures. Those who propose the term ‘Occidentalism’ as the counterpart to Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’ are right up to a point: what we get in Muslim countries is a certain ideological vision of the West which distorts Western reality no less, although in a different way, than the Orientalist vision distorts the Orient. What exploded in violence was a web of symbols, images and attitudes, including Western imperialism, godless materialism, hedonism, and the suffering of Palestinians, and which becomes attached to the Danish cartoons. This is why the hatred expanded from the caricatures to Denmark as a country, to Scandinavia, to Europe, and to the West as a whole. A torrent of humiliations and frustrations were condensed into the caricatures. This condensation, it needs to be borne in mind, is a basic fact of language, of constructing and imposing a certain symbolic field.
This simple and all too obvious reflection on the way in which language works renders problematic the prevalent idea of language and the symbolic order as the medium of reconciliation and mediation, of peaceful coexistence, as opposed to a violent medium of immediate and raw confrontation. In language, instead of exerting direct violence on each other, we are meant to debate, to exchange words, and such an exchange words, and such an exchange, even when it is aggressive, presupposes a minimal recognition of the other party. The entry into language and the renunciation of violence are often understood as two aspects of one and the same gesture: ‘Speaking is the foundation and structure of socialization, and happens to be characterized by the renunciation of violence’, as the text by Jean-Marie Muller written for UNESCO tells us. Since man is a ‘speaking animal’, this means that the renunciation of violence defines the very core of being human: ‘it is actually the principles and methods of non-violence… that constitute the humanity of human beings, the coherence and relevance of moral standards based both on convictions and a sense of responsibility’, so that violence is ‘indeed a radical perversion of humanity’. Insofar as language gets infected by violence, this occurs under the influence of contingent ‘pathological’ circumstances which distort the inherent logic of symbolic communication.
What if, however, humans exceed animals in their capacity for violence precisely because they speak?
PLATES FROM: H Noel Williams Queens of the French Stage available as a free ebook at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/37618/37618-h/37618-h.htm
Adrienne Lecouvreur (1692-1730)
Mademoiselle de Camargo
Today we are on the trail of ‘Constantine’, the Serbian poet who guided Rebecca West in her travels through Yugoslavia in the 1930s. Who was this enigmatic figure?
EXTRACT FROM: Rebecca West 1941 Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. London: Canongate Classics, pp 393-4.
Constantine drank his coffee, pushed away his cup and said, ‘When you look at things, try to remember them wholly because you have soon to go home to England. I think of a story I heard from a monk of how King Alexander came to see the frescoes in his monastery which contained portraits of our Serbian kings of our old Empire, in the thirteenth century, which are real portraits, mind you. Before one he stood for three quarters of an hour, looking terribly, as one would look on one’s father if he came back from the dead, sucking him with the eyes. The monk asked him if he had a special cult for this king, and he said, “No. For all kings of Serbia must I have a cult. All kings I must understand, in order that the new dynasty be grafted on the old. And this king I must make a special effort to understand, since nothing that is written of hom makes him quite clear to me”. You see, he was a mystic, and because the channel of his mysticism was Yugoslavia, nobody outside Yugoslavia can understand him.’
He put his elbows of the table and rumpled his little black curls. ‘Nobody outside Yugoslavia undrestands us’ he complained. ‘We have a very bad press, particularly with the high-minded people, who hate us because we are mystics and not just intelligent, as they are. Ach! That Madame Genevieve Tabouis, how she writes of us in her Paris newspaper! She suspects us of being anti-democratic in our natures, when we Serbs are nothing but democratic, but cannot be bec ause the Italians and the Germans are watching us to say “Ah, there is Bolshevism, we must come in and save you from it”. And really she is not being high-minded when she makes this mistake, she makes it because she hates the Prime Minister, Mr Stoyadinovitch; and it is not that she hates him because he is a bad man, she hates him just because they are opposites. She is little and thin and fine, he is a great big man with a strong chest and much flesh that all comes with him when he moves; she finds all relationships difficult, and all men and women follow him as if he were a great horse; she is noble when she loves her country, and when he loves his country it is as natural as when he sweats and en somme he likes wine and can drink it, all sorts of wine, red wines of France, and she must drink only a little drop of mineral water from a special spa, and of that she has a special source. So they hate each other, and since she is idealistic and is therefore ashamed that she should hate people for the kind of marrow they have in their spines, she pretends to herself she hates Yugoslavia. And yet she is great in her way. But not so great, my pardon to you wife, my dear sir, who I know is a lady writer also, as Mr. Stoyadinovitch’.
