Our too familiar eyes. Turn the binoculars the right way round and… Wow! It is overwhelming! Marvellous! Ouch! Hitting our nose on the strange we see stars. What? Yes! We have entered a cartoon and become a caricature. Retreating into a pompous naivety we transform the new into the odd, the weird, the bizarre; seeing the new in its proper size the new becoming the exotic becomes a fabulous beast, a giant; and we…we are now pigmies to our own familiarity; we think of an ordinary bush next to a luxuriant palm tree; a hedgehog under a parasol… New images flooding the mind, this picture sinks from sight and we sail over the sun bled waters with centaurs for company. Though even now, in this imaginary jungle, we wear them still: our eyes, our workday spectacles. It is why on this spit of land, a pike in the middle of an African river, the natives shrink to such meagre scale, smaller with every passing glance; too commonplace to be noticed much.
Saturday, 13 May 2017
Ostranenie. Definitions are for dictionaries. To understand this term properly we must experience it for ourselves, read it in novels. Here, Ostranenie is both fact and symbol.
The coffin factory proved to be an area cleared of undergrowth, though shadowed by great trees; it was bounded on one side by a stream, a small river almost, some fifteen feet wide, running fast with troubled, muddy, yellowish water. Felled trunks were stacked here and there, and at the water’s edge was a row of vast cumbrous Chinese coffins in various stages of completion. A few sepoys squatted on the ground, most of them asleep. There was a pile of ammunition boxes, and in one of the coffins lay Sam Holl, with his unwound turban draped across him to protect his face from mosquitoes. In the coffin he looked very dead, except for the khaki cloth over his mouth which rose and fell evenly with his breathing. Alan looked down on him, numbed by a sudden quietness. Holl lay awkwardly with both hands resting on his left hip as if on a sword hilt, his crossed legs covered by folds of his turban cloth. He looked like a thirteenth-century crusader, militant, potent still in the sleep of death. But not dead; and in Alan’s body there surged a sober but fierce acknowledgment. He stood looking for a little while, almost feeding on Holl’s presence; then he sat quietly down at the foot of the coffin to wait; almost at once he was himself asleep.
Thursday, 4 May 2017
Sunday, 30 April 2017
The Oxford series 20th Century Classics is an odd one. Even the connoisseurs of fiction forced to concede, though with shifty glances to side and floor, a nervous twitching of the spectacles, lips silently rehearsing their own pet loves - the aristocratic elbows of Enid Bagnold, the provincial thighs of E.H. Young; the adolescent limbs of Llandudno’s wartime masterpiece: Jampot Smith - to their ignorance of Paul de Vries’ The Mackerel Plaza, A P Herbert’s The Secret Battle or Robert Graves’ Seven Days in New Crete. The series suggesting the eccentric tastes of a few editors (or a single one); a small bookcase of curiosities rather than a canon of classics; the classic defined as a book of exceptional depth, that is well-written, appeals to a wide literary audience and is sanctified by literature’s establishment.
Sunday, 2 April 2017
We think of teenage identity solely as a problem for the teenagers themselves. A decade long guerrilla campaign to be free of the parental empire; room by room their influence is resisted, then pushed back; we ignore the pictures, look away from the statuettes - beribboned milkmaids with sickly sweet lambs whose faces are a sentimental leer - quietly remove the Coronation mugs, replace the DVDs and the CDs, put Val Doonican in the bin. The soft tyranny undermined, attacked, finally usurped until…that glorious independence day! when Virginia Holt, Wilbur Smith, Jean Plaidy and John le Carré are deposed from the shelves, and a new head of state is appointed. Henry Green! No. Rhys Davis! Certainly not. Too too often: Borges, Kafka or Camus. But what happens to the governor and his wife when the new flag goes up and they sail back to the old country?
Wednesday, 29 March 2017
Grief. Such a difficult problem for public officials. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, police officers are all acting in roles they are finding difficult to perform. It is not easy to comfort a woman who has lost her children; it produces a glazed and inhibited look; the public face of compassion sculptured in stone is grim, opaque, immovable. Second husbands are finding it hard too. They need help. Religion offers much but delivers only a little: a fanatical Christian unable to prevent his alcoholic wife from returning to the bottle when her nerves overcome her redemptive aspirations.
Sunday, 19 March 2017
Two bullet holes. The second for certain. Hammer against nail sealing the box for good. Bang! No chance of resurrection; this day to die forever; water turned to mercury, summer frozen by winter’s gaze, Elysium caught in a mirror. Click click. Smile please. Snap! Snap!
Happiness transfixed to heavenly eternity.
Coffins sleeping under water.