Friday, April 30, 2010
After the death of his wife in 1904, Mark Twain spent most of the last six years of his life largely in the company of Isabel Van Kleek Lyon. To free himself from having to deal with professional and business matters, he willingly delegated the management of his scedual and finances to her. She was " slavishly devoted" to Twain: running the household staff, nursing him in his various illnesses, arranging amusements to keep his boredom at bay, acting go-between his unmanageable daughters, listening as he read aloud what he'd written, acting as the gatekeeper to an enthralled public, and overseeing the construction of his final residence at Stormfield, in Redding Connecticut. Then something happened that led to a dramatic breakup.
Although his oldest daughter's adulterous affair with Charles Wark, his youngest daughter's tragic struggle with epilepsy, and other possibly embarrassing financial affairs seems to have been at the heart of the disputations that arose between Twain and his amanuensis, the author's meticulous research into the long neglected Isabel Lyon's collection at the Mark Twain Papers and Project at the University of California doesn't seem to have unraveled much of the mystery. That both parties to the conflict habitually abused alcohol and indulged broadly in the various psychotropic patent remedies and pain-killers, available across the counter and from physicians in those days, dampens much of whatever reliability we may attribute to Laura Trombley's [annoyingly 'tabloid style'] social and psychological conjectures.*
The daughter of the aristocratic Georgiana Van Kleek and Colombia University Professor Charles Harrison Lyon, Isabel lived to the age of ninety-five, mostly in her small apartment at 7 Charles Street in Greenwich Village, New York City. During the last decade of her life she declined frequent requests for interviews and agreed to speak with only a few individuals about her time with Twain. These included Samuel and Doris Webster, co-authors of an unpublished transcription of her memoirs, Dixon Wecter, a literary editor of the Mark Twain Papers, and Hal Holbrook, the creator of the famed stage impersonation and tribute to Mark Twain.
Hal Holbrook first contacted Isabel in 1958, when he was performing Twain in a Village nightclub. He had been developing his impression for several years, his first performance given in 1954. Holbrook had a clear motive in meeting the elderly woman; by this time she was one of the last people who had been in close contact with Mark Twain and could describe his intonations and mannerisms. Holbrook became a frequent visitor, and he remembers Isabel as "independent in a rather exciting way. She was somebody special." Their meetings greatly affected him and profoundly influenced his portrayal of Twain. When the two met in her apartment, before she would start talking, Isabel would pack the small meerschaum pipe Twain had given her with tobacco, pour herself a stiff Scotch ( the same kind of liquor she drank with Twain), and prop up the seat cushion of her favorite chair as a backrest so her feet could touch the floor.
Holbrook was placed "in a peculiar position of not being able to record these conversations, despite the fact that nothing but the most charming stories and fine insight into Mark Twain has resulted from them. She is a wonderful recluse, intent on maintaining her privacy, and I was allowed to see her only on the understanding that I would 'never publish' what she told me.. It is only by the luckiest stroke that she has agreed to speak to me. So I have to honor her wishes." Isabel saw Holbrook performing Mark Twain Tonight just once, on a freezing cold evening in the summer of 1958, in Nyack, New York.
After learning of her death just a few months later, Holbrook sent a condolence note to Isabel's grandnephew, David Moore:
"She was a lovely, genuine person and I have so much respect for her. I admired her very much. I have talked with many people who knew Mr. Clemens, but none of them knew him as she did nor had her deep understanding of him. She impressed me very strongly, and the image of Mark Twain she gave me is the strongest one I have and, I believe, the truest one."
In a second letter to Mr. Moore, Holbrook recalled Isabel's insistence that Twain be remembered as "a very serious minded man. A man who felt deeply about the world about him and the people in it, an extremely sensitive man, and that his sense of humor came out of this well of seriousness... That was the most important message I carried away from my meeting with Ms. Lyon and I have tried to honor this in my presentation of him on the platform."
Halbrook went on to play the role of Mark Twain longer than his subject lived it.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
There have been only three geniuses in comedy: Mark Twain, Lenny Bruce, and Ricard Pryor. Mark Twain was the only one who came out of the madness unscathed. He was so far ahead of his time that he shouldn't even be talked about on the same day as other people. Look at what he did with his brilliant satire. For the first time in history of literature a White man talked about a relationship between a Black Man and a White boy. Black men didn't even have names; they were referred to as "nigger". Then he wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1884 and talked about "Nigger Jim". Today some people are outraged by the book and they have banned it from many school districts. That's really a shame, because the truth is that Twain was the first writer to refer us to someone other than a nigger. He attached a name to nigger and made Jim human.
Now, we were always human to each other, but Twain's "Nigger Jim" made us human to white folks. They read about Jim and Huck Finn going down the Mississippi River. Nigger Jim was not putting the bait on the hook for Huck - they were fishing together as friends.
Twain once wrote an article for The Buffalo Express that outraged White folks. It was entitled, "Oh Well, It Was Just Another Nigger.". A Black man in Memphis was lynched and then they discovered that it was the wrong man. Mark Twain responded that a bunch of good Christian White folks had lynched a Black man the other day, then they found out it was the wrong guy, but so what? It was just another nigger. White folks were outraged. But Mark Twain kept writing and putting a face with the names of Black folks. He was so special that he was born during the appearance of Halley's Comet, which only comes every seventy-five years. When Halley's Comet came again, Mark Twain died that very day.
Almost a century later two other geniuses, Lennie Bruce and Richard Pryor, challenged and strengthened the right to free speech and they both used the stage as their workshop. In order to experience their genius, you had to be there to smell the sawdust...
Until we know more about Richard Pryor, we will never know what made him the comic genius he is. When Richard started using the word "nigger" in his act, he made it so that every time he said it, it lessened the sting of hearing that word aloud. Richard knew how to play that game - he'd turn every negative thing White folks said about us into a satire and turn the whole thing around... He is before his time.
I really took the word "nigger" public in 1963 when I wrote my first autobiography, Nigger, with Robert Lipsyte. Dutton publishing Company thought they were getting a humor book, but they didn't say that in the contract. So I turned in an autobiography. I turned in a book with hard-core facts about Black life in racist White America. Once I had submitted the manuscript and they read what it was really about, they wanted me to name it something humorous to trick White folks into buying it. So Dutton called a big meeting on a Friday and asked me to come back on the following Monday with a humorous title. I went back on Monday and took them the title Nigger.
Just imagine a White or Black person walking into a book store in New York and saying, "I want a copy of Nigger. People were afraid to ask for my book, and bookstore owners were afraid to put it in their stores. Some Black folks would go into a bookstore and say: "I want one of Dick Gregory's what - you - call - it." And White folks would say "You named that book a title I just can't say." Or they would complain, saying, "I just can't stand the name of your new book."
I didn't hear White folks complaining about the word nigger when I was growing up. I only heard them using it. If they had complained about the word nigger in the past, there would not have been a need to name my book Nigger. Titling my book Nigger meant I was taking it back from the White folks. Mark Twain threw it up in the air and I grabbed it.
from Callus on My Soul, written with Shelia P. Moses, 2000
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Thomas Cromwell (? 1485 - 1540) was a common man who, after the fall of Cardinal Wolsey, rose - by virtue of his intelligence, hard work and boundless opportunism - to become the Earl of Essex, Lord of the Privy Seal and Viceregent for religious affairs in the reign of King Henry the VIII of England; the second richest and most powerful man in the whole Kingdom.
Though no Lutheran, what Cromwell did achieve as Viceregent was to widen the access of ordinary people to their religion by providing worship in their own language, through the Great Bible of 1539. Although Henry was nervous about its impact and sought to restrict its readership, by 1541 parishes were being fined for failing to buy a copy. Cromwell also destroyed some of the superstitious flummery that pervaded much of the Catholic Church of the time through his attacks on images, pilgrimages and shrines. He also presided over the nearly complete dismantling of monastic institutions in England.
His main attainments, however, were in government. He reformed the royal household and machinery in England, laying down the foundation for today's departments of state. His loyalty to Henry was unquestionable: all his inventive measures, all his punitive actions were directed at safeguarding the Tudor dynasty. He would have heard his brutish father talk of the mayhem of the Wars of the Roses more than five decades before. Cromwell was determined that his England would never be torn apart by internecine rivalry between aristocratic power bases; he thus ensured that the nobility's loyalty was purchased by the redistribution of monastic property. The proceeds of that privatisation also spread to a new class of emerging gentry, who became stakeholders in the peace and tranquillity of a prosperous England.
Cromwell may appear authoritarian, cruel and malevolent to our modern eyes, with a cynical contempt for Parliament and justice, but his actions were always motivated by what he perceived to be the best interests of his royal master and his realm. Naturally, Cromwell's own best interests also lay in keeping the despotic Henry happy, with the benefits of ever-increasing power and the opportunity for enrichment. He was single-minded in pursuit of his policy objectives and there was little room in his heart for compassion or the quiet, still voice of conscience. No doubt Cromwell would have felt comfortable in the government of a twentieth-century totalitarian state. Many who governed those states could plead similar motivations to Cromwell's in seeking to justify their actions. In his case, he could not have sought to hide behind appeals that he was 'only following orders'. Within the limits on his authority always imposed by Henry, he was the one issuing orders.
