Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

About those Christian militia guys who got arrested in the States.  One of them is a real Surrealist, it seems, and surely is prove enough that Surrealism and its bastard child of absurdist comedy has infiltrated the consciousness of even those one who one who least suspect of it:

But Sickles, who in those videos identified himself as a member of the Ohio Militia, may also have a lighter side. The accused plotter looks to have starred in a deeply Not Safe For Work movie, filled with cursing, mock violence, pot jokes, and sound effects conveying flatulence. Sickles appears entirely naked but for a mask of President George W. Bush that obscures some, but not all, of his genitalia.

In the film, Sickles’s chubby, tattooed character finds himself attacked by an enormous creature which appears to be half man, half duck. “Scar my tattered body no more with your punishing dildo mallet,” Sickles exclaims at one particularly dramatic moment.

The Freudians should have a field day with this as well:  Christian anti-federalist militias as projections of deep sexual anxiety about dildos, duck-rape and skull-fucking George W. Bush.

Link:     http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/04/scar_my_tattered_body_no_more_with_your_punishing.php

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Jean Paul Satre, Nausea


A classic, a Nobel-Prize winner, the literary work of existentialism alongside Camus’ L’Etranger. How is one to feel after Nausea?  How is one supposed to feel after existentialism?  This not between existentialism and marxism, ther is nothing but pitiuless withering contempt, for those who have not been enlightened, who have not had the awakening to authetic humanity.  That is, not a phony; there is something very similar between the astetic hippy and his concern for the fake, the fraud, the tool; and the existentialist, who sneers at the petty conventions and platitutes of the bourgeois world: the smiling youth, in love without knowing why, the quarelling couples unsure of themselves, all that being “motionless and empty, plunged in a horrible ectasy.”  It is easy to be immune to this kind of writing and philosophy; I’ve read Sartre, I’ve passed my existential phase, or so I assumed that it would be easy enough to dismiss, especially Roquentin whose awareness of what he says is pettiness and bad faith is just as easily the crankiness of a loner, disaffected and isolated from any sense of meaningful human contact and construing it as enlightenment rather than failure.

And yet the Self-Taught Man.  He, more than any of the overt philosophy of Nausea haunts me.  Because he is, in a way, me.  And Roquentin’s criticism and contempt for him is withering and crippling, especially to a young student beginning to feel that the academic and intellectual world is a trifle too serious and demanding than his dedication will allow.  Self-education, autodidaticism, I have followed those paths, spent years removed from post-secondary education, from the halls of hallowed knowledge to ‘expand my mind’ in an equally cliched fashion.  No discipline to my reading, no conscious effort to formulate and understand it.  Just reading, and pretending reading is knowledge.  That is the Self-Taught Man, who shrinks from responsibility and commitment to ‘deeper’ knowledge, whether of the history Roquentin studies or of existential truth as well.  The coward’s way out: that is the question, isn’t it?  Easy humanism, easy socialism, easy assurance, easy confidence in civilization, in man, in society, in love.  Too easy.  Struggle then?  Only to see the awful energy of life; but I have, and I flee.

Almost every existentialist work I”ve read demands an extremely personal response, more so than almost any other style of novel, play or poem.  The private Catholic poetry of Cesar Vallejo, or the compulsive love of surrealism do not affect me so.  The novels of Victor Serge, Bruno Janieski, Ilya Ehrenberg, even Celine, do not have that same forcing of introspection, of questioning, of a claustrophibic, inescapable feeling of crisis, of personal judgement and decision and interrogation, now, now, now.

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A deeply divisive novel, laying bare the troubled divide between the political and the philosophical aspects of existentialism.   It cannot resolve that divide, between the communal dream of a better world and the isolation of an individual being; it does not offer salvation from the latter in the former, save in the words of Kyo and Katov who at least stand for the dignity and freedom of the ‘masses’ though their doctrine is notably free of any actual content.

Key words: isolation, aloneness, painful freedom of relationships, the void of opium haze, “an ectasy toward downward”, “murder left no trace upon his face”.  Fate, condemnation, “the fate of China being decided,” and “the illusion of being ble to whatever they pleased”  fatalism as Marxism, a fascination with suicide as radiant exhuberance, pain as caused to others, as others caused to oneself.  Murder as aloneness, “all fighting was absurd, nothing existed in the face of life”.   It is a grim existentialism, in which our fate is suffering, our situation alone, the human condition.  And the revolution, doomed to fail.  A human being, thought Ferral, “an individual life, unique isolate, like mine…” spoken like a true capitalist?