I never heard anybody else in Yugsoldavia speak well of Stoyadinovitch except Constantine; but Constantine was sincere.
END OF EXTRACT
In 1999 Michael D. Nicklanovich identified Constantine as Stanislav Vinaver, a Serbian Jewish poet, in an article available here, from which the information below is drawn.
Stanislav Vinaver, the press bureau chief for the Yugoslav government under Prime Minister Milan Stojadinovic in 1936-1938. When they first met in the spring of 1936, Rebecca was 44, and he was 45. The British Council had invited West to lecture in Yugoslavia because she was herself an important journalist as well as a novelist of note. As a well-known and important official of the government, Vinaver had access to many interesting places and personalities, and he became her single most important “resource person,” guiding her through Yugoslavia and its history with tremendous, infectious exuberance….West recalls her first impression of Constantine: “The first time I was in Yugoslavia, Constantine took me down to Macedonia so that I could give a broadcast about it, and when we arrived at Skoplje, I thought I would have to run away, because he had talked to me the whole time during the journey from Belgrade, which had lasted for twelve hours, and I had felt obliged to listen…”
In Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, she first describes Constantine as she and her husband are getting off the train in Zagreb: “Constantine, the poet, a Serb, that is to say a Slav member of the Orthodox Church from Serbia.” She wrote that he had “a head like the best-known satyr in the Louvre, and an air of vine leaves about the brow, though he drinks little. He is perpetually drunk on what comes out of his mouth, not what goes into it. He talks incessantly. In the morning he comes out of his bedroom in the middle of a sentence, and at night he backs into it, so that he can just finish one more sentence. Automatically he makes silencing gestures while he speaks, just in case somebody should take it into his head to interrupt.” She said the journalist spoke beautiful French which had “preserved in it all the butterfly brilliance of his youth” when he studied in Paris. He was a spell-binder who could come up with the “perfect phrase,” as “his hands grope in the air before him as if he were unloosing the neckcloth of the strangling truth.”
Stanislav Vinaver was born in Sabac, Serbia, on January 3, 1891. He was the son of Josif and Ruza (nee Ruzic) Vinaver. After emigrating to Sabac in the early 1880’s from the Russian part of Poland, his father had become a prominent Serbian physician. Rebecca West described his father as “a Jewish doctor of revolutionary sympathies, who fled from Russian Poland …and became one of the leaders of the medical profession…”
Vinaver had studied in Paris, music and mathematics as well as philosophy under the French philosopher Henri Bergson, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1927, and whose disciple Vinaver considered himself to be. Bergson attempted to prove, in powerful and highly figurative language, that ultimate reality is an elan vital, a vital force or impulse which can only be grasped by intuition. His view went against the dominant school of French philosophy which held that reality had a logical or geometric structure which could be seen through the reasoning of the scientist and logician. This philosophical debate pervades Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falconand her portrayal of the Serbian ideal.
Almost everything about “Constantine” was Bergsonian, and West wrote that “when he was deeply moved” he almost always spoke of “the days when he was a student under Bergson.” Of his old mentor he said: “…it was to miss the very essence in him to regard him only as a philosopher. He was a magician who had taken philosophy as his subject matter. He did not analyze phenomena, he uttered incantations that invoked understanding…we were the sorcerer’s apprentices.”
Constantine claimed to recognize Bergson’s sorcery through the prism of his own childhood experiences “…in my town, which is Shabats, there were three houses in a row, and in one house lived my father who was the greatest doctor in our country, and in the next there lived a priest who was the greatest saint in my country, and in the next there lived an old woman who was the greatest witch in my country, and when I was a little boy I lived in the first and I went as I would into the other two, for the holy man and the witch liked me very much, and I tell you in each of these houses there was magic…” When he first met West in the mid-1930’s, Vinaver was likely working on a memoir of his hometown which had been ravaged during foreign occupation in World War I (1914-1918). In one of his poignant reminiscences about his hometown, Constantine tells West and her husband: “In Shabats we were all of us quite truly people. There were not many people who spoke alike and looked alike as there are in Paris and London and Berlin. We were all of us ourselves and different. I think it was that we were all equal and so we could not lift ourselves up by trying to look like a class that was of good repute. We could only be remarkable by following our own qualities to the furthest. So it is in all Serbian towns, so it was most of all in Shabats, because we are a proud town, we have always gone our own way.”