He enjoyed (almost) absolute power, and in fulfillment of the old dictum, he was certainly corrupt. His apologists point to the widespread practice of bribery in Tudor times, but Cromwell went far beyond that. His greed and avarice knew no bounds, except stealing from his King. His wealth and property at the end of his life surpassed that of all except the King himself and perhaps the 'old money' of the Duke of Norfolk. That eventually spelt his ruin and he became a victim of those nobles consumed with envy and hatred for a self-made man doing far better than them.
Surprisingly, Cromwell's downfall did not damage his family , perhaps in return for his meek acceptance of his guilt* or even some faint, lingering gratitude deep in the King's heart for a loyal servant's services through thick and thin.
The last word on Cromwell has to go to Henry, so well served by his corpulent, black-coated Minister. Legend has it that whenever the King, an inveterate gambler, was dealt a knave at cards, he would exclaim: "I have got a Cromwell." And, scornfully, he told the French Ambassador in May 1538 that his Minister was 'a good household manager, but not fit to meddle in the affairs of Kings. Henry may have come to regret those dismissive words.
Once he had lost the loyal services of his most ruthless and resourceful administrator, as well as the Machiavellian architect of England's foreign policies, he began to feel uncomfortable and isolated. Henry confidently believed only he posssessed the supreme skills and cunning required to rule England alone. His self-assurance swiftly dissipated. Never endowed with any patience for the minutiae of government, the King soon became tired of the burden and within less than a year, he was angrily ruing the day that Cromwell was executed.
In one of his increasingly frequent outbursts of tearful, vituperative rage, he complained bitterly that his subjects were ' unhappy people to govern whom he would shortly make so poor that they would not have the boldness, nor power to oppose him'. Most of his privy councillors were concerned more with lining their pockets than serving him and, moreover, 'upon light pretexts, by false accusations, they made him put to death the most faithful servant he ever had.'
Cromwell would have enjoyed the unexpectedly fulsome epitaph and laughed at the discomfiture of his enemies.
*"Good people, I am come here to this scaffold to die and not to purge myself, as some may think I will. For if I should do so, I would be a wretch and a miserable man. I am by the law [ which I enacted] to die and thank my Lord God that has appointed me this death for my offense. For since the time I have had years of discretion, I have lived as a sinner and have offended my Lord God, for which I ask Him heartily for forgiveness."
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Thomas Wolsey (c.1473 - 1530) was Cardinal Archbishop of York, Lord Chancellor, papal legate and King Henry VIII's Chief Minister 1515 - 1529. He was a prince of the Church - - 'the proudest prelate that ever lived' - and the richest man in England after the King himself. He pillaged the goods of every bishopric he took over and even managed to extract financial profit from the treaties he negotiated. As Lord Chancellor, he received a commission for every favour conferred and levied a shilling in the pound on the value of all the wills proved by his administrators. His annual income before he fell from power is estimated at an incredible 50,000 pounds, or 17,500,000 in 2006 monetary values.
The Cardinal's household numbered nearly 500 members, including 'the tallest and most comely yeomen that he could get in all this realm'. George Cavendish, Wolsey's gentleman usher, relates that the Cardinal had three dining tables daily in his hall, presided over by three principle officers: a steward (always a dean or a priest) a treasurer ( a knight) and a comptroller, who carried white staves as badges of office. His kitchen staff was legion and included two clerks, a surveyor of the dresser, a clerk of the spicery, a yeoman of the scullery and three yeomen and two grooms of the cellar. There were forty cup-bearers, carvers, waiters and sewers - who tasted Wolsey's food in case of poison. His two master cooks wore damask satin or velvet, with gold chains around their necks. Clearly someone else did the dirty work in the kitchen.
Then there were the officers of his privy chamber and the fifty-four staff attached to his personal chapel: the private masses regularly included forty priests dressed in very rich copes, or Eucharistic vestments, accompanied by Wolsey's own choir of twelve boys and sixteen men. The Cardinal blatantly copied the uniforms of Henry's royal bodyguard, the Yeomen of the Guard, for those of his personal servants, who wore tunics of crimson velvet with the letters 'TC' - - for Thomas Cadinalis - -embroidered in gold, back and front.
Cavendish describes Wolsey's daily processions to Westminster Hall from his palace at York Place to hear legal cases in the Chancery Court:
'After mass he would return to his privy chamber...and would issue out, apparelled all in red, in the habit of a cardinal, which was either of fine scarlet or else crimson satin, taffeta or caffa, the best he could get for money. Upon his head, a round pillion; he also had a tippet-cape of fine sable around his neck, holding in his hand a very fair orange, with the substance taken out, wherein was vinegar and other confections against pestilent airs, the which he most commonly smelt unto, passing among the press of people or when he was pestered with suitors.'
His procession formed up, led by a page bearing the Great Seal of England and another his cardinal's hat, and these were followed by tall priests carrying two large silver crosses, one symbolizing his role as Archbishop of York and the other, a double cross like that of Lorraine, his position as papal legate, and two pillars of heavy silver. Then came his personal herald or pursuivant of arms, carrying a 'great mace of silver gilt'. Wolsey himself was humbly mounted on a mule, but this was richly trapped out in crimson velvet with gilt stirrups, and he was surrounded by his foot guards, armed with gilded poleaxes. His gentlemen ushers continually cried out: 'On, my lords and masters, on before - make way for my Lord's grace. Make way for his grace, the Cardinal Legate of York, Lord High Chancellor of this realm.' Quite a mouthful for those trying to clear a path through the great unwashed for their master.
The Cardinal's nemesis turned out to be Anne, whom he described privately as the King's own 'night crow'. The olive-skinned, dark-haired daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn had been maid of honor to Henry's Queen, Catherine of Aragon, who was unlikely now ever to produce his longed-for legal son and heir. In the spring of 1526, the King, having drunk deeply of the sexual favors provided by Anne's elder sister Mary, fell desperately, ardently in love with the headstrong, determined Anne.
After much diplomatic huffing and puffing with the Vatican, a legatine court, presided over by Wolsey and the gout-afflicted Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, sat in judgment on the 'King's Great Matter': the validity of his marriage to Catherine under canon law. During a series of dramatic hearings in May 1529, in the great hall of the Dominican monastery at Blackfriars in London, the cardinals heard testimony from both the King and Queen and a host of learned and pious witnesses. But it was all to no avail. Campaggio pronounced on 23 July, the last day of the tribunal, that the delicate issue could only be settled after full consultation with the Curia in Rome. Henry watched the proceedings from the gallery above and stalked away, his face black with anger at Wolsey's failure to procure the desired verdict. "By the Mass, cried the Duke of Suffolk, hammering his fist on a table, "now I see that the old saying is true: it was never merry in England while we had cardinals among us!"
On 9 October 1529, Attorney General Sir Christopher Hales preferred a Bill of Indictment for Praemunire against Wosley in the Court of King's Bench in Westminster Hall. This was the offense of serving a foreign dignitary ( in this case the pope) and thereby committing treason. Eight days later the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk gleefully arrived at York House, Wolsey's new London Palace, to demand the surrender of the Great Seal of England and his resignation as Lord Chancellor. All his lands, offices and possessions were now all forfeit to the crown.
It now became Wolsey's job to discharge his gentlemen and yeomen from service with 'good words and thanks' to give them courage to sustain their mishap in patient misery. Simple gratitude would be their only reward: the coffers were empty, so they could not be paid off. His household were summoned to the great chamber. Wolsey entered the silent room, wearing a modest white rochet ( a long lace surplice) over a bishop's purple cassock. Distressed, he could not bring himself to speak right away and was quickly overwhelmed by bitter tears of abject misery. The great churchman turned his face to the wall, ashamed of his emotion amid the uncomfortable and embarrassed throng of his retainers. Eventually, he wiped his eyes with his handkerchief, took a deep breath and told them:
'It has come to this pass, that it has pleased the king to take all that ever I had into his possession, so that I have nothing left me, but the bare clothes upon my back, which are simple in comparison to those you have seen me have. I would not stick [hesitate] to divide them among you, yes, and the skin of my back, if it might countervail any thing in value among you.'
Then Wolsey put on a brave front and regained a little of his hopeless optimism that he would eventually return to Henry's grace and favor:
' I doubt not but the king, considering the offense suggested against me by my mortal enemies to be of small effect, will shortly restore me again to my living, so I shall be able to divide some part thereof, yearly among you, whereof you shall be well assured...the surplus of my revenues, what ever remains at the determination of my accounts, shall be, God willing, distributed among you.
I will never, hereafter, esteem the goods and riches of this uncertain world but as a vain thing, more than sufficient for the maintenance of my estate and dignity that God has or shall call me unto in the world during my life.'