And yet, the human condition: if we are fated, if “no doubt they were all condemned, the essential was that should not be in vain” we are free to “serve the gods of one’s choosing,” Kyo as hero: “no dignity for man who does not know why he works” and “freedom is not an exchange, it is freedom” and it must be fought for struggled for, died for.  Heroic, successful, sympathetic revolution, and in Kyo’s work to the Comintern agents in Hankow, the peasants must unite with the workers, “behind the army, in the rural districts, the Communists are beginning to organize the peasant Unions,” the people will never be satisfied with the betrayal of the revolution, the revolution fated to succeed, because it offers dignity, purpose, hope, because it is right.  Katov’s sacrifice, to save others.  It is hard to squre the realism, the intimacy, the sympathy of the description of the April 12 incident, the Shanghai uprising of 1927 and its bloody suppression at the hands of the Nationalists, with the atomization of existentialism.  Why make it so specific, so sympathetic, if only to use it for an existentialist fable.  Perhaps that is the fable: an existentialist revolution.


The city in revolt: Hankow, 1927.

“Over there were chimneys, cranes, reservoirs – the allies of the Revolution.  But Shanghai had taught Kyoo what an active port was like.  The one he saw before him was full of nothing but junks and torpedo-boats.  He took his field-glasses: a freight-steamer, two, three….

He walked about at random.  The kerosene lamps were being lut inside the shops; here and there silhouettes of trees and the curved-up roof-ridges rose against the Western sky, where a light without source lingered, seeming to emanate from the softness of the sky itself and to blend far, far up with the serenity of the night.  In the black holes of shop – nonwithstanding the soldiers and the Worker’s Unions – doctors with toad-signs, dealers in herbs and monsters, public writers, casters of spells, astrologers, and fortune-tellers continued their timeless trades by the dim light which blotted out the blood-stains.  The  shadows melted rather than stretched on the ground, bathed in a bluish phoporescence; the last flash of the superb eveneing  that was being staged far away, somewhere in the infinity of worlds, of which only a reflection suffused the earth, was glowing faintly through an enormous archway surmounted by a pagoda eaten away with blackened ivy.  Beyond the din of bells and phonographs and the myriad dots and patches of light, a battalion was disappearing into the darkness which had gathered in the mist over the river.  Kyo went down to a yard filled with enormous stone blocks: those of the walls, levelled to the ground in sign of the liberation of China…

Cantonese soldiers with their newly-supplied Russian equipment after arriving at Hankow as reinforcements for the Red Garrison.

Original caption: 1927: Cantonese soldiers with their newly-supplied Russian equipment after arriving at Hankow as reinforcements for the Red Garrison.

Rickshaws were waiting on the quay, but Kyo’s anxiety was too great to allow him to remain idle.  He preferred to walk.  The British concession which England had abandoned in January, the great world banks shut down, but not occupied….”Anguish – a strange sensation, you feel by your heart-beats that you”re not breathing easily, as if you were breathing with your heart…”  It was becoming stronger than lucidity.  At the corner of a street, in the clearing of a large garden full of trees in bloom, gray in the evening mist, the chimneys of the Western manufactures appeared.  No smoke.  Of all the chimneys he saw, only the ones of the Arsenal were operating.  Was it possible that Hankow, the city to which the Communists of the entire world were looking to save China, was on strike?  The Arsenal was working; could they at least count on the Red Army?  He no longer dared to run.  If Hankow was not what everyone believed it was, all his people were already condemned to death.  May too. And himself.

At last, the building of the International Delegation.

