Sunday 31 May 2015

Hitler's speech on the Heldenplatz, Vienna

From an untitled novel manuscript by journalist Elizabeth de Waal (b.1899), published posthumously by her grandson, Edmund de Waal:

Kuno Adler, who escaped to New York in 1938, returns to Vienna:
There he was, on the Ring: the massive pile of the Natural History Museum on his right, the ramp of the Parliament building on his left, beyond it the spire of the Town Hall, andin front of him the railings of the Volksgarten and the Burgplatz…He sat down on a bench in a deserted avenue, and wept.

In postwar Vienna, Adler finds only a mild kind of anti-Semitism, like a suppressed toothache, but the past is still very much alive.

He encounters a scientist who had worked in a concentration camp, testing and researching with the only biological material that can yield convincing results in the field of medical science (he says) -- not with rats and mice and rabbits, but with live human subjects…but I can tell you for your comfort that our material – I mean my colleagues’ material—were not Jews. They were gypsies.

The infamous Heldenplatz, where Hitler gave a triumphant speech from the balcony of the New Palace in 1938, is the locale of a new beginning for Adler. It is there that he sees the woman he loves. He describes the Heldenplatz in romantic terms:

What first meets the eye and impresses the mind are the broad avenues of chestnut trees lining it on three sides, chestnut trees that bear a profusion of red candles in the spring. They give the square its peaceful, almost countrified look; they are conducive to slow perambulation and quiet contemplation.

My own recollections of the Heldenplatz are very different. The New Palace was headquarters to the Allied Forces occupying Austria until 1955. Every week the armed guard rotated. American, French, British, and Russian soldiers took their turn. When the Russians were on duty, we children were told to take a different route to school. The Russians were known to harass passersby and shake them down, especially women and girls. To them the place was anything but conducive to quiet contemplation.

(Source: De Waal, The Exiles Return, 2013)

Thursday 28 May 2015


Your most effective method of education (it had an effect on me at any rate) was verbal: abuse, threats, irony, evil laughter and – oddly – self-pity…

I was terrified by your threats, for example: “I’ll tear you to pieces like a fish”. I knew of course that you would not follow up on it (as a small child, however, I did not know that), but the words matched my idea of your power, so that I thought you might be able to realize even that threat. It was terrifying also when you ran around the table, screaming at me, pretending you wanted to catch me (even though you had no real intentions), and my mother finally had to “save” me…

There were cases, where I was entirely in favour of your mean irony, that is, when it was directed toward others, for example, [my sister] Ellie, with whom I was on bad terms for many years. It meant a round of gloating and malice for me when you said at almost every dinner: “She has to sit 10 metres back from the table, my fat gal!” and when you imitated her pulling back your own chair without the faintest trace of good-natured chafing. Like a bitter enemy you exaggerated what was so very distasteful to you in her manner of sitting at table…

That is how you suffered, and how we suffered. In your eyes you were fully justified grinding your teeth and giving out that gurgling laughter (which made a fiendish impression on me as a child) and saying in a bitter tone: “What a bunch of people!”

...It is true that you rarely beat me up, but your shouting and your red face, and the hurried unbuttoning of your garters, which you hung over the back of a chair to have it at the ready – that was almost worse than a beating. The feeling was like that of a man about to be hanged. If he is actually hanged, he is dead, and the whole thing is over. But if he is made to witness all the preparations for the hanging and is told of his pardon only when the noose is already dangling in front of his face, the experience may make him suffer for the remainder of his life.  In addition, there were all those incidents when you made me understand very clearly that I deserved a beating in your opinion, and that I narrowly escaped it on account of your mercy. Collectively, these occasions gave me a profound feeling of guilt. Whichever way you looked at it, I was in your debt.
(Source: Letter to my Father, text at; my translation)