Alas, Wolsey was never restored to a position of favor that might have tested his new-found piety and unworldliness. Isolated, depressed and anxious he wrote constantly to his lawyer, Thomas Cromwell, for advice and assistance. Reading his appeals today, it is impossible not to feel at least a shred of sympathy for the once haughty and imperious cardinal, now consigned to the shadows of public life. He had tumbled far from his halcyon days as an arrogant and proud minister. The extravagant pomp and circumstance of his own glittering court, those battalions of obsequious, richly attired retainers, were now transient memories, clouded by his deep despair. With his status and vast wealth drained from him, he swiftly degenerated into a frail, sick and lonely old man, fearful of what the future might hold for him. Now Wolsey had been brought to his knees and could do nothing but beg for help from his former servants.
Soon Wolsey's enemies claimed that he was in secret communication with the Pope and was engaged in 'sinister practices made to the court of Rome for restoring him to his former estate and dignity'. He was arrested for high treason but died, probably of dysentery, if not 'suicide by purgations', on his way to imprisonment in the Tower of London. For a time the lid was left off the top of his coffin so that dignitaries could confirm that he was not feigning death. His body was buried in the Lady Chapel of St. Mary's Abbey, Leicester, at about four o'clock in the morning, amid a thunderstorm.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Today, despite the doubters, a majority of Americans agree that climate change is real. This book takes as its starting point that these matters are settled. It is time for the conversation on global warming to move forward, beginning with a critical assessment of solutions to ecological crisis. In the context of the profit-driven American and global economy as it exists today, I asked the question: do the remedies being promoted in the marketplace have the power to keep biodiversity intact and the planet cool?
Green Gone Wrong is structured in three parts - food, shelter and transportation- to address the basic questions of what we need, buy and use in daily life. In delving into the issue of food , I made two trips to investigate what day-to-day existence is like for small organic farmers who raise their crops and animals without chemicals, hormones, or antibiotics on land that's managed to maximize biodiversity. In New York State's Hudson Valley I found that these projects were confined by the meager incomes earned by farmers. For even the most successful growers, costs add up fast. Although they sell the highest-priced produce around - - which only a wealthier clientele can afford - many of these cultivators can barely make ends meet. To get by, the unconventional farm operator must usually rely on the subsidies of inherited land, free and low-cost labor, and off-farm income. They are often beaten down by a lack of resources for cultivation and distribution, inappropriate and expensive food safety rules , insurmountable debt and inadequate pay. No matter how much we consumers want local, ecologically responsible food, the people who make it may well go extinct.
In Paraguay I found that an organic sugar plantation was violating the organic standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. Among the plantation's sketchy activities was mono-cropping, which causes dramatic erosion, exhausts soil nutrients and depletes groundwater. Chicken manure contaminated with hormones and antibiotics from factory farms was being used to fertilize the fields, native forests were being cleared to plant organic fields. In interviewing registered Fair Trade small-hold farmers , I found that many were not paid the higher incomes that consumers in the West believed, many others received the higher price for as little as 20% of their crops. Fair Trade licenses were in the hands of large corporations financed by international banks. The real working operations of plantations that call themselves FT and organic were obscure, as were the rules themselves, leaving room for manipulation and fraud.
In considering the question of shelter I went to three different eco-villages, one in a London suburb and two in the German city of Freiburg. These communities achieved major reductions in CO2 emissions, although the community in London was struggling for lack of the proper technology and support services. Why such resources have flourished in Germany and especially in the exceedingly high-income areas of Freiburg is no mystery. Germany itself has a a strong social welfare and industrial regulatory system; Freiburg is in one of the most pristine natural areas in that country, with powerful local government structures and the strongest Green political party in that nation. Still, only 5% of Freiburg's electricity is derived from renewable sources and most homes are not properly insulated.
Since transportation involves fuel, vehicles and emissions I made three different trips for my investigation. The first was to the Island of Borneo in Indonesia, the world's top producer of palm oil, an increasingly important raw material for bio-diesel. Much of the palm oil produced on Borneo comes from plantations established on the incinerated ruins of clear-cut tropical rain forests. In the summer of 2007 two activists organizations from Indonesia and an environmental group based in the Netherlands released a report on three Wilmar plantations on Borneo. The document details many illegal acts on these estates including logging protected areas, using fire to clear trees, draining and burning peatlands, coercive and forced displacement of indigenous people and small farmers, inadequate or non existent permits, all in violation of Wilmar's own social-responsibility policies, the standards of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and the International Finance Corporation, a World Bank agency that has provided Wilmar tens of millions of dollars to expand their business. " Deal-making" which misrepresents risks and avoids obligatory accounting for social and environmental costs resumed after a brief suspension of operations at Wilmar.
The new head of the EPA recently stated that the Obama administration would continue to support, through mandates and subsidies, crop-based eco-fuel, as 'a bridge to the next generation of bio-fuels'. These 'bridges' are said to be at least five years in the future, as they were said to be five years previously.
Next I visited Detroit. With the Obama administration strengthening fuel economy standards from 27.5 mpg. in 2009 to 35.5 by 2016, it might appear that at least in this area we are on the right track. However, while higher efficiency is good, if you consider that American firms profitably make and sell fuel-frugal cars overseas- some that get over 80mpg, that change seems feeble at best.
My most interesting visit in Detroit was with Terry Cullum, GM's director of corporate responsibility, environment and energy. The firm, like Ford, has installed hybrid technology mostly in their fuel-binging SUV's such as the mammoth Chevy Tahoe and Cadillac Escalade. On the subject of gas-electrics, I expected Cullum to talk about the Chevy Volt. Instead he grabs a spread about GM's hydrogen -fuel- cell trial called Project Driveway and is effusive about the program's potential to deliver a carbon-free future. A few weeks later GM's Bob Lutz told reporters from the Wall Street Journal that with hydrogen-power "We are nowhere near where we need to be on the costs curve". The president of Toyota agrees: "It will be difficult to see the spread of fuel cells in ten years time."
My conclusion was that while Project Driveway may well be a genuine effort, it also serves as a distraction - a no-strings attached gesture that proclaims the automaker's fealty to an environmentally healthy tomorrow [P.R.]
I also found it hard to reconcile Cullum's lack of enthusiasm with GM's lavish PR for the Volt and the constant flow of flattering coverage in the press. It was , according to the PR, supposed to hit the road in 2010, yet when I talked with a veteran worker at GM he reported that no preparations or re-toolings had been made on the shop floor though it can take up to a year and a half to get an assembly line ready to build a new model, and that's using the same frame and standard engine which the Volt does not have! At any rate little testing has been done on the Volt, a driver would have to follow inflexible regimes, claims that it will substantially reduce emissions over its entire life are dubious and it is doubtful that it would add much to GM's profit line and that's all they care about anyway.
Finally, I investigated the problem of carbon offsets. In this business consumers pay a fee based on how much CO2 they create and offset firms channel the money to projects such as planting trees and constructing renewable energy facilities. To find out if offsets work I went to India which hosts 25% of such projects globally. I discovered that some of the projects claimed by offset firms weren't happening at all, some were poorly implemented and others were causing additional ecological damage. Since it is a voluntary industry, it is unregulated, and sometimes my inquiries on the ground led me to fear for my own life. At any rate, the CO2 balance from a person's travel, for example, will only be settled in a reforestation project over the lifetime of the trees that are planted- thirty, forty, one hundred or more years. Carbon emitted today cannot be wiped out today, even though most buyers seem to believe otherwise. In addition, when a tree dies, of course, all the CO2 it has absorbed is returned again into the environment.
Some renewable energy projects in India provided substantial benefits to rural residents without any other access to electrical power. Once power becomes available on a grid, usually generated by coal, they are often discarded or just used in a supplementary fashion like during a blackout or at a small shop by a road during evening hours.
When I was in Borneo, I met an anthropology PhD. student who was doing her fieldwork. She was on her second long-term stay in a Dayak village. She told me that in her village an oil palm plantation was trying to break the community to get their land. One by one the villagers began making deals. Those who didn't want the plantation were rapidly being outnumbered as deception ripped through the families. The anthropology student said one reason so many people were taking the plantation's money was because they couldn't imagine that the forest wouldn't be there in the future. They see it as a place they can always go back to, she said, even if for now it will be used for palm oil. The rain forest's history is ancient, and it has always served the Dyaks. So even though the community knows the palm oil estate will level the native ecosystem, many believe they'll be able to return to the forest, that its abundance will never actually run out.
I later realized (while watching a documentary featuring the philosopher Slavoj Zizek) that in many way Westerners aren't so different in how we regard the natural systems we need. Imagining life carrying on as we know it comes easily. But visualizing our quotidian environments wiped out, or eroded by the effects of global warming, is almost impossible; that level of disaster is still to abstract.