In 1925 he married the German Lutheran, Elsa, whom Rebecca West called “Gerda” in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. It may be pure fiction, but West explained that one of the few things the couple appeared to have had in common was a love of the German Romantics. The real Stanislav and Elsa Vinaver had two sons, Vuk and Konstantin.
About Elsa, the biographer Glendinning believes: “…it is doubtful whether she was as terrible as Constantine’s wife Gerda in the book, where she became a hate-figure, personifying insensitivity, stupidity, and everything Rebecca feared and disliked about the German mentality of the late 1930’s. Vinaver’s German wife had, in her turn, reason to dislike the dynamic foreigner who took up so much of her husband’s time, for Vinaver fell romantically in love with Rebecca, as he made clear in an elegant letter in French written after her final departure from Belgrade.”
On the train from Sarajevo to Belgrade, a trip which took thirteen hours, Constantine, in typical form, conversed with the English couple and other passengers nearly the whole time. He reminisced about Sabac, and, by chance, encounters his first love who had not promised to wait for him. He asked her: “Why did you treat me so? When I was very young, I was very handsome, and my father was rich and already you knew I was a poet and would be a great man, for always I was a Wunderkind.” Her reply was similar to West’s criticism: “There is too much of you! You talk more than anybody else, when you play the piano it is more than when any other person plays the piano, when you love it is more than anybody else can make, it is all too much, too much, too much!”Constantine’s anger and hurt is temporary, but after he sleeps and wakes, he talks once more of Bergson until “his black eyes twinkle.” West completes his portrait: “He was indestructibly, eternally happy.”
Vinaver later volunteered in the Serbian army, serving from 1914 to 1919. West wrote that Constantine “fought in the Great War very gallantly, for he is a man of great physical courage, and to him Serbian history is his history, his life is part of the life of the Serbian people.” West regarded him as a Serb “…by adoption only, yet quite completely, a Serb.”
One of his personal war stories related in West’s book might have occurred during the Battle of Cer Mountain on the heights above his hometown of Sabac. It was a tragic and horrifying tale of fraternal strife:
“There was a hill in Serbia that we were fighting for all night with the Austrian troops. Sometimes we had it, and sometimes they had it, and at the end we wholly had it, and when they charged us we cried to them to surrender, and through the night they answered, ‘The soldiers of the Empire do not surrender,’ and it was in our own tongue they spoke. So we knew they were our brothers the Croats, and because they were our brothers we knew that they meant it, and so they came against us, and we had to kill them, and in the morning they all lay dead, and they were all our brothers.”
“When the Second World War broke out, Rebecca and Henry offered Vinaver asylum in England, but he preferred to stay in his own ravaged country.” He joined the Yugoslav army in 1941 as the country braced itself for the blitzkrieg-to-come after the military coup which overthrew the government and invalidated its agreement to let the Germans pass through Yugoslavia to Greece.
During the Second World War, Vinaver was a prisoner-of-war in a German camp. Rebecca West sent him food packages through the Red Cross. Although he survived the war, they never met again.
EXTRACT FROM: Rebecca West 1941 Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. London: Canongate Classics, p 398.
At the base of these mountains we touched it, the town which for good reason was called by the Turks Travnik, or Grassy-town. Narrow houses with tall and shapely slanting tiled roofs sit gracefully, like cats on their haunches, among the green gardens of a garden-like valley. Here, in this well-composed littleness, which lies snug in the field of the eye, can be enjoyed to perfecgtion the Moslem counterpoint to the soft horizontal whiteness of minarets. This town ws the capital of Bosnia for two centuries under the Turks, the seat of the Pasha from the time that Sarajevo would not have him, and it has a definite urban distinction, yet it is countrified as junket.