Sunday 24 May 2015


Heaven Up Here by Echo & the Bunnymen: A tremendous wailing springs from them, all longing and beauty and gloom.
Girls: Inside me, a consciousness shot up from below, like a water spout, it was heavy and dark, there was abandon, resignation, impotence, the world closing in on me. There was the awkwardness, the silence, the scared eyes. There were the flushed cheeks and the great unease.
Hemingway: Straight to the point. Simple and clear. With weight behind it.
Familiar places: If I hadn’t had my previous attachment to the area I wouldn’t have noticed anything. The trees would have been any trees, the farm any farms, the bridge any bridge.
Separation: We don’t live our lives alone, but that doesn’t mean we see those alongside whom we live our lives. When dad moved to Northern Norway and was no longer physically in front of me with his body and his voice, his temperament and his eyes, in a way he disappeared out of my life.
Postmodernism: I liked it, or the whole world that I suspected lay behind what stood in the text, but I didn’t know what it was or where it actually existed.
Living in a small place: I was depressed by being under constant observation, by everyone always knowing who I was, by never being allowed to have any peace.
Booze: Alcohol makes everything big, it is a wind blowing through your consciousness… all objections and all judgement are cast aside in a wide sweep of the hand, in an act of supreme generosity, here everything, and I do mean everything, is beautiful. Why say no to this?
(From: Dancing in the Dark)
Anders Breivik: a person who has erected a make-believe reality, in which his significance is undisputed.


Wednesday 20 May 2015


The thoughts of 18-year old Karl Ove:
Playing records:  I put on Remain in Light and it was impossible not to move, impossible,it ignited every part of my body, me, the world’s least rhythmic eighteen-year-old, sitting there squirming like a snake, to and fro, and I had to have it louder. I turned it up full blast, and then I had to dance.
Girls: I loved everything about them, from the veins in the skin over their wrists to the curves of their ears, and if I saw a breast under a T-shirt or a naked thigh under a summer dress it was as though everything in my insides was let loose.
Definition of pleasure: Eighteen years old and on my way to a party.
Being in love: Everything hurts but nothing is as good…Life will inexorably dwindle and shrink until it is a manageable entity which doesn’t hurt so much, but nor is it as good. Only a forty-year-old man could have written that. I am forty now.
Older women: She was around fifty with a white shoe-shop bag on her lap. She was chewing gum, which was a mistake, chewing gum didn’t go with her glasses and hair.
What teenagers are good at: Sitting around in bedrooms. No one could beat us at that.  None of this led anywhere. Well, we probably weren’t very good at doing things that led somewhere…As far as girls were concerned, it was rare we came across one who wouldn’t object if we pulled up her jumper so that we could lower our heads and kiss her nipples. These were great moments.
What a guy from a small town wants: To find life where it was really lived, in the streets of cities, beneath skyscrapers, at glittering parties with beautiful people in unfamiliar apartments. To find the one great love and all the restlessness that involved, and then the acceptance, the relief, the ecstasy.

(#amreading  Dancing in the Dark)

Thursday 14 May 2015


When Ludvig Nobel asked his brother Alfred to provide biographical information for a history of the Nobel family, he received the following resume – police-blotter style, which seems most informative:

Alfred Nobel – pitiful half-creature, should have been strangled by a humane doctor upon entry into life.
Principal merits: Keeps his nails clean and doesn’t burden the public.
Principal faults: No family, no bonhomie, no appetite.
Chief and only request: Not to be buried alive.
Greatest sin: Does not worship money.
University of Uppsala
Most important events in his life: None.

When he was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Uppsala in 1893, he submitted the following cv:

Born on 21 October 1833, acquired his knowledge through private instruction, without attending an institute of higher education; worked mainly in the area of applied chemistry, developing explosives known as dynamite, blasting gelatin, smokeless powder, ballistite, and C89; member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences since 1884, member of the Royal Institute in London and the Société of Ingénieurs Civils in Paris, Knight of the Order of the North Star since 1880, and officer in the [French] Legion of Honour; published only one paper in English, which was awarded a silver medal.

Hmm. This cv needs editing. Wouldn’t get him a job today. But then Alfred Nobel didn’t need a job. Nor did he want any more honours to decorate his breast, stomach, and possibly even the behind.

(Source: Fritz Vögtle, Alfred Nobel; my trans.)

Saturday 9 May 2015


For the last eight winters I have rented the Upper of a duplex in Santa Monica. For seven of those eight years I suffered the vagaries of forwarded mail. This past winter I decided to put in a change of address with The New Yorker