Governments and major corporations are fully apprised of the findings of the world's top climate scientists. Regardless, the majority of leaders continue policies and practices that obviously exacerbate the situation, including promoting ecologically themed but ineffective products. By accepting green consumer goods- instead of direct regulation, prohibitive taxes, publically financed energy and transportation projects for example- we consent. Compared to the scale of the impending disaster, such 'consumer' solutions are extraordinarily inadequate . We could do things differently. Viable solutions and real change in all realms are out there. We suffer no shortage of knowledge and or ideas, no dearth of entirely level-headed and realistic possibilities that aren't just a new range of products to buy.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
For a number of reasons the relationship of Hanna Arendt and historian Raul Hilberg remain a matter of controversy, as exemplified in an article by Nathaniel Popper in the March 31st edition of The Nation: A Conscious Pariah: On Raul Hilberg [ http://www.thenation.com/doc/20100419/popper/single ] Here are some excerpts from Hilberg's The Politics of Memory, The Journey of a Holocaust Historian which give his side of the story.
If counter-factual stories in history are frequent enough and represent spoilage, kitsch is debasement and truly rampant. In my small collection of art books is a volume of essays, compiled by Gillo Dorfles, about the world of bad taste. The compendium is richly illustrated, and when I look at these reproductions during the late evening hour, I dissolve in laughter. In my subject, to be sure, I do not regard such examples of the aesthetic spirit as comical. The philistines in my field are everywhere. I am surrounded by the commonplace, platitudes, and cliches. Jewish resistance fighters are memorialized in the center of Warsaw by a large heroic statue in Stalinist style. In poetry I regularly encounter graves in the sky. In speeches I must listen to man's inhumanity to man. In some of my own works, the publishers have added their flourishes on jackets, covers, and title pages.
What can be said about manipulation and kitsch is that they are almost routine. Many historians can give personal examples of such experiences, my own are not exceptional. I have, however, had disturbing encounters which are distinctly less common. I have in mind the handiwork of three authors who were sufficiently inspired by the muses to think of themselves as special, one as a narrator of events, one in the role of historian, and one as a philosopher interpreting history. Each of them regarded her specific contribution as a capstone to be placed on the works of others. Each considered her work to be a summation in which everything of importance that had been missed was finally resolved, and each complicated my life in her own special way. Their names were Nora Levin, Lucy Dawidowicz, and Hanna Arendt.
Naturally I looked at Hannah Arendt's treatise on the origins of totalitarianism but when I saw that it consisted only of unoriginal essays on anti-Semitism, imperialism, and general topics associated with totalitarianism, such as the "masses," propaganda, and "total domination," I put the book aside. I never met or corresponded with her, and I heard her in public only twice. All I can recall from these two lectures is the emphatic, insistent manner in which she spoke.
The subtitle of Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem is A Report on the Banality of Evil. That subsidiary title has the rare distinction of being recalled more clearly than the main one. It is certainly a description of her thesis about Adolf Eichmann and, by implication, many other Eichmanns, but is it correct? In Adolf Eichmann, a lieutenant colonel in the S.S. who headed the Gestapo's section on Jews, she saw a man who was "declasse", who had led a "humdrum" life before he rose in the SS hierarchy, and who had "flaws" of character. She referred to his "self-importance," expounded on his "bragging," and spoke of his "grotesque silliness" in the hour when he was hanged, when - - having drunk a half-bottle of wine - - he said his last words.
She did not recognize the magnitude of what this man had done with a small staff, overseeing and manipulating Jewish councils in various parts of Europe, attaching some of the remaining Jewish property in Germany, Austria, and Bohemia-Moravia, preparing anti-Jewish laws in satellite states, and arranging for the transportation of Jews to shooting sites and death camps. She did not discern the pathways that Eichmann had found in the thicket of the German administrative machine for his unprecedented actions. She did not grasp the dimension of his deeds. There was no "banality" in this "evil".
The second divergence between her conceptions and mine concerned the role of the Jewish leaders in what she plainly labeled the destruction of their own people. It had been known before, she said, but now it had been exposed "in all of its pathetic and sordid detail" in what she called my "standard work". The whole truth, she said in a sentence that was quoted over and over, was that if the Jewish people had been unorganized and leaderless there would have been chaos and misery, but not between four and a half and six million dead.
In writing about the Jewish councils I emphasized the extent to which the German apparatus counted on their cooperation. The accommodation policy of the councils had ended in disaster. For me, however, the problem was deeper. The councils were not only a German tool but also an instrument of the Jewish community. Their strategy was a continuation of the adjustments and adaptations practiced by Jews for centuries, a time-honored Jewish reaction to danger.
This was not an uncommon view in Israel before the trial of Eichmann, particularly among youth, Palestinian Jews and even Yad Vahem Studies had featured an article by Benzion Dinur, in 1957, one year before they rejected my manuscript for treating the history of the Holocaust in the same way. Such questions were even raised briefly in the trial itself- "You knew these were death trains, why did you not flee or fight?"- After that the repair work was pursued methodically from Jerusalem to New York. The Jews it was said in a metronome fashion, had been heroic, had resisted, and this assessment covered leaders and followers alike. Not surprisingly, when Hannah Arendt's New Yorker articles appeared, the wrath of the Jewish establishment, as she called it, descended upon her and simultaneously upon me. Hannah Arendt and I were coupled so often I could even act as her stand-in.
I still wonder what triggered her reactions to the first chapter of my Destruction of The European Jews? Was she really aroused by my search for historical precedents, such as the roots of anti-Jewish actions from 1933 to 1941 in the canons of the Catholic Church, or the origin of the Nazi conception of the Jew in the writings of Martin Luther? To be sure she had a personal need to insulate the Nazis phenomena. She went back to Germany at every opportunity after the war, resuming contacts and relationships. With Heidegger, who had been her lover in her student days and who was a Nazis in Hitler's regime, she became friendly again, rehabilitating him. But in dismissing my ideas she also made a bid for self-respect. Who was I, after all? She, the thinker, and I, the laborer who wrote only a simple report, albeit one which was indispensable once she had exploited it: that was the natural order of her universe.
[ However, as Hilberg writes in the concluding chapters of his memoir] When I began to assemble my own cast of characters for Perpetrators Victims and Bystanders, I thought the undertaking would be relatively easy. After all, I had been gathering materials for three and a half decades. But it did not take long before I was back in the archives to search with an altogether different perspective for more court records, personnel files, and correspondences, in order that I might provide telling illustrations of different kinds of perpetrators, victims, and bystander. It was not until I had finished the work, in fact not until after its publication, that I fully realized something else.
Most often novelists, journalists, and even historians look for an unusual or bizarre occurrence in a mundane setting, but I was doing the opposite. For me, the destruction of the Jews already was the setting, the irremovable reality, and within this extraordinary outburst I looked for all that was ordinary. I had done so from the beginning, when I dealt with everyday bureaucratic procedures, and now I was pursuing the same object as I examined the lives of people. In their daily routines, these individuals, like agencies, sought stability, particularly their own private equilibrium. It did not matter whether they were perpetrators, victims, of bystanders; they all manifested a need for continuity and balance.
The craving for the familiar, the habitual, the normal, emerged as a leitmotif wherever I looked. Psychologically this clinging was aimed at self-preservation, and its manifestation runs like a thread through the upheaval. At a basic level they provide an explanation of how these groups managed to go on - the perpetrators with their ever more drastic activities, the victims with their progressive deprivations, the bystanders with the increasing ambiguity and ambivalence of ther positions. When Sigmund Freud delivered a lecture about war during the first major conflagration of the twentieth century, he said that mankind needed a passing check from the burdens of civilization. What I began to note was the reverse side of this phenomena: the adhesion to time-honored products of this civilization in the midst of unprecedented destruction....
I returned to Vienna and visited the haunts of my childhood in 1992. At the end of my trip I conducted several interviews in a coffee house at the center of the city. One of the interviewers, Evelyn Adunka, was exceptionally perceptive and insightful. She asked me about Franz Neuman, Salo Baron and my father, and she quoted from a private letter she had discovered in an archive. The letter was written on March 6, 1962, by H.G. Adler, the survivor of Theresienstadt, who was the author of a massive book about the ghetto. I had never met or corresponded with Adler, who had lived in England until his death in 1988. Reading that thirty-year-old letter, which like all his books was written in German, I felt as though Adler had peered directly into the core of my being:
"To be noted is Hilberg's The Destruction of European Jewry. Surely you have heard of this work. It is until now the most significant accomplishment in this topic area and it is not likely to be surpassed very soon, even though it is by far not yet the final portrayal. No one until now has seen and formulated the total horrible process so clearly. The number of small errors and omissions do not matter seriously, and so far as I can see, they can be extinguished in a new edition. What moves me in this book is the hopelessness of the author, who was born in 1926, and who came to the United States before the war, surely from Germany to which he returned at the end of the war with the U.S. Army. In 1948 Hilberg began his work. Therefore he already has the viewpoint of a generation, which does not feel itself affected directly, but which looked at these events from afar, bewildered, bitter and embittered, accusing and critical, not only vis - a - vis the Germans ( how else?), but also the Jews and all the nations which looked on. At the end nothing remains but despair and doubt about everything, because for Hilberg there is only recognition, perhaps also a grasp, but certainly no understanding..."