The entire villa was lighted up.  Kyo knew that Borodin was working on the top story; on the ground-floor the printing-press was running full speed, with the clatter of an enormous ventilator in bad condition”

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I don’t know him
           but thought somebody else did,
for everyone was friendly in that bar
           except this guy in the red checkered shirt:
he was aggressive and pro-Canadian,
stubbing a Players outside the ashtray,
swaying in his chair and gulping beer
like water
             drunk and getting drunker – –
“Best beer in the world,” he said.
“Bout the only thing left that’s really Canadian.”
                                   And glared at us.
“Did you know 60 % of Canadian industry
                                   is American owned?”
They callem American shubshidyaries – – “
Everyone laughed when he stumbled over the word,
and he slapped his hand hard on the table,
“Don’ laugh!” he said.
“Okay, I been drinking, I like to drink,
But don’t laugh when you see the country
                         just sort of casually
like an afterthought, like a burp after dinner – – “
                  “So what?” somebody said.
“Everybody here knows we’ll belong to the States
                   in another ten years…”
The guy swelled up like a sneering bullfrog,
“And guys like you deserve to be taken over.
But when you are you’ll be 2nd class Americans
like Negroes in the south, like Indians here – –
You’ll be 2nd class Americans because
you never were 1st class Canadians in the first place – -“
Everybody stiffened.
                                    “Okay,” he said,
“I’ll buy the beer and shut up.”
But after a few seconds he couldn’t keep quiet.
“Anybody ever hear of the San Juan Islands?
No, I guess not. Well, Canada got gypped there.
Anybody know about the Alaska Panhandle deal,
or remember the Herbert Norman case, by any chance?
Well, I’m tellin’ you, this country is being taken
like a glass of beer.  It’s  a matter of economics.
And none of you guys really give a damn,
just slop your beer and wait to be taken
by some big bellied American in Washington.
And I’m tellin you, they’re all greedy bastards –!”
“I like Americans,” someone said mildly,
and seemed just by chance his arm lifted,
meeting checked shirt’s arm in the middle of the table.
That was all that it needed:
“Okay, loud mouth, let’s see you put me down!”
They call it “arm wrestling” some places:
and the yellow beer jiggled as clasped hands
pushed on elbow fulcrum – everyone watching.
The guy in the checked shirt was drunk,
and the other guy more or less sober,
so it shouldn’t have been much of a contest.
Their arms strained like two-thirds of a tripod,
and checked put on pressure,
“I’m telling you they’re bastards – – !”
The other guy was big, but he collapsed quick,
\knocking over a glass of beer and the salt shaker.
“Just shows you,” checked shirt said,
looking around the table.  He started to go.
“I gotta be getting back.  Be seeing ya – – “
“You been huntin?” somebody asked.
“That’s right, up near Bancroft.  Takin back a nice buck.”
“Where you from?”
Checked shirt grinned.
“New York,” he said.

                                                 – Alfred Purdy

from The Blasted Pine: An Anthology of Satire, Invective and Disrespectful Verse, Chiefly By Canadian Writers. Revised and Enlarged.  Selected and Arranged by F. R. Scott and A. J. M. Smith. (Toronto: Macmillan Company, 1957)

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Before me on the dancestand
A god’s vomit or damned by his decrees
The exciting twitching couples shook and
wriggled like giant parentheses.

A pallid Canadienne
Raised a finger and wetted her lip,
And echoing the nickelodeon
“Chip” she breathed drowsily, “Chip, chip.”

Aroused, her slavish partner
Smiled, showed his dentures through soda-pop gas,
And “chip” he said right back to her
And “chip, chip” she said and shook her ass.

Denture to denture, “pas mal”
They whispered and were glad, jerked to and fro;
Their distorted bodies like bits of steel
Controlled by that throbbing dynamo.

They stomped, flung out their arms, groaned;
And in a flash I saw the cosmos end
And last of all the black night cover this:
“Chip, chip” and a shake of the ass.

                                                 – Irving Layton

from The Blasted Pine: An Anthology of Satire, Invective and Disrespectful Verse, Chiefly By Canadian Writers. Revised and Enlarged.  Selected and Arranged by F. R. Scott and A. J. M. Smith. (Toronto: Macmillan Company, 1957)

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The Status of Canadian Geology

A graduate, magna cum lava,
Of Ottawa’s College of Mines,
He died while at work in Ungava
By failing to read the French signs.

His friend from Quebec on the survey,
refusing to eat English food,
Succumbed to pellagra and scurvy –
The ore they’re interred in is crude.

                                       – Nathan Fast

A Church Seen in Canada

O country doubly split! One way
tugged eastward; one to USA:
One way tugged deep toward silver Rome;
One way scotched stubborn here at home;
What panacea for your ills?
(Le Sacré Coeur de Crabtree Mills).

