month or so couple of weeks ago, I posted a holding post for a whole collection of posts I need to write. Despite more than a dozen significant posts since then, not to mention Tweets and Facebook posts, I’ve still barely acknowledged those I telegraphed then, even though some of the subject matter clearly overlaps.
I can at least catch-up on The Cyprus Connection and the Tale of Two Cities allusion contained in the ‘Twas Ever Thus passage.
I’ve completed Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities and completed Storrs’ Orientations.
Glad I finally finished TOTC after many false starts. The opening message remains important (the ’twas ever thus quotes extracted in the post linked above), and, in case we didn’t know, it ends with Sydney Carton sacrificing himself for Charles Darnay, going to his death at the Guillotine, with the words:
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.
In between it’s all a bit predictable as soon as the visual similarity between Darnay and Carton (and the potential love triangle with Ms Manette) is laid on a plate – even illustrated in the “Likeness” instalment very early on. Useful to know the dependence on Carlyle’s The French Revolution as a British-biased source of much of what Dickens was able to imagine of France at the time. And, I have to say the long prose letter “left” by Dr Manette and later “discovered” in his original Bastille cell is a lame and contrived literary device to conveniently join up the loose ends with the metaphorical but none-too-apparent golden thread. Found motivation (the will to live) hard to continue from that point, but I did stick at it to the end. Ho hum. Come in Victor Hugo, I expect.
Orientations, on the other hand, remained wonderful to the very end. A little sad as Storrs recounts his difficulties leading up to the 1931 Cypriot revolt against the British, the burning down of Government House with so much of Storrs’ personal collection of papers and artefacts destroyed, and the eventual shootings that restored military order, but signalled the breakdown in orderly, civil development of Cyprus. Storrs went on to take up governorship of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1932, but nevertheless defends the value of lessons learned from his (and predecessors’) periods in Cyprus (and Egypt and Palestine before that) for the benefit of those who came after. His sense of being undervalued at that point is underlined by his also noting that his acquisition in 1938 of his country retirement home back in good old England was an “unfulfilled dream” until funded by Orientations written in 1936 and published in 1937.
Failure would have been not to try. Storrs also adopts the “twas ever thus / plus ca change” attitude. In concluding he spends quite some time summarising the influences on his life, as well as acknowledging a number of the losses (in the fire) “from which the rest of his life is freely and eagerly disencumbered.” Beautiful language to the end.
Affectionately, he recalls Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, the Bible, (a cubic yard of) Bach, Kitchener, Allenby and of course T.E.Lawrence.
Included amongst his long but eclectic list of things he was glad to see the back of are “restaurants with bands” (*) as well as “fervent converts to any religion or cause”. In his own words :
So much the more must I cling to that highest which need not and must not be resigned while strength is left to perceive it – to that particular manifestation of immortal power by which individual spirit is most deeply moved.
I believe, and proclaim my faith, that this solace will proceed increasingly from the great classics of the world; both from their own splendour and from their contrast with the limitations of modern life. True, we may rise from Mr [H.G.] Wells Autobiography convinced for the moment that the paramount of life is physical science. Yet throughout the war, I never saw one tired man refreshing his soul with a scientific treatise or a mathematical problem; whereas there were many beside Lawrence transported from their own fatigues and anxieties by following those of Patroclus and Odysseus.
Before such epiphanies of the god in man
I can but repeat the prayer of a Moslem
uttered in Basra more than a thousand years ago:
“O my Lord !
If I worship Thee from fear of Hell,
burn me in Hell.
if I worship Thee from hope of Paradise,
exclude me thence.
if I worship Thee for Thine own sake,
then withhold me not from Thine Eternal Beauty.
Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Four Horsemen of New Atheism, not to mention the hoard of scientistic celeb scientists and comics hanging onto their coat-tails. I recall it was cognitive scientist Dupuy I read and blogged about in 2002 that first made me realise that “literature is a superior form of knowledge to science” is a valid statement, to be denied by scientists at our peril. It is at least not for scientists to say there is no debate on scientific grounds – per Pinker / Wieseltier correspondence.
Talking of literature, the reason for sticking to the bitter end of Storrs and the Dickensian allusion, was The Cyprus Connection.
The inter-war history of Cyprus formed a good lead in to Mak Berwick’s Langkawi Lair. Mak is under no illusion – as he said on Facebook – our high-school English masters may be turning in their graves, to read his rookie opus, though our physics teacher gave it praise. It’s not literature in any sense that would pass muster with Grayson Perry’s idea of intellectual authority for quality. I could fill a few paragraphs myself with literary criticism – too many redundant adjectives and adverbs better served by better nouns and verbs, maybe too much dwelling on explaining military jargon, procedures and acronyms rather than letting the reader’s intelligence carry them forward – but I won’t.
I managed to read the opening (Cyprus, and the single live round fired) and the developing (Paris) chapters before breaking off to finish Dickens and Storrs, and I do have a new Neil Gaiman on the reading pile. But, whilst being an action/adventure genre I would not normally read, I already know I want to get to Malaysia, and back hopefully, with a moral in the tail no doubt. A good yarn in prospect? [Post Note : having read on 3 or 4 more chapters, I can’t see me sticking with it. A great yarn if you like the smash bang wallop of designer branded fire-arms, Rolex Oysters, Mercedes AMG’s, murders, executions, torture interrogations, convenient coincidences and general mano-a-mano combat – at a rate of least 3 of each per chapter currently. BTW, do I claim my prize of spotting that the autobiographical reality flips into 99% fantasy the moment scarface reaches across our hero’s drink in the Paris bar scene? Sorry, not my scene anyway. Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” next.]
[(*) Restaurants with bands. I know what he means. I love live music, but find the idea of live musicians as background music not so much a distraction to whatever the foreground is, as an insult to the musicians and their music deserving attention. People talkin’ while I’m singin’ – as Tommy Womack puts it.]
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