EXTRACT FROM: Ivo Andric 1963 Bosnian Chronicle (J. Hitrec transl) New York: Arcade Publishing, p 7.
In reality, this town of theirs was a narrow and deep gorge which successive generations had in the course of time built up and brought under cultivation, a fortified passageway where men had paused and then settled down permanently, adapting themselves to it and it to themselves down the centuries. On both sides, mountains tumble down steeply and meet in the valley at a sharp angle, leaving barely enough room for a thin river and a road running beside it. It all reminds one of an oversize half-opened book, the pages of which, standing up stiffly on each side, are generously illustrated with gardens, streets, houses, fields, cemeteries and mosques.
No one has ever reckoned the number of hours of sunlight which nature has withheld from this town, but it is certain that here the sun rises later, and sets earlier than in any other of the numerous Bosnian cities and small towns. The people of the town -Travichani- do not deny it either, but they claim that while it shines, it does so with a light that no other town can boast of.
In this nrrow valley, where the river Lashva flows along the bottom and the steep hillsides are full of the whisper of springs, rivulets and water-mill channels, a valley full of damp and drafts, there is hardly a straight path or piece of level ground where a man may step freely and without paying attention. All is steep and uneven, crisscrossed and angled, linked and chopped up by private right-of-ways, fences, blind alleys, gardens, wicket gates, graveyards and shrines.
Here by the water, that fickle, mysterious and powerful element, generations of Travichani are born and die. Herethey grow up, sallow-faced and delicate of body, but herdened and equal to anything; here they live, with the Vizier’s Residency ever before their eyes, proud, sensitive, haughty, fastidious, and cunning; here they work and thrive, or loaf around in genteel poverty; cautious and persevering, they don’t know how to laugh aloud but are masters of the sly leer; scant talkers, they are fond of the whispered innuendo; and here they are buried when their time comes, each according to his faith and custom, in marshy graveyards, making room for a new generation like themselves.
So the waves of posterity go on, bequeathing one to another not only a peculiar common heritage of body and spirit, but also a land and a faith, not only an inherited sense of what is right and fitting and an instinct for recognizing and distinguishing all the byways, gateways and alleys of their intricate town, but also and inborn flair fro judging the world nd men in general. Thus equipped come the children of Travnik into the world; of all their attributes pride is the most conspicuous. Pride is their second nature, a living force that stays with them all through life, that animates them and marks them visibly apart from the rest of mankind.
This pride has nothing in common with the naïve ostentation of prosperous peasants and small-town provincials who, smug in their pleasure with themselves, swell visibly and are loud in self-congratulation. On the contrary, their pride is of an inner and private kind; it is more like a burdensome legacy and an exacting obligation toward themselves, their families and their town, set and conditioned by nothing less than the lofty, exalted and quite abstract image which they have formed of themselves and their city.
King Ludwig and Wagner, and (right) Wagner with Cosima
EXTRACT FROM: Barry Millington 1992 Wagner (The Master Musicians Series). London: J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd, pp 74-6.
Having occupied the royal castle Schloss Berg, overlooking Lake Starnberg (south West of Munich) [Prince] Ludwig [of Bavaria] installed Wagner at the Villa Pellet, just across the lake. Almost every day they met, sometimes contemplating each other in complete silence – a love relationship without the physical element. Wagner, as ever, was looking for fremale companionship. He wrote to Mathilde Maier begging her to come to Villa Pellet as ‘housekeeper’. In a letter addressed to her mother (who never received it) Wagner gave assurances that his intentions were strictly honourable. Nothing came of the suggestion, chiefly because Wagner was already entangled in another direction. The previous November he and Cosima von Bulow had found themselves alone, taking a carriage ride through Berlin. Cosima had never been really happy with Hans. He suffered from neurotic disorders, including a severe inferiority complex, and Cosima had married him more out of pity than affection. Now she and Wagner instinctively recognised in each other the profound sorrow of unsatisfied love. In a passage suppressed from Mein Leben and not published until the complete text was made available in 1963, Wagner described how they sealed, with sobs and tears, the avowal that they belonged to each other.