                                      – Theodore Spencer

from The Blasted Pine: An Anthology of Satire, Invective and Disrespectful Verse, Chiefly By Canadian Writers. Revised and Enlarged.  Selected and Arranged by F. R. Scott and A. J. M. Smith. (Toronto: Macmillan Company, 1957)

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The gold roof of Parliament

covered with fingerprints and scratches.

And here are the elected, hunchbacked

from climbing up each other’s heads.


The most precious secret has been leaked:

There is no Opposition!


Over-zealous hacks hoist the P. M.

through the ceiling. He fools

an entire sled-load of Miss Canada losers

by acting like a gargoyle.


Some fool (how did he get in) who

wants jobs for everyone and says

so in french is quickly interred

under a choice piece of the cornice


and likes it. (STAG PARTY LAUGHTER)

When are they going to show the dirty movie?


Don’t cry, Miss Canada,

it’s not as though the country’s

in their hands.

And next year we’re piping in

Congressional proceedings

direct from Washington –

all they’ll have to do

is make divorces.

– Leonard Cohen

from The Blasted Pine: An Anthology of Satire, Invective and Disrespectful Verse, Chiefly By Canadian Writers. Revised and Enlarged. Selected and Arranged by F. R. Scott and A. J. M. Smith. (Toronto: Macmillan Company, 1957)

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You remember the big Gaston, for whom everyone


a bad end? –

Gaston, the neighbour’s gossip and his mother’s cross?

You remember him vaurien, always out of a job,

with just enough clinking coinage

for pool, bright neckties, and blondeds, – –

the scented Gaston in the poolroom lolling

in meadows of green baize?

In clover now.  Through politics.  Monsieur Gaston.

They say the minister of a certain department does

not move

without him; and they say, to make it innocent, – –


But everyone understands.  Why, wherever our

Gaston smiles

a nightclub rises and the neon flashes.

To his slightest whisper

the bottled rye, like a fawning pet-dog, gurgles.

The burlesque queen will not undress

unless Monsieur Gaston says yes.

And the Madame will shake her head behind the


unless he nods.

A changed man, Gaston;  almost a civil servant,

keeps records, appointments, women; speaks tough


is very much respected.

You should hear with what greetings his distinguished

approach is greeted;

you should see the gifts he gets,

with compliments for his season.

– A. M. Klein

from The Blasted Pine: An Anthology of Satire, Invective and Disrespectful Verse, Chiefly By Canadian Writers. Revised and Enlarged.  Selected and Arranged by F. R. Scott and A. J. M. Smith. (Toronto: Macmillan Company, 1957)

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The Hymn of the Spanish Rebellion

The Church’s one foundation

Is now the Moslem sword,

In meek collaboration

With flame, and axe, and cord;

While overhead are floating,

Deep-winged with holy love

The battle planes of Wotan,

The bombing planes of Jove

L. R. MacKay

Two Snarls of a Disgusted Colonial


Freedom in Spain, exhaled a groan.

Her champion, England, scribbling notes,

Refused as yet to throw a stone,

And only held the stoner’s coats.


Let Britains leaders, if they choose,

Be cushions for Benito’s hips,

And lick their heels of Adolf’s shoes.

But damn them! must they mack their lips?

L. R. MacKay

from The Blasted Pine: An Anthology of Satire, Invective and Disrespectful Verse, Chiefly By Canadian Writers. Revised and Enlarged.  Selected and Arranged by F. R. Scott and A. J. M. Smith. (Toronto: Macmillan Company, 1957)

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John Clute, Appleseed

Months ago I quoted this:

Swim” said Fassin. “You know; when your head kind of seems to swim because you suddenly think: “Hey, I’m a human being, but I’m twenty thousand light years from home and we’re all living in the midst of mad aliens and super weapons and the whole bizarre insane swirl of galactic history and politics! That; isn’t that weird?”

And I wrote this, poorly, in defense of Iain M. Banks’ The Algebraist:

what if the Swim that Fassin describes is something metaphor for the space opera, and science fiction, as a whole? Swim, that feeling of being totally overwhelmed and lost by the presence of a greater universe, would almost certainly meet a basic criteria as a standard of science fiction, ideally: being ‘weirded out’ is incredibly important to the isolation and perturbation of good science fiction. Information overload, or future shock, or cognitive dissonance, whatever you want to call it; my argument is that, rather then simply being a dead weight, the length and concentrated details and descriptions, fast-paced and frequently overwhelming, is at least partly deliberate, perhaps even necessary for appreciating The Algebraist.