For the first two months things went well. The magazine appeared in my mailbox every Thursday. Then came an issue that was incorrectly collated. I got two first-halves instead of a first and a second half, thus missing out on the Cartoon Caption Contest The copy at the local library was similarly mis-collated. When I registered a complaint with The New Yorker, I was told that they had no extra copies and therefore could not replace my defective exemplar. It was cold comfort to me that they extended my subscription by one issue instead.
Toward the end of March, my landlady (who occupies the Lower) went on holidays and stopped delivery of her mail. Sometime after her departure, my husband remarked that we had not received any junk mail for several days. A packet we expected also failed to arrive. The tracing site said that an unsuccessful attempt had been made to deliver it, and a note to that effect had been left. But our mailbox yawned empty. Needless to say: No New Yorker.
It appeared that the post office had decided to stop delivery for both the Upper and the Lower duplex. My husband went to the local post office to make inquiries. He joined a long line-up of (similarly short-changed?) customers. When his turn came, a woman, who moved at a glacial pace, went off to look for the missing packet. She returned, stony-faced and unapologetic, with the item in question, but refused to look for mail that did not have a tracer number. Which included The New Yorker. Two New Yorkers by that time.
We left Santa Monica on 10 April and returned to Canada by car (a road trip of five days) by which time I had been without The New Yorker for three weeks.  A friend saw me suffering from withdrawal symptoms and retrieved one issue from her recycling bin, pulling me back from the brink.

In the meantime I had reversed my change of address, and The New Yorker once more appeared at my door – for one week. The next week: nothing, and no explanation. Delivered to the wrong street perhaps? Not likely because the people at the local post office here have moxie. A few days ago a friend sent me a book. She addressed it to “31 Morton”. Someone had written on the package: “Try 31 Manton”. They definitely know where to find me!

 I am happy to report that this week’s New Yorker has arrived and hope my luck will hold. I think I’ll tweet the good news: #amreading The New Yorker!

Thursday 7 May 2015


In 1885, Paul Vasili (pseudonym for French feminist Juliette Adam?) published a book on Viennese society. One chapter deals with anti-Semitism, adopting a satirical tone.

The driving force behind anti-Semitism was the politician Georg Schönerer, modestly talented as a speaker, modestly talented as a lawmaker, modestly talented as a politician and economist,…but a man with a raging ambition.

One day he asked himself how he might obtain fame.
He searched and searched…and seized on the first idea he came across, the most extravagant idea anyone could raise in Austria: to make Austria German.

An evil omen of things to come, Schönerer visited all taverns, drank everywhere with students, insinuated himself into their company, held speeches, and everywhere spread the gospel of a union with Germany.

The idea did not appeal to Austrians at the time. His speeches prompted either general amusement or vehement protests…no one in parliament took this nonsense serious.

Then Schönerer was touched by a more beautiful inspiration…he declared himself the leader of Austrian anti-Semitism. The idea was to save the greatly endangered Christian-Germanic society from Judaism and to defend its material interests against the amoral influence of the Jews.

And so Schönerer began his campaign – a well-nourished man, solid, with a broad ruddy face, and a short, thick neck… a man more like a circus-Hercules than a prophet, but incomparable in his zeal, his fire, and his energy. He no longer sleeps, he no longer eats. He doesn’t go to bed any more. Night and day he moves around. Apparently he has given up on the idea of Anschluss -- joining the German-speaking provinces to the German Empire. He focuses all his enthusiasm on the destruction of Israel’s people. He roams the country, and brings the hunt of Moses’ sons to every town, every village, and every hamlet. – I am joking, but it’s not right to joke about it.

(Source: Paul Vasili, Die Wiener Gesellschaft, my trans.)

Sunday 3 May 2015

BASQUIAT and FRIENDS. #amreading Jennifer Clement.

  • He was attracted to people who silently bore some sort of inner pain
  • His paintings are jazz on canvas.
  • He doesn’t read books. He looks for the words that attack him and puts them on canvas.
  • Looking at boxing gloves, he could feel thunderbolts in them.
  • He was a barometer for the racist culture he lived in. He felt everything around him in a heightened way. It was not only cocaine paranoia.

  • He walks in a bebop kind of slide.
  • He looks for his shadow and crawls up inside it.

  • Why does Andy need you, Suzanne asked Basquiat. I recharge his batteries, he said.
  • Basquiat loved Andy because he loved to feel the power he had over Andy.

  • Suzanne left home: Feel gray, must exit.
  • Life can be a circle, not just a line.
  • Afraid of testing positive for AIDS and promises God: If I’m negative, I’ll never do dope again. I’ll never sleep with strangers again…But she does not believe in God. And she breaks all her promises.
  • Suzanne at Basquiat’s funeral: I thought if I covered my mouth, the knowledge of Jean’s death could not get outside of me.

(Source: Jennifer Clement, Baquiat’s Widow)