Friday, April 23, 2010
In May of 1944 Anne Frank began to refine and polish her diary into a form that she hoped might someday appear as Het Achterhuis - literally, " the house behind" or "annex" . Returning to the earliest pages, Anne cut, clarified and expanded her original entries, and added new ones which in some cases she predated, sometimes by years. Thus the book is not, strictly speaking, what we think of as a diary - a journal in which events are recorded as they occur, day by day - but rather a memoir in the form of diary entries. Judith Thurman got it right, as few have, when she questioned even calling the book, as Anne's American publishers did, The Diary of a Young Girl. " That ingenuous title corresponds to what is in fact an epistolary autobiography of exceptional character. It takes full measure of a complex and evolving character. It has the shape and drama of literature. It was scrupulously revised by its author, who intended it to be read. It was certainly not a piece of ' found art', as one Dutch critic has suggested."
The form of the diary - letters with breaks, like chapter breaks, allowing for gaps in time and changes in in subject- lets Anne glide from meditation to action, from narration and reflection to dialogue and dramatized scene with regular yet unpredictable shifts between opposites of tone and content; between domesticity and danger, between the private and the historic, between metaphysics and high comedy. One of the most intriguing of these oppositions is the tension between the extraordinary and the ordinary, the extreme and the normal, the young genius and the typical teen. In one entry, Anne can make the most trenchant or poetic observations; in the next, she complains that she is being picked on, singled out, criticized unfairly; that adults don't understand her, they treat her like the child that she sounds like in these passages. Even as the dangers grew more pressing and her reflections more transcendent, she keeps insisting on how ordinary she is, and regardless of the evidence to the contrary, we believe her, and we don't, because its true and it isn't.
Her voice is so recognizable and so evocative that we might mistake it for any girl's, until we read more closely and realize that its timbre, its tempo, and its choice of what to focus on is uniquely Anne's. Anyone who has tried to write autobiographically will know how difficult it is to do so without seeming mannered, strained, and false. She sounds as if she is not writing so much as thinking on the page.
One striking aspect of the diary is how much life it packs into its pages. Sex is part of it, as is death, love, family, age, youth, hope, God, the spiritual and the domestic, the mystery of innocence and the mystery of evil. In addition, the diary is about Hitler's war against the Jews, about Holland during World war II, and about the allied invasion of Europe as seen from inside an occupied country. It's easy to overlook the amount of history folded into these entries:
"Saturday March 27, 1943. Rauter, one of the German big shots, has made a speech. 'All Jews must be out of German-occupied countries before July 1. Between April 1 and May 1 the province Utrecht must be cleared out (as if the Jews were cockroaches). Between May 1 and June 1 the provinces of North and South Holland' These wretched people are sent to filthy slaughterhouses like a herd of sick, neglected cattle."
Anne's diary is a symphonic composition of major and minor themes, of notes and chords struck at sufficiently regular and frequent intervals so that they never leave the reader's consciousness for very long. It is possible to trace each thread as it weaves through the diary, periodically reappearing to heighten and sharpen our understanding of a character or situation. How amazing, a casual reader might say, how thoroughly unlikely that such a penetrating, dramatic, and structurally ambitious work should have evolved, on its own, from the natural and spontaneous jottings of a young girl added every day, or every few days, to her diary. Such a reader would have been right to wonder about that naturalness and that offhand improvisatory spirit yet is as all unquestionably the work of Anne Frank, a Jewish girl between the ages of 13 - 15 hiding out in Nazis occupied Holland between 1942 and 1944.
On the pages of the book Anne Frank is brilliant, in the original Broadway production based on the book she is a nitwit. In the book, she is the most gifted and sharp-sighted person in the annex; in the play, she's the naive baby whom the others indulge and protect. For all her talk about being treated like a child and not knowing who she was, Anne saw herself as an adult and the others as children. In the drama, those relations have been reversed. Anne is always needing the obvious explained; she's invariably the slowest to grasp the dangers and necessities of their new life. A preteen trickster, she can't stop playing playing pranks, hiding Peter's shoes and saying lines like, "You are the most intolerable, insufferable boy I ever met!" How the real Anne Frank would have cringed at the scene of her spilling milk on Mrs. Van Daan's precious fur coat, and how that brave girl would have railed against being shown fainting from terror when thieves break in downstairs. Arch, kittenish, silly and shallow, what could the girl we see in the play manage to write? The prodigiously articulate author can hardly utter a sentence without pausing to collect her scattered thoughts, none of them especially incisive. The pointed accuracy of her observations has been blunted, the delicacy of her perceptions has everywhere been coarsened. All of Anne's intriguing contradictions simplified out of existence.
The 1997 revival suffered a similar affliction. Two years after the play's Broadway run Natalie Portman, wrote about the difference those two years made in her reading of the diary:
"At 16, when I portrayed Anne on Broadway, it was her flaws - vanity, over-excitability, and quickness to fight - that interested me the most. And now, upon my most recent perusal just weeks before my 18th birthday, I am struck most strongly by her introspection, solitude, perfect self-awareness and sense of purpose... the beauty and truth of her words have transcended the limits placed on her life by the darkness of human nature."
The desire to extract an affirmative 'American' lesson from Anne Frank's story likewise explains the fact that the Anne who visits our classrooms, and whom the pedagogical literature describes, more closely resembles the Broadway and Hollywood Anne than the Anne we meet in the diary. Much is made by the teaching guides of her optimism and resilience, but there is little acknowledgment of the fact that she was a complicated young artist who died a tragic early death. An article in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, by Stephanie Jones and Karen Spector, notes that students may actually resist the suggestion that Anne's story is not the sunny narrative they wish to imagine:
Even when students were explicitly told of her cruel death, they still tended to imagine her in hopeful ways. When students answered a question in their textbook...that asked how Anne could have been happy in a concentration camp, Charlotte answered, "Knowing Anne, she was happy in the concentration camps. She didn't have to be quiet anymore; she could frolic outside. She could be in nature. I think it was a welcome relief for her" When Karen asked Charlotte's classmates if they agreed with her, the room was filled with lifted arms; some had both hands raised, yet no one raised a voice or kept an arm down in protest of Charlotte's statement. No one. This is a testament to the powerful pull of the Americanization of Anne Frank.
The idea of Anne frolicking in Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen suggests a flaw in the Holocaust units of which her diary often forms the core. Some responsibility for this may stem from the cognitive dissonance that must effect teachers attempting to present ( and students trying to grasp) the life of Anne Frank as an example of the triumph of the human spirit. The logical conclusion to that story is not the mass grave at Bergen-Belsen, and so it must be tempting to proceed as if Anne's story ended when her diary ends, as if Auschwitz never existed.
In The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank, Rachel van Amergogen- Frankfoorder reports that that the emaciated Frank girls " had little squabbles, caused by their illness..[ including scabies which covered them in sores]...They were terribly cold. They had the least desirable place in the barracks, below, near the door, which was constantly opened and closed. You heard them constantly screaming, 'Close the door, close the door,'... What was so sad, of course, was that these children were so young...They showed the recognizable symptoms of typhus- that gradual wasting away, a sort of apathy, with occasional revivals, until they became so sick there wasn't any hope and then one day they were no any longer. Their corpses were heaped near the barracks." Rachel passed the bodies of the Frank sisters on her way to the latrine. Then they were buried in a mass grave.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
We will never know the titles of the books Hitler had at his bedside table the day he killed himself but we do know eighty books that were in the bunker complex at the time, some rather recent acquisitions, such as a 1943 book titled A Prehistory of Roosevelt's War, By Hans Heinrich Dieckhoff. But there were also books he had acquired as a young man and at some point brought with him to Berlin: a 1913 treatise on Wagner's Parsifal, a tract on racial values published in 1917, a 1921 history of the swastika, and a dozen or so books on mystical and occult subjects all from the early 1920's, including a 120-page paperback called The Prophesies of Nostradamus by Carl Loog, published in 1921.
You can tell a lot about a person from what he reads. The surviving — and largely ignored — remnants of Adolf Hitler's personal library are deposited in the rare book collection of the Library of the U.S. Congress.
The books that constitute the Hitler Library were discovered in a salt mine near Berchtesgaden—haphazardly stashed in schnapps crates with the Reich Chancellery address on them—by soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division in the spring of 1945, transferred in January of 1952 to the Library of Congress, where an intern was assigned to uncrate the collection. "The intern did what we call 'duping out,'" says David Moore, a German-acquisition assistant at the Library of Congress. "If a book was not one hundred percent sure, if there was no bookplate, no inscription to the Führer, he didn't keep it." 1,200 volumes survived the "duping out".