John Clute’s novel Appleseed does something very similar, to such an extent that much of its charm and novelty, besides its prose half purple and half brilliant, thick in the air with meaning, dense, lies in Swim, in the shock of the new, of being overwhelmed by unknown details and thick terminology and a prose opaque like fog, monuments in unknown tongues.


The very inpenetrability of the text, of the dialogue and the description, mirrors the universe of Appleseed, ripe with information, overflowing with details and data streams, the voices of trillions crying out into the night: me! me! me!

Like any competent ship, Tile Dance was steamy with data.  Here, deep within Trencher [a planet], a million probosces stroked her as though she were a sacred aphid ready to leak.  She was a shrine.  Data (which made Minds deem sacred) left traces everywhere, Tile Dance was rich in traces, leaked traces like attar into the mouths of Trencher.  the traces of the world were data, the world being beauteous.  The universe was the sum of all traces of everything the universe had ever been.   Only connect – only connect the contortuplication of the traces of every All the universe had ever been – and God would smile.

Appleseed is a pastiche, made up of references and allusions to earlier novels in the space opera subgenre of science fiction: for instance, some sort of mystical technology, lens, figures in his novel, and a war is being fought over them, The war of the lens, a wink and a nod to the Lensman series by E. E. Smith. He thanks Gene Wolfe and Robert Silverberg for ideas, names and terminologies, and throughout I noted deliberate allusions to plenty of other science fictions, from Olaf Stapledon and H. G. Wells to Ringworld and so on. This shouldn’t surprising: John Clute is a science fiction critic, one of the best, and is ridiculously well-versed, through four decades of reviews and time in the trenches: to write a novel not dripping with history would be a sacrilege.

The inability to say anything knew, the sheer volume of information available and its tendency to clog or overload our time, our senses, our dedication; the universe of Appleseed is drenched in the past, but only in the sense of data and knowledge.  So thick is this data that it literally clogs up the tubes of the system, becomes psyhical as plaque, as in a human’s arteries, causes catastrophic failures that overwhelm the dense worlds of humanity: the Earth was drowned in data, destroyed by too much, by the criticism of art in the novel, by bad data, bad art, bad opinion, or perhaps, blogs.  Appleseed is satire, as well;  it would be hard to avoid, given its long history as a exploratory genre within science fiction.  Occasionally the novel is very witty or penetrating, and the sly jabs at cellphones and blackberries, and the atomised youth like me, are especially sharp:

Kirtt reduced his gaze within the holograph to human braids, thousands of humans visible through tghe translucent walls, some standing still and allowing the the braid to carry them, some on wheels, some in scooters.  Many wore clothes.  They were behaving as humans always behaved, individual males and females engaging relentlessly (though always as part of conversation, via comm net, with invisible partners) in the unremittingly ingenious gestures of courtship normally found in any of the rare species might occur simultaneously.  Whatever  the ostensible goal of any human behauviour, what humans were actually doing always seemed to be one thing.

Humans emit Pong: it is a drug to aliens, and to us, it is the smell of our oil, hormones, pheremones, hair, sweat and sex, which we barely notice but drives some aliens wild with pleasure.  The protagonist, Kirtt, is nicknamed ‘stinky’.  Engorged phalluses and plump breasts are the norm.  All is well, Clute revels in describing this new, all too similar world, where violence has been subdued in humans because we no longer look at each other directly.  We are masqued in cybernetics and holograms, followed by AI best friends, able to clone each other into sterile, non-human servants, and wear the sigils of the corporations that own us bravely upon our breast.