And so when, at Wagner’s invitation, Cosima, her two young daughters and a nurserymaid arrived at Starnberg (Bulow had been delayed in Berlin), Wagner had hurriedly to break off his overtures to Mathilde Maier. That Wagner was pressing Mathilde at the very time he was expecting a visit from Cosima can presumably only be explained by the assumption that Wagner was not prepared for Cosima’s total acquiescence. All we know is that some time during the week before Hans arrived on 7 July the couple consummated their union; their first child, Isolde, was born on 10 April 1865.
In October 1864 Wagner moved into the spacious house at 21 Briennerstrasse in Munich, made available to him by the king. In addition to the initial payment already made, Ludwig had authorised an annual stipend of 4000 Gulden (comparable to that of a ministerial councillor), another gift of 16000 Gulden in June and a further 4000 Gulden for removal expenses. Now on 18 October Ludwig became the third owner of the Ring copyright for a sum of 30 000 Gulden. Martin Gregor-Dellin points out that the 131, 173 Gulden paid out by the royal exchequer represented one third of the annual sum that the king had at his disposal, or one tenth of his entire civil list.
The Munich house was decked out in a similarly luxurious fashion to the one in Penzing and with the help of the same Viennese milliner and seamstress, Bertha Goldwag, that had supplied his furnishings before. She sent him the special coloured satins he could not obtain in Munich and in addition to his velvet drapes and portieres he requested for himself a wardrobe of dressing gowns and suits in silk lined with fur (in various colours with matching slippers and neckties), shirts and underclothes in silk and satin, and delicate scents with which to perfume the atmosphere. Bertha made two visits to Munich, travelling incognito according to Wagner’s wishes. To allay the curiosity of customs officials she told them that her cargo of silks and perfumes was for a countess in Berlin. In spite of her discretion, Wagner’s style of living could not long remain a secret and his enemies were to make much capital out of it. Wagner’s letters to his Putzmacherin, setting out his requirements in exotic detail, fell into the hands of an unscrupulous journalist who published them in 877, still in the composer’s lifetime. His voluptuous tastes have earned him much snide criticism, on grounds of both extravagance and of a decadence which has been seen to smack of ‘effeminacy’ and ‘degeneracy’. Wagner, for his part, claimed that he needed sumptuous surroundings and sensual perfumes as a stimulus for creative inspiration. Given his psychological make-up and the predominant role of eroticism, there is probably much truth in that. Nor can he be blamed for the necessity to minister to his sensitive skin. These hedonistic years, however, must have been a testing time for his devotion to Schopenhauerian philosophy with its welcoming acceptance of suffering and renunciation.
William Robertson Davies (1913-1995), and (above) Massey College (University of Toronto), of which he was founding Master
EXTRACT FROM: Robertson Davies 1982 High Spirits. London: Penguin Books, p 13.
The ghost who vanished by degrees
Some of you may have wondered what became of our College Ghost. Because we had a ghost, and there are people in this room who saw him. He appeared briefly last year at the College Dance on the stairs up to this Hall, and at the Gaudy, he was seen to come and go through that door, while I was reading an account of another strange experience of mine. I did not see him then but several people did so. What became of him?
I know. I am responsible for his disappearance. I think I may says without unwarrantable spiritual pride that I laid him. And, as is always the case in these psychic experiences, it was not without great cost to myself.
When first the ghost was reported to me, I assumed that we had a practical joker within the College. Yet – the nature of the joke was against any such conclusion. We had had plenty of jokes – socks in the pool, fish in the pool, funny notices beside the pool, pumpkins on the roofs, ringing the bell at strange hours – all the wild exuberance, the bubbling, ungovernable high spirits and gossamer fantasy one associates with the Graduate School of the University of Toronto. The wit of a graduate student is like champagne – Canadian champagne – but this joke had a different flavour, a dash of wormwood, in its nature.
You see, the ghost was so unlike a joker. He did not appear in a white sheet and shout ‘Boo! He spoke to no one, though a Junior Fellow – the one who met him on the stairs – told me that the Ghost passed him, softly laying a finger on its lips to caution him to silence. On its lips, did I say? Now this is of first importance: it laid its finger where its lips doubtless were, but its lips could not be seen, nor any of its features. Everybody who saw it said that the Ghost had a head, and a place where its face ought to be – but no face that anybody could see or recognize or remember. Of course there are scores of people like that around the university, but they are not silent; they are clamouring to establish some sort of identity; the Ghost cherished his anonymity, his facelessness. So, perversely, I determined to find out who he was.