Scholarly neglect of the Hitler Library derives in good part from an early mis-perception that its historical or biographical importance was limited. "Spot-checks revealed little in the way of marginal notes, autographs, or other similar features of interest," said Gerhard Weinberg, a leading authority on the Nazi era and one of the first scholars to explore the collection, "There were few clues that many of these books had been part of his personal library, and even less evidence that he had read any of them."
Even a systematic review of the collection begun in 1995 overlooked marginalia. In one reference Mattern and Gassert noted correctly that the Hitler Library contains two identical copies of Paul de Lagarde's German Essays, but they don't mention marginalia, despite the fact that in one volume fifty-eight pages have penciled intrusions—the first on page 16, the last on page 370. Given that Lagarde belongs to a circle of nineteenth-century German nationalist writers who are believed to have had a formative influence on Hitler's anti-Semitism, the marked passages are certainly worth noting. In an essay called "The Current Tasks of German Politics," Lagarde anticipates the emergence of a "singular man with the abilities and energy" to unite the German peoples, and calls for the "relocation of the Polish and Austrian Jews to Palestine." This latter phrase has been underlined and flagged with two bold strikes in the margin. Sometimes writing along the side of a page is recognizably in Hitler's jagged cursive hand.
For the most part, though, the marginalia are restricted to simple markings whose common "authorship" is suggested by an intense vertical line in the margin and double or triple underlining in the text, always in pencil; I found such markings repeatedly both in the Library of Congress collection and in a cache of eighty Hitler books at Brown University. Hitler's handwritten speeches, preserved in the Federal German Archives, show an identical pattern of markings. In one anti-Semitic rant Hitler drew three lines under the words Klassenkampf ("class struggle"), Weltherrschaft ("world domination"), and Der Jude als Diktator ("the Jew as dictator"); one can almost hear his fevered tones.
Hitler's habit of highlighting key concepts and passages is consonant with his theory on the "art of reading." In Chapter Two of Mein Kampf he observed, 'A man who possesses the art of correct reading will, in studying any book, magazine, or pamphlet, instinctively and immediately perceive everything which in his opinion is worth permanently remembering, either because it is suited to his purpose or generally worth knowing ... Then, if life suddenly sets some question before us for examination or answer, the memory, if this method of reading is observed ... will derive all the individual items regarding these questions, assembled in the course of decades, [and] submit them to the mind for examination and reconsideration, until the question is clarified or answered'. In these marginalia one sees a man (who famously seemed never to listen to anyone, for whom "conversation" was little more than a torrent of monologues) reading passages, reflecting on them, and responding with penciled dashes, dots, question marks, exclamation points, and under-scorings; intellectual footprints across the page. Here is one of history's most complex figures reduced merely to a reader with a book and a pencil.
'Books, books, always books!" August Kubizek once wrote. "I just can't imagine Adolf without books. He had them piled up around him at home. He always had a book with him wherever he went." Kubizek, Hitler's only real friend in his teenage years, recalled after the war that Hitler had been registered with three libraries in Linz, where he attended school, and had passed endless days in the baroque splendor of the Hofbibliothek, the former court library of the Hapsburgs, during his time in Vienna. "Bücher waren seine Welt," Kubizek wrote. "Books were his world." Other associates of Hitler provided similar testimony. More telling still is the five-year insurance policy Hitler took out in October of 1934, with the Gladbacher Fire Insurance Company, on his six-room apartment on the Prinzregentenplatz, in downtown Munich. In the letter of agreement accompanying the policy Hitler valued his book collection, said to consist of 6,000 volumes, at 150,000 marks—half the value of the entire policy.
For his official Berlin residence Hitler had his architect, Albert Speer, design a vast library that occupied the entire west wing. "Inventory records of the Reich Chancellery that we found at the Hoover Institution at Stanford suggest that by the early 1940s Hitler was receiving as many as four thousand books annually," Daniel Mattern told me. In Munich, Gassert and Mattern also discovered architectural sketches for a library annex to the Berghof that was intended to accommodate more than 60,000 volumes. "This was a man with a lot of books," Mattern says.
The biggest single share of Hitler's library, some 7,000 books, was devoted to military matters, in particular "the campaigns of Napoleon, the Prussian kings; the lives of all German and Prussian potentates who ever played a military role; and books on virtually all the well-known military campaigns in recorded history." A chapter in a book on Frederick the Great is especially worn, its pages tattered, marked with fingerprints, and smeared with red candle wax. Tucked in the crease between pages 162 and 163 I found a three-quarter-inch strand of stiff black hair.
Another 1,500 volumes concerned architecture, theater, painting, and sculpture. "One book on the Spanish theater has pornographic drawings and photographs, but there is no section on pornography, as such, in Hitler's Library," Oechsner wrote. The balance of the collection consisted of clusters of books on diverse themes ranging from nutrition and health to religion and geography, with "eight hundred to a thousand books of simple, popular fiction, many of them pure trash in anybody's language."
By his own admission, Hitler was not a big fan of novels, though he once ranked Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Don Quixote (he had a special affection for the edition illustrated by Gustave Doré) among the world's greatest works of literature. The one novelist we know Hitler loved and read was Karl May, a German writer of cheap American-style westerns. But one of the oldest volumes of literature still in the Hitler Library is a 1917 German edition of Peer Gynt, Henrik Ibsen's epic of a "Nordic Faust" who cuts a swath of human suffering—betraying friends, abandoning women, trading in slaves, and committing cold-blooded murder—on his way to becoming "emperor of the whole world." When challenged to account for his sundry trespasses, Gynt declares that he would rather burn in hell for excessive sins than simmer in obscurity with the rest of humanity. Edvard Grieg set this cruel play to beautiful music. Hitler's copy of Peer Gynt—handsomely illustrated by Otto Sager—bears a simple inscription by its German translator: "Intended for his dear friend Adolf Hitler. Dietrich Eckart. Munich, October 22, 1921."
In a French vegetarian cookbook with an inscription from its author, Maïa Charpentier, I encountered Monsieur Hitler végétarien. And I found hints of Hitler the future mass murderer in a 1932 technical treatise on chemical warfare that explores the varying qualities of poison gas, from chlorine to prussic acid (Blausäure). The latter was produced commercially as Zyklon B, which would be notorious for its use in the Nazi extermination camps.
I also found, however, a Hitler I had not anticipated: a man with a sustained interest in spirituality. Among the piles of Nazi tripe (much of it printed on high-acid paper that is rapidly deteriorating) are more than 130 books on religious and spiritual subjects, ranging from Occidental occultism to Eastern mysticism to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Some of these volumes date from the early 1920s, when Hitler was an obscure rabble-rouser on the fringe of Munich political life; others from his last years, when he dominated Europe. Hitler was the classic apostate. He rebelled against the established theology in which he was born and bred, all the while seeking to fill the resulting spiritual void. As the Hitler Library suggests, he found no shortage of latter-day prophets peddling alternative theologies.
Unquestionably the most significant unread volume in the Hitler collection is a 1940 edition of Alfred Rosenberg's The Myth of the Twentieth Century, the Nazi classic that, with more than a million copies in print at the time, was second only to Mein Kampf for the Nazi movement. In the course of its 800 pages Rosenberg delivered the theological framework for a National German Church intended to subsume "the best of the protestant and catholic churches" and eliminate the "Jew-infested Old Testament." Denouncing the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as a "counterfeit of the great image of Christ," Rosenberg envisioned a "fifth gospel" depicting Jesus as an Aryan superman—"The powerful preacher and the raging prophet in the temple, the man who inspired, and whom everyone followed, not the sacrificial lamb of the Jewish prophets, not the man on the cross." Despite Rosenberg's repeated attempts to establish his Myth as official party doctrine, Hitler insisted that the book was a "private publication" that represented Rosenberg's personal opinions. In conversations Hitler admitted that he had read only "small portions" of it and described it as unreadable. Joseph Goebbels concurred, calling The Myth an "intellectual belch."
In the volumes of Johann Gottlieb Fichte (May 19, 1762 – January 27, 1814) given to him by Leni Riefenstahl, I encountered a veritable blizzard of underlines, question marks, exclamation points, and marginal strikes that sweeps across a hundred printed pages of dense theological prose. Where Fichte peeled away the spiritual trappings of the Holy Trinity, positing the Father as "a natural universal force," the Son as the "physical embodiment of this force," and the Holy Ghost as an expression of the "light of reason," Hitler not only underlined the entire passage but placed a thick vertical line in the margin, and added an exclamation point for good measure. As I traced the penciled notations, I realized that Hitler was seeking a path to the divine that led to just one place. Fichte asked, "Where did Jesus derive the power that has held his followers for all eternity?" Hitler drew a dense line beneath the answer: "Through his absolute identification with God." At another point Hitler highlighted a brief but revealing paragraph: "God and I are One. Expressed simply in two identical sentences—His life is mine; my life is his. My work is his work, and his work my work."
Among the numerous volumes dealing with the spiritual, the mystical, and the occult I found a typewritten manuscript that could well have served as a blueprint for Hitler's theology. This bound 230-page treatise is titled The Law of the World: The Coming Religion and was written by a Munich resident named Maximilian Riedel.