Appleseed can be shocking, to a weak heart, in its honesty and penetrating vitality (heh) about the human species, it forced me to rethink and look closely at much of my behaviour, even if only in a humorous way and shallow way, though there is a heavy and occasionally rather portentious slices of Heidegger and Sartre (mind you, tool-being really is a useful  concept for exploring futures human and present but I have some reservations about the implications of existentialism as a whole…but I digress, provoking to anger is still a success): that is the greatest strength of this strange novel, the idea that our thoughts, emotions, bodies and individualism is so dangerous (like knives):

Homo Sapiens was not consensual; each individual homo sapiens sensorium was solipstic, each individual member of the species was contained in the narrow coffin of a solo world.  At a primal level, no homo sapiens could genuinely believe in the existence of any other being, hence the destruction of all its sibling species on the planet of its birth.  No other sophont could pass on any knowlegde whatsoever to them – except along the parsimonious tightrope of words – of what might be happening in the bath of beings.  Homo sapiens could not draw upon the lines of empathy, so heavily suckled in densely inhabitated worlds that [other species]…were necessary for proper drainage and flow.  No homo sapiens could detect fault lines, regions of damage in the bath of being…

He spoke then of the almost acoustic barrier erected around the sensorium of any homo sapiens, a barrier which bristled and clawed and ponged and twirled its knives of noise, so that no download from beyond, no lachrymae rerum of the bath of being, could reach the homonclonus inside – perhaps as a response to the nearness of God to human Earth.  Encountering a homo sapiens while unprotected was like landing in Babel: the myth of Babel being unique to homo sapiens.  Communications between homo sapiens were like encryptions punched through plaque…

Fucking was, therefore, quixotic; because Eden could never be reached.  For a homo sapiens, male or female, to fuck with eyes open…was the highest form of chilvary.  In a universe of the utmost cruelty to mortal homo sapiens, fucking was an act of arete, and of great joy.

Fascinating, typical of science fiction, grand, mysterious, expansive.  Notice the bit about God, though.   Problems rear: like Descartes, he brings in God by the back door.  The obsession in a Henry Miller style on human sexuality as the be all and end all of humankind is repeated a tad too often, no matter how much I may enjoy how it is presented, it abstracts so much to make a hectoring and (dis)agreable point.   That quote was from near the end of the novel, about the point when I started to find Appleseed a drag to read.  Its desnity becaue an impedient rather than a joy, a blockage rather than adding character.  Science fiction, even the most daring, formal, artistic sort, is generally easy to read, quick to read, racing through almost, but Appleseed resists, it becomes a tease, denser even than the universe it presents; the plot, which raced along in mystery, fonders, tension evaporates and the last half becomes a tedious and repetitive, stuffed with a tedium of actions that inch forward like glaciers but lack the interiority and interest of  say, a Mrs. Dalloway, to push on.

I don`t normally have a problem with dense novels: I`m reading Andrei Bely`s Petersburg (the so-called Ulysses of Russia) at the moment, and I find it more approachable than this novel at times.  Characters barely attached to evolve, suddenly, the importance of everything crowds in like drunks struggling to enter a bar at once, and I`m left reeling: at first because I wanted to be, and last because the novel escaped the threads of my hands.

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I think that I live in a street

Where the evenings are decidedly darker,

A citizen of what is said to be a country,

In the year nineteen-sixty-four.

All the snow melts around April,

In August there is nothing to wait for,

The Fall is established in Novemeber,

January is mostly Winter.

A woman claims to be my wife

on the strength of which she lives in my house.

But I am also dangerous to some animals

And have at times been observed to eat them.

I have little to say about the structure of society,

There may be certain letters to write occassionally,

Certain amounts to pay when they become due,

But it is against the law for some people to hurt me.

In view of this I continue to lead

What I am told is existence

Weeks ending in Sundays

Unasked questions scrupulously unanswered.

– George Jonas

from The Blasted Pine: An Anthology of Satire, Invective and Disrespectful Verse, Chiefly By Canadian Writers. Revised and Enlarged.  Selected and Arranged by F. R. Scott and A. J. M. Smith. (Toronto: Macmillan Company, 1957)

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From a version directed by Yury Lyubimov. Scenography by Vladimir Boyer, and music by Sergey Letov,

From a version directed by Yury Lyubimov. Scenography by Vladimir Boyer, and music by Sergey Letov,


Now Marat you are talking like an aristocrat
Compassion is the property of the privileged
When the pitier lowers himself
to give to a beggar
he throbs with contempt
To protect his riches he pretends to be moved
and his gift to the beggar amounts to no more
than a kick {lute chord}
No Marat
no small emotions please
Your feelings were never petty
For you just as for me
only the most extreme actions matter.