EXTRACT FROM: Salvador Dali 1952 La vie secrete de Salvador Dali Paris: La Table Ronde (transl from French by myself).
I am five years old. It is spring and I am in a village near Barcelona, at Cambrils. I walk through the countryside alongside a boy with very blond, curly hair, smaller than me, whom I had just met. The boy is riding a tricycle and I am walking, holding his back, pushing him forward. We are crossing a bridge which is being built, with an unfinished railing. Having glanced around to ensure no one will see me, I push the boy into the void, with a brutal gesture. The child falls from a height of four meters over some rocks. Afterwards I run home to tell the news. The whole afternoon, from the room in which the boy lay in bed for over a week, those who looked after him were descending with receptacles stained with blood. The general confusion and movement in the house give me a state of sweet illusion. I sit in the salon and eat fruit, in a rocking chair decorated with lace embroidery. The embroidery on the arms and back of the chair has enormous plush cherries. The sitting room is adjacent to the hallway, where I can observe the movements of the whole house. The shutters are closed because of the heat outside, and it is dark and cool inside. I don’t remember to have had, on that day, even the smallest feeling of guilt. On the same day, during my evening walk, I remember tasting the beauty of every blade of grass.
Imagine an argument between these two.
Actress Armande Bejart (Moliere’s wife, who first played Celimene) and Moliere.
EXTRACT FROM: Moliere 2000 The Misanthrope and Other Plays London: Penguin Books, pp 91-2 and 128-9.
The Misanthrope was at most a succes d’estime. It was played thirty-four times before the end of the year but thereafter received only twenty five performances before Moliere’s death in 1673. its fortunes did not revive until the nineteenth century, but since then only Tartuffe and The Miser, of the ‘great’ comedies, have been staged more often. While Moliere’s contemporaries regarded the play as primarily a satire of the Court and the nobility based on recognizable figures (numerous candidates were proposed as models for Alceste and Celimene), it has subsequently been made to yield other meanings. In the 18th century Rousseau saw Alceste as a hero, a man who has the courage not to compromise with a society which values cleverness and success more than honesty and plain dealing. In 1790 Fabre d’Eglantine turned him into a revolutionary symbol: he was to be congratulated for being out of step with the hated ancien regime. For the Romantics he was a tragic figure who rebelled against philistine conformity. Subsequently, critics have made Alceste a self-portrait of an anxious, socially awkward Moliere who despised worldly values, and have further argued that Alceste’s unrequited love for Celimene was a clear echo of Moliere’s own marital difficulties with Armande Bejart who played her.
Yet when set against the rest of his plays, it is clear the Moliere thought of The Misanthrope as a comedy. If the plot is low-keyed, it has the mechanics of farce: Alceste is a man who tries to talk seriously to a woman and is constantly prevented from doing so. But he is also an obsessive. When Moliere registered the play it was subtitled ‘ou l’Atrabilaire amoureux’, which suggests Alceste is closely related to Orgon, Monsieur jourdain or Argan, the ‘imaginary invalid’, who are all obsessed by a self-view that does not withstand scrutiny or reality. That Alceste should be both atrabilious (that is, his dominant humour is the ‘black bile’ of melancholy) and in love is contradiction enough. But that he should be in love with a coquette who represents everything he loathes is a very superior kind of comic paradox.
Act II Scene I
Alceste. Will you have me speak candidly to you, madam? Well, then, I am very much dissatisfied with your behaviour. I am very angry when I think of it; and I perceive that we shall have to break with each other. Yes; I should only deceive you were I to speak otherwise. Sooner or later a rupture is unavoidable; and if I were to promise the contrary a thousand times, I should not be able to bear this any longer.
Célimène. Oh, I see! it is to quarrel with me, that you wished to conduct me home?
Alceste. I do not quarrel. But your disposition, madam, is too ready to give any first comer an entrance into your heart. Too many admirers beset you; and my temper cannot put up with that.
Célimène. Am I to blame for having too many admirers? Can I prevent people from thinking me amiable? and am I to take a stick to drive them away, when they endeavour by tender means to visit me?