In this densely written treatise Riedel established the groundwork for his "new religion," replacing the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost with a new tripartite unity, the "Körper, Geist und Seele"—"body, mind, and soul." Riedel argued that traditionally mankind has recognized five senses, which relate only to the physical aspects of our existence, and that this hinders our ability to perceive the true nature of our relationship to God and the universe. He offered seven additional "senses" that every human being possesses, which are related to the subjective perception of the world; among them Riedel included our inherent sense of what is right and wrong, our emotional sense of another person, our sense of self-preservation. .. "The body, mind and soul do not belong to the individual, they belong to the universe," the author explained.
Based on the marginalia, it seems that Hitler not only received the Riedel manuscript but also read it carefully with pencil in hand. Individual sentences and entire paragraphs are underlined, sometimes twice or even three times. Riedel's "trinity" seems to have attracted Hitler's particular attention. A dense penciled line parallels the following passage: "The problem with being objective is that we use objective criteria as the basis for human understanding in general, which means that the objective criteria, that is, the rational criteria, end up serving as the basis for all human understanding, perception and decision-making." By using the five traditional senses to achieve this "objectivity," Riedel declared, human beings exclude the possibility of perceiving—through the additional seven senses he identified—the deeper forces of the world, and are thus unable to achieve that unity of body, mind, and soul. "The human mind never decides things on its own, it is the result of a discourse between the body and the soul," he claimed.
It was just the sort of thing Hitler liked. Through extensive scientific research Riedel had determined that beyond the five known senses, the human possessed additional perceptive capacities that a gone unrecogonized and that existed in a vestigial state. By identifying and cultivating these untapped cognitive abilities, a person was able to access reserves of knowledge and insight, to connect to the deeper forces that moved the world, those universal "reservoirs" of knowledge described by Carl Ludwig Schleich and Ernst Schertel.
Hitler draws a thick line beside this passage on page 69 of Schertel's book Magic, then traces Schertel's reflections on Schleich's observations. Schertel notes, with Hitler's pencil in train, that the great cultures of the past were unthinkable without the grand ideas that were willed into existence by individuals of " imaginative power", who were not "slaves" to empirical realities, who could imagine a world and then will it into existence through the force of their personality. Schertel describes this creative genius as the truly "ektropic", an energizing force possessed of demonic qualities that is capable of shaping the course of the world.
"One has always said that the European has the capacity for a particularly well-developed 'sense of reality', 'sense for facts' etc." Schertel writes, "But a closer look shows that he looks right past 'reality' and 'fact' and that what he holds in his hands are empty images.The entire materialism and rationalism of our era is in complete contradiction to the deeper sense of reality and facts...
With the ektropic dynamic there is no such thing as "real" or "unreal", as "true" or "false", as "right" or "wrong". Only when this completely irrational, immoral, apersonal force has consumed us can we perceive these values.
Here we glimpse at least a portion of Hitler's essential core. It was less a distillation of the philosophies of Schopenhauer or Nietzsche than a dime-store theory cobbled together from cheap, tendentious paperbacks and esoteric hardcovers, which provided the justification for a thin, calculating, bullying mendacity.
It was Schertel's "ektropic" man, not Schopenhauer's genius of will or even Nietzsche's "new man" born beyond good and evil, who greeted Carl Burckhardt on the airy crag above the Obersalzberg in early August 1939, who seemed to have the ability to "usher in the end of civiization', and it was this same "ektropic" man who stood two weeks later in the great hall of the Berghof, framed against the imposing face of the Untersberg, and told his generals of his decision to go the war.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
In November 1924, her first semester at Marburg University, Hanna Arendt attended a series of lectures by Dr. Martin Heidegger on the subject of Plato's Sophist. Heidegger's purpose was to demonstrate to his students that it was not Plato's thought that was decisive, but their own thinking arising from direct personal confrontation with the matters about which Plato thought. In fact, he taught that philosophy or "the intellectual tradition of the West" had gotten onto the wrong path with Plato, who had turned away from the awe-filled contemplation of the actual existence of things towards an abstract metaphysics of ideas and ideal types, which were at best indirect, derivative, and secondary manifestations of Being. Heidegger thought that human experience and understanding both lie closer to the realm of feeling and mood that inheres in poetry, and preferred the fragmented suggestions of the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers.
Twenty-five years later Heidegger wrote a poem that recalled the excitement and dissipation of listlessness he experienced at the moment when he first saw Hannah in the seminar on Plato's Sophist: "If only she, from withdrawn grace, would fall towards me..." At the end of class one day at the beginning of February 1925, Heidegger approached the stylish young girl with stunning eyes who sat in the seminar room taking careful, thorough notes and asked her to come to see him in his office. The days are gray, wet and cold in Marburg at that time of year, and the old buildings were chilly and damp. When she came to his office, Hannah was wearing a coat, buttoned to the collar and a hat with a large brim against the rain and cold. He asked about the lectures and the philosophers she had been reading; she answered briefly in a soft voice, sometimes in Greek and Latin. She looked away demurely, but he took her in his eyes and years later admitted to Hannah that he had retained the image of a shy girl quietly answering his questions all the rest of his life.
A few days later Hannah received a note from him that began "Dear Miss Arendt, I must come to see you this evening and speak to you heart...." This is how their love began, she a 17 year old student, he a married man with children. Hannah was captivated by the intensity of Heidegger's affection, dazzled by his erudition and by the physicality of their relationship, its aura of sexual excitement. These moments with Heidegger- on campus benches, long walks, in Hannah's attic room or Martin's darkened office- never ceased to be the personification of passion in Hannah's memory and understanding of the world. To the end of her life he would hold the place of " the king of thinking".
Martin Heidegger, hoping perhaps to have the last word on his own past, granted an interview to the editors of Der Spiegal on September 26, 1966, on the condition that they not publish it during his lifetime. He died on May 26, 1976, and the interview appeared five days later under the title "Only God Can Save Us". In it Heidegger reiterated the same revisionist lies and half-truths that he had told without success to the de-nazification commission thirty years earlier: he was apolitical, was never an enthusiastic Nazi, took up the rectorship only to protect the university, resisted the firing of Jewish professors, did not break wih Husserl and Jaspers, and did not wish to align the university with National Socialism.
Although undermined in some ways by extravagant claims of anti-Semitism and a great deal of abstract argument about the relationship between Heidegger's thought and Nazi ideology*, several books recent books have gone a long way to set the record of Heidegger's embrace of the Nazi Revolution, his misdeeds and postwar dissembling. As a consequence, more details are available to us about Heidegger's politics and character than were ever available to Hannah Arendt. Would it have made a difference if she had known all that we know now?
Presumably her detractors think not. In their view Arendt was a self-hating, German-loving, anti-Semitic Jew, and this alone explains her criticism of Jewish leadership for its role in the Holocaust, her disapproval of Israel's exclusionary and militaristic identity, and her characterization of Nazi evil as banal. Only a Jew who did not love Jews, it is still said in some quarters, could think such things; such a Jew would have to forgive Heidegger and go on loving him in order to preserve and protect her own identity as a German.
It is true that Arendt was a product of German culture and tradition. Even her claim that she was a Madchen aus der Fremde was a reference to Schiller, and what could be more German? But why is there anything wrong or pathological about this? German culture produced not only Heidegger, but also Blucher and Jaspers, Kant, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Lessing, Goethe, Hesse, Mann and Planck, not to mention such German Jews as Heine, Einstein, Freud, and Arendt's greatly admired friend, the Zionist leader Kurt Blumenfeld. It is far from clear that the Nazis represented a logical extension of the German tradition rather than its radical perversion.
This hostile ( dare we say sexist) view of Arendt does not today dominate the discourse about her work ( the major ones being The Origins of Totalitarianism, Eichmann in Jerusalem, The Life of the Mind ). Nevertheless, it is obstinately present at least as innuendo, seeking to blunt her human rights criticisms of Israel and trivialize her advocacy of reconciliation between Germans and Jews, and between Jews and Arabs, by characterizing her ideas as the distorted conclusions of one whose judgment and self-image were so impaired that she could not see through her deceitful Nazi lover.
However, even if we reject politically inspired, ad hominem attacks on Arendt's psyche and recognize the importance of her contribution to the literature on totalitarianism and on crimes against humanity ( albeit largely derived from the meticulous research of Raul Hilberg), that does not mean that we have to accept Arendt's conclusions about Heidegger. Since we too participate in the life of the mind- thinking and judging for ourselves- it is necessary to consider whether she may have fundamentally misjudged him. It is this question- whether Heidegger was so deeply associated with the Nazis as to be among the Germans with whom reconciliation was inappropriate, or whether Arendt was correct to judge him as a flawed human being with redeeming virtues- more than any other that has made it necessary to disturb the peace of long-dead lovers.