If I am extreme I am not extreme in the same
way as you
Against Nature’s silence I use action
In the vast indifference I invent a meaning
I don’t watch unmoved I intervene
and say that this and this are wrong
and I work to alter them and improve them
The important thing
is to pull yourself up by your own hair
to turn yourself inside out
and see the whole world with fresh eyes

A difficult play; I’d like to see it performed live, but what, I wonder, would be the chances of that, when Tom Stoppard is the height of political drama?  Certainly, it could be put on, absolutely so, it is the kind of play that one might love, huge cast, plays within plays, an ideal Postmodern piece they might say, and assume it is ironic in its commitments. A quick search reveals its popularity: still put on, favourite of theatre schools (too used to parochial small town rejection of anything that isn’t a comedy or Shakespeare)

From the UA film

From the UA film

Three levels: the feud between De Sade and the warden of the Charedon asylum, power struggle between man of order and man of anti-order (anarchist, perhaps) but a struggle in which De Sade is the hero against the disciplining, normalising State; the play, The Death and Persecution of Jean-Paul Marat, the baptism of a counter-revolutionary, the moanings and declamations of Marat, the knowledge of his death already widespread, the best of classical irony and the movement of fate.  Third level: the dialogue between De Sade and Marat, a dialectic of sorts, an argument in which both sides trade insults and argue in grand eloquence over the fate and direction of mankind, two visions of the way forward, nihilism and rejection of the norms of society, of society, or revolution, the changing of society through its material conditions.

Marat is the victor, of sorts, it is clear to whom Weiss ultimately agrees with, but De Sade is the romantic, rebellious anti-Hero, like Wolverine or Nieztche, we find him appealing even if we find his frankness and brutality disquieting.  Interesting structure, totally engaging, reminds me of the furour around Hans Werner Henze’s Das Floss der Medusa (a requiem dedicated to Che Guevera)
if only because they were both contemporary works of scandalous political engagement.  No good answer, no moral summation, no simple political solution presented; suitably satisfying ending in its lack of satisfaction.

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Solo: An Elder Statesman

  1. Of freedom this and freedom that the drooling leftist


But freedom for Free Enterprise is all that really matters’

This freedom was ordained by God; upon it rest all


For man’s divinest impulse is to over-reach his brothers;

And so to this celestial urge we make our offering votive;

Behind all human greatness lies the noble Profit Motive.

Chorus of Bankers, Brokers, Executives and Advertising Men

Then hail we now Free Enterprise,

Extol and Give it praise!

In it the world’s salvation lies,

Without it every freedom dies;

O glorious Free Enterprise –

The enterprise that pays!

Solo: The President of the Canadian Manufacturer’s Association

  1. For victory we’re giving all, at scarcely more than cost,

But what’s the good of victory if Free Enterprise is lost

The war’s demands for well laid plans most loyally

we’ve heeded,

But peace is quite a different thing – no planning the

is needed

So, while today these damned controls have stretched us

on the rack

The moment victory comes in sight we want our freedom



Then hail we now Free Enterprise,

Extol and Give it praise!

In armed revolt we’ll all arise

If any post-war party tries

To undermine Free Enterprise –

The enterprise that pays!

Solo: The President of the Canadian Banker’s Association

  1. We face today a dreadful threat from fools who would

destroy us;

Of something called security they prate in accents joyous.

Security? Its cost alone would drive to perdition;

Besides, it kills initiative and suffocates ambition.

Security breaks down the will, the urge that keeps men free,

It stifles effort, starves the soul – except in men like me.


Then hail we now Free Enterprise,

Extol and Give it praise!

While Marsh and Beveridge theorize,

Their deadly, Bolshevistic lies

Are poisoning Free Enterprise –

The enterprise that pays!

Solo: The President of the Chamber of Commerce

  1. At periods when Free Enterprise may not provide


We dread the thought of hungry men – it lessens our


The government must then step in, with this


That any public works proposed do not increase


Depressions, after all, my friends, much as we may

Deplore them,

Are acts of God’ who ever heard of blaming business for



Then hail we now Free Enterprise,

Extol and Give it praise!

Of course, when profits shrink in size,

To lay men off is only wise;

We dearly love Free Enterprise –

But only when it pays.

Solo: The President of the Advertising Association

  1. Conspirators on every side Free Enterprise have slandered,

Forgetting that it’s given us the world’s best living standard;

We eat and drink supremely well at Royal York

and Rideau,

And no one drives more Cadillacs or bigger ones than

we do.