Alceste. No, madam, there is no need for a stick, but only a heart less yielding and less melting at their love-tales. I am aware that your good looks accompany you, go where you will; but your reception retains those whom your eyes attract; and that gentleness, accorded to those who surrender their arms, finishes on their hearts the sway which your charms began. The too agreeable expectation which you offer them increases their assiduities towards you; and your complacency, a little less extended, would drive away the great crowd of so many admirers. But, tell me, at least, madam, by what good fortune Clitandre has the happiness of pleasing you so mightily? Upon what basis of merit and sublime virtue do you ground the honour of your regard for him? Is it by the long nail on his little finger that he has acquired the esteem which you display for him? Are you, like all the rest of the fashionable world, fascinated by the dazzling merit of his fair wig? Do his great rolls make you love him? Do his many ribbons charm you? Is it by the attraction of his great German breeches that he has conquered your heart, whilst at the same time he pretended to be your slave? Or have his manner of smiling, and his falsetto voice, found out the secret of moving your feelings?
Célimène. How unjustly you take umbrage at him! Do not you know why I countenance him; and that he has promised to interest all his friends in my lawsuit?
Alceste. Lose your lawsuit, madam, with patience, and do not countenance a rival whom I detest.
Célimène. But you are getting jealous of the whole world.
Alceste. It is because the whole world is so kindly received by you.
Célimène. That is the very thing to calm your frightened mind, because my goodwill is diffused over all: you would have more reason to be offended if you saw me entirely occupied with one.
Alceste. But as for me, whom you accuse of too much jealousy, what have I more than any of them, madam, pray?
Célimène. The happiness of knowing that you are beloved.
Alceste. And what grounds has my love-sick heart for believing it?
Célimène. I think that, as I have taken the trouble to tell you so, such an avowal ought to satisfy you.
Alceste. But who will assure me that you may not, at the same time, say as much to everybody else perhaps?
Célimène. Certainly, for a lover, this is a pretty amorous speech, and you make me out a very nice lady. Well! to remove such a suspicion, I retract this moment everything I have said; and no one but yourself shall for the future impose upon you. Will that satisfy you?
Alceste. Zounds! why do I love you so! Ah! if ever I get heart-whole out of your hands, I shall bless Heaven for this rare good fortune. I make no secret of it; I do all that is possible to tear this unfortunate attachment from my heart; but hitherto my greatest efforts have been of no avail; and it is for my sins that I love you thus.
Célimène. It is very true that your affection for me is unequalled.
Alceste. As for that, I can challenge the whole world. My love for you cannot be conceived; and never, madam, has any man loved as I do.
Célimène. Your method, however, is entirely new, for you love people only to quarrel with them; it is in peevish expression alone that your feelings vent themselves; no one ever saw such a grumbling swain.
Alceste. But it lies with you alone to dissipate this ill-humour. For mercy’s sake let us make an end of all these bickerings; deal openly with each other, and try to put a stop…
EXTRACT FROM: James Hamilton Patterson 2006 Amazing Disgrace London: Faber and Faber, p 3-4.
The trouble with sitting quietly under your pergola in splendid isolation is that before long restlessness sets in. True, the vindaloo blacmange at lunch might have something to do with that (and very good it was, too: an intriguing marriage of the incandescent and the gelid). But there’s more to it. Up there among the crags the world is oppressively silent. Drops of brilliant late-spring sunlight trickle through the vine leaves overhead and splash onto the marble table, pooling around a coffee cup and blotching a thick pile of manuscript. For some time now this gross slab of paper has come to feel like my own tombstone that I have been engraving with such lapidary skill – my own, despite its being the story of someone else entirely, a person I loathed from the start.
The perennial problem, of course, is work. Philip Larkin Famously saw it as a toad: a chill, ugly weight that squats on us all, blotting out most of our scant allowance of days. And nor is it the sort of work like fetching water or planting rice that is plausibly useful for survival. On the contrary, nearly all employment is the civilian equivalent of the sort of punishment once meted out to recalcitrant squaddies, such as digging one hole to fill another or whitewashing coal. I’m amazed we kick up so little fuss about the awesome futility of the work most of us do. Writing novels, for instance. Fictioneers, with their dim penchant for social relevance, like to dwell on such minority afflictions as love, erotic misconduct or being brought up white in Southall, while the daily work that lays waste the lives of the majority goes largely ignored. So I shall boldly break with tradition and deal with the lump of human coal I have recently and so laboriously been attempting to whitewash. Sadly, there’s nothing fictional about her.