In the end, perhaps Arendt's readiness to forgive Heidegger was an affair of the heart- forgiveness of neither the act nor the idea of betrayal, only this man whom she had loved, whose mind and magnetism she admired more than his character, and with whom there was wordplay and the shared occupation of working with ideas. From our own circumstances and the distance of the current moment, Heidegger may seem undeserving, but for one who knew him, understood his thinking, felt happy in his company, and recognized both the temptations and banality of evil, forgiveness in the name of friendship cannot be dismissed as evidence of self-hatred or personal pathology.
The principle benefit of reconciliation, as Arendt understood, is that it brings peace, understanding, and human warmth into a world too often hostile, confused, and cold. The promise of reconciliation, which is neither forgetfulness nor an averted glance, but a full-bodied recognition of the human condition, is that it preserves the possibility of love- in the case of Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger, an easy commerce between old friends- and friendship, as Hannah understood, is the foundation of all humanity.
*Of all the philosophical stars in the constellation of Nazi ideology, few blazed as intensely during the Third Reich or faded as quickly afterward as Fichte, the late-eighteenth century advocate of belligerent German nationalism whose volumes represent the only serious works of philosophy among Hitler's surviving books. ..it was Fichte who provided the philosophical foundations for the toxic blend of Teutonic singularity and vicious nationalism... It was less a distillation of the philosophies of Schopenhauer or Nietzsche than a dime-store theory cobbled together from cheap, tendentious paperbacks and esoteric hardcovers, which provided the justification for a thin, calculating, bullying mendacity of National Socialism." -Hitler's Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life by Timothy W. Ryback; Knopf, 2008
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
I was sitting on the potty with the door ajar (the light is busted) when a mouse walked by: "Hey little mousy!". She/he paused, looked up and scurried on. Why so far from the kitchen? Do mice keep suburban estates for quiet and repose? Maybe this was the tail-end of a long midnight adventure, a search for new and better nesting materials?
Could be a matter of temporary domestic discord, a bit of "fresh air", as it were. Maybe a colony is being established. After all, the noise in the kitchen has certainly picked up since my last bombing campaign.
This I'll never figure out: how they managed to remove the last box of poison I put under the stove- lock, stock and barrel . Do they have a Committee for the Public Safety, a properly funded environmental protection program?
Furthermore, to them spring-traps are something like a first class restaurant. And despite the "grand-central station" noise situation in the early morning, sustained rattling of pots and pans for instance, how come so few "tell-tale" signs? Maybe a new breed has evolved "higher intelligence"? Who knows whether this is possible?
Don't insult my love of dramatic instances by telling me to get a cat!
Monday, April 19, 2010
After the death of Aristotle, Theophrastus became the new dean of the Lyceum in Athens, a position he held for forty years. His character sketches "These Are Them"- giving us a glimpse into life in 4th century (B.C.E.) Athens -were discovered two centuries after his death.
"During conversation, this man will respond to any remark with a claim to the contrary. He'll say he knows the whole story, that you've got it all wrong, just listen to him, etc. You might try to edge a comment of your own in there, but he'll immediately respond with something like "Hold on now, you've had your say'" or "That reminds me of something else" or "You're an impatient one, huh?" Suppose someone innocently asks this man what went on in a council meeting. Well, he'll do more than give a full report: somehow he'll work in mentioning some old Athenian battle, which inevitably will make him recall the Spartans' victory under Lysander, his memories of giving speeches while a minor public official, a rumor decades old, a joke that he's told you before. This is the guy, in other words, whom you do not want on a jury. When he goes to dinner parties he is called "the chattering parrot." Really the only people with any patience for this man are children nearing their bedtime. They beg him to tell them stories to help them fall quickly asleep."
Thank the Heavens she's not senile, with nothing AT ALL to say!
Sunday, April 18, 2010
A mild jeremiad against 'medical commerce' first; then a brief a survey of geriatrics in American Literature from the first major publication of a popular contemporary historian.
At the same time that the social insurance movement in America grew from small beginnings in the 1920's into a potent (though restrained) political force in the 1920s, other people were attacking the problem of old age from different directions. Not the least was a parallel movement among American physicians, who made old age into a special branch of medical science.
Physicians had long been interested in old age, primarily as a part of a perennial search for ways to prolong youth. In every scientific generation, there have always been a few investigators who have dreamed of discovering the secret of eternal life, and many more who have hoped merely to make death wait a little longer. In America, one of the first was Doctor Benjamin Rush (1745-1812), an eccentric Philadelphia polymath who published promiscuously on many subjects, among them old age ["An Account of the State of the Body and Mind in Old Age", 1793].* For a long life he recommended temperance, equanimity- and matrimony. In the nineteenth century, other physicians began to study old age in a new spirit- not so much to keep it from happening as to understand its effects. European scientists broke the first ground but by the early twentieth century, the scattered work of individuals began to be brought together to form a new medical disciple called "geriatrics". It's birthplace was New York City and its father was an Austrian immigrant, I.N. Nascher, who founded a professional group called "Society of Geriatry" in 1912.
From Nascher's time to our own era, geriatrics has grown steadily as a science. No epic discoveries have been made. No revolution has been wrought in either diagnosis or therapy. The process of aging still remains not merely unknown, but a mystery. It's cause continues to be elusive. But it has been studied with more rigor than before, and many of its operations are understood with increasing clarity. As a therapeutic discipline, geriatrics, broadly conceived, has had many successes. If aging cannot be 'cured", it can be eased and made more comfortable. The physical pain of growing old, which was so intense in early America, has been much reduced. The invention and improvement of eyeglasses, false teeth, hearing aids, and other prosthetic devices have made a major difference in the physical experience of growing old.
At the same time, the practitioners of geriatric medicine have labored to change the attitudes of physicians towards their elderly patients. American doctors have tended to share the general prejudices of their society, and added a few of their own. Aesculapius proposed a principle of medical ethics that physicians should seek to cure only those patients who can be restored to active life. In a more moderate form, that attitude is still widespread. The very old have often found it difficult to obtain a physician's attention, unless they are also very rich. Geriatric medicine has struggled against those attitudes. If it has not succeeded in reversing them, perhaps it has made some difference.
Yet surrounding the science of geriatrics, as a circle of darkness surrounds the light, is a twilight zone inhabited by hucksters and healers of every shape and hue. Always, men have hunted the fountain of youth with a determination equal to their distance from the object. In the twentieth century many panaceas have been peddled to the elderly as remedies for aging. For the very rich, society doctors have prescribed all manner of injections, ointments and potions. In the 1920s, a popular geriatric fad was monkey glands; in the 1940s, Fletcherizing; in the 1950s, cortisone injections; in the 1960s, estrogen. In the 1970s, vitamin E was prescribed by country-club physicians in kidney-killing doses. Some of those fads (even the most scientifically respectable) may actually have shortened life. The rapid rise of cancer among affluent, middle-aged American women in the 1970s was due in part to the use of estrogen by physicians who were treating the symptoms of menopause.
For Americans too poor to afford those expensive nostrums, antidotes to aging were bottled and sold across the drugstore counter. Patent medicines have had a long and fascinating history in America. By the 1970s they had become a billion-dollar business. In Massachusetts in October 1975, twelve ounces of a concoction named Geritol cost nearly $4- more than the best bonded Bourbon. One popular tonic, Serutan ("nature's spelled backward') cost $2 for seven ounces.
The vast health industry in America has exploited the elderly in an ingenious variety of ways. One example is what might be called the arthritis racket- a huge business all in itself. More than twenty million Americans are thought to suffer from some form of arthritis. They spend perhaps $400 million a year in hope of finding relief from its painful and crippling symptoms. The health hucksters have offered them arthritis clinics, vibrating devices, exotic diets, and many drugs and liniments. But most of what Americans buy for arthritis has no helpful effect upon that condition, and may actually make it worse. Regulatory agencies and private clinics have become more active in policing this vast industry, but the problem always outruns the remedy.
Government has also taken a hand in dealing with the medical problem of old age in a more direct and important way. The National Health Surveys, which were first taken in 1935-36, showed for the first time the full extent of disability among the elderly. Nothing much was done at the national level to diminish it for thirty years. In the 1930s the health care which was available to the elderly was what they could buy from their physicians or beg from a charity.
The major change came in 1965, with the passage of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Medicare provided federal money for most of the health care needs of people over sixty-five; Medicaid paid the bills of the poor. But in our modern world of social engineering, every solution becomes another problem. So it has been with Medicare and Medicaid. Those programs brought a revolution in the "health care industry", as it was coming to be called. They had been bitterly opposed by conservatives as a form of "socialized medicine". But the result has not been socialism at all- rather, a corrupt form of state capitalism, which has combined the vices of both ideological worlds without the virtues of either. The American health system has encouraged physicians to become medical entrepreneurs- except that it is the patient who assumes the risk and the physician who takes the profit. Proprietary hospitals and nursing homes have become business corporations more profitable than Exxon or United States Steel. Drug companies have driven up prices of medicine by conspiracy and collusion. No other society in the world has tolerated a system of medical care which is so expensive and so corrupt.