How blind the socialist who plots this way of life to shatter!

Free Enterprise brings wealth to all – at least, to all who



Then hail we now Free Enterprise,

Extol and Give it praise!

The working man must recognize

That, if in want he lives and dies,

It’s just his lack of enterprise –

The enterprise that pays!

Solo: The President of a Very, Very Large Corporation

  1. Free Enterprise does not, of course, mean actual


And cutting prices – God forbid! That’s treason and


A ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ is the best of all devices

To stabilize our dividends, our markets and our prices.

For taking risks we’ve little love; we set our whole affection

On something like monopoly, with adequate protection.


Then hail we now Free Enterprise,

Extol and Give it praise!

In it the world’s salvation lies,

Without it every freedom dies;

O glorious Free Enterprise,

O wonderful Free Enterprise,

O marvelous Free Enterprise –

The enterprise that pays!

– J. D. Ketchum

from The Blasted Pine: An Anthology of Satire, Invective and Disrespectful Verse, Chiefly By Canadian Writers. Revised and Enlarged.  Selected and Arranged by F. R. Scott and A. J. M. Smith. (Toronto: Macmillan Company, 1957)

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Two poems on being Anglo-Canadian, one that exposes humorously the all too British predilections of the elite of Ontario during much of this century, and one that expresses, without irony or self-awareness, a popular Canadian myth, formulating a particular kind of Anglo-Canadian nationalism in opposition to Britain and aping that of the United States.

The first:


A native of Kingston, Ont.

two grandparents Canadian

and still living

His complexion florid

as a maple leaf in late autumn,

for three years he attended


Now his accent

makes even Englishmen

wince and feel

unspeakably colonial.

– Irving Layton

And the second:

On the Appointment of Governor-General Vincent Massey, 1952

Let the Old World, where rank’s yet vital,

Part with those have and have not title.

Toronoto has no social classes –

Only the Masseys and the Masses

– B. K. Sandwell

from The Blasted Pine: An Anthology of Satire, Invective and Disrespectful Verse, Chiefly By Canadian Writers. Revised and Enlarged.  Selected and Arranged by F. R. Scott and A. J. M. Smith. (Toronto: Macmillan Company, 1957)

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A Joke


The arch-imperialist, guarded by khaki soldiers in kepi, supervises the doling out of justice in the market square, his boots spike despite the dust and cool despite the Sudanic sun.  He is a professional, no spite has he, but he knows reality, and so he stands broad legs spread chest out before the prisoners tied between wooden stakes hammered into the ground.  The imperialist winks to the sun, or perhaps to the guard in second hand uniform, neck unstarched and skin black as night beneath the fez, eyes hooded, dark or unseen, an onyx .  In his hands he holds a hippopotamus hide whip.  Later, after the punishment, when confronted by a journalist, and less than impressed by the man’s sweat and the choppy wrinkles of his jacket, tells him angrily, in a long unbroken grunt, his head swelling red like a blister pinched by officers collar:

“The hippopotamus hide whip is all these brutes understand!  Perhaps when they are more civilized, they will not need such discipline meted out; at it is now, those deep furrows in their flesh keep the peace and the smooth running of our government.  Without the knout, we would surely lose face to the forces of barbarism, who must be met by the only thing they understand: blood.”


At home there is a furor in Parliament, and a member of the Loyal Opposition gets to his feet: it is cold in the hall, and he wears about him a fur-lined coat.  Outside snow falls on the metropolis in pensive silence.  He reads the newspaper, is shocked into red-faced anger by the brutality described; he is the most celebrated of the Party’s speakers, one of their youngest, perhaps fit someday to be a Minister in the Cabinet.  He is socially liberal, claims to support suffrage and unions and argues that the free enterprise and industry of their nation, the formula of greatness, should be protected  He launches with stubborn immobility into his prepared speech:

“Such brutality is unwarranted and inefficient.  It merely alienates our new subjects and ensures their restlessness.  I suggest replacing the hide with police batons (manufactured here in our great country) and all officiers of the government should be equipped with soothing balm for their wounds.  In such a fashion, we can molify the natives insolent resistance to law by demonstrating that the hand that punishes can also assuage and protect them.  A softer touch can ensure that our burden to civilize can go on unhindered and ensure our place in the sun the next one hundred years!”

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