The personal toad beneath which I have suffocated for years requires me to write other people’s books for them. … My latest subject has been freakish even by recent standards. Picture to yourself a nut-brown amputee in her late fifties with skin that makes Brigitte Bardot look like a Clinique ad and habitually deploying the vocabulary of a lesbian trucker. What, I ask you, has Gerald Samper to do with such denizens of a nether world? He of the refined musicality, the culinary inventiveness, the trim buns (if he does say so himself)? Didn’t he long ago resolve that things could not go on as they are?
He did. Yet by a series of cruel misfortunes not a single one of my ingenious ploys designed to escape earning a living by such humiliating means has come to fruition.
In light of the recent Eastley by-election, Jeremy Paxman’s observations on British political parties (below) seem quite interesting. Read the Observer’s review of the book here and a less favourable review by Gerald Kaufman MP here.
EXTRACT FROM: Jeremy Paxman 2003 The Political Animal London: Penguin Books, pp 143-5.
Perhaps the mass-membership party is dead in an age of the citizen-as-consumer. There do seem to be moments when a political organisation appears to meet a need. In the early 1980s the Social Democratic party emerged from nowhere to sign up over 50 000 members, until it fell apart. With the longer-established parties, the figures do suggest that more people will join if they believe there is a realistic chance of their party wielding power. That would be another explanation for why the Labour party membership rose steadily through the 1990s, peaked after the 1997 victory, and then began to drop. Having reached 400 000 before the 1997 election, by the 2001 vote for the second Labour term the total had fallen to 310 000 and the following year to 280 000. (At the same time, in early 2002, the Liberal Democrats were claiming 76 000 members.) The total membership of the three main national parties was, therefore, under 700 000 people. At the same time, English Heritage had 400 000 members, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds over 1 million and the National Trust nearly 3 million. It is not that people have lost their political instincts so much as that they do not find expression through conventional party politics.
British political parties have managed the remarkable achievement of modernizing in such a way that joining them seems a dated thing to do. As society has become more atomized, individuals have redirected their energies into campaigns which have much more narrowly focused ambitions than a generalized prospectus for the salvation of the broader community in which they live. At the time of the 2001 General Election, Amnesty International and Greenpeace between them had more members than any of the political parties. This disengagement from old-fashioned party politics was most acute among the young, whom the Labour party freely admitted it was failing to attract. The consequences is that those people who do belong to political parties are, by definition, unusual. This might not matter very much if their activities were confined to pounding the pavement at election-time. But their power goes wider. As we have seen, they choose the candidate who will try to get elected for the constituency. Effectively, therefore, they have picked every single member of the House of Commons. Under the influence of a belief in ‘party democracy’, the members are also allowed a significant, sometimes decisive, voice in who will lead the party, thereby determining who will become Prime Minister. Unusual they may be. Unimportant they are not.
The lucky politician will rub along happily with his local members: after all, they all belong to the same party. But the spectre of dislike or even deselection means that many MPs are at least a little bit frightened of their local party. ‘The rule of thumb’, one of them told me, ‘is that, at any one time, one in three of them is out to get you. It may be because they never thought you were much good in the first place. It may be something as earth-shattering as the fact that you failed to turn up to their Pea and Pie supper. And because we have this reselection pantomime, every local butcher or solicitor gets his day in the sun when they have to be listened to’. And as every political party covers a spectrum of views, there is a good chance that at some point or other the politician is going ot find that the members expect a commitment – it may be on anything from relations with the rest of Europe to capital punishment – that can not be given. The politician then relies upon the argument most elegantly put by Edmund Burke in a speech to the voters of Bristol over 200 years ago. ‘Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests’, he told them, ‘but … a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole… You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament‘. Under this classic formulation, the MP is elected not merely to make the prejudices of his electors law, but to sit as their representative, using personal judgement to decide how to vote on the issues of the day, loyal to something larger and more intangible.