The General, The Bodies, The Sorrows, The Blogs
Friday, November 25, 2005, 12:32 PM - Memory, Myth, and Imagination
After some weeks spent mostly under the radar, Stephen A. Ogden's English 340: First World War Literature students at Simon Fraser University have begun openly posting the URLs to their group blogs. Here are links:

C. S. Forester's The General
A blog discussing C.S. Forester's 1936 novel, The General, and its relation to the events, people and ideas prominent before, during, and after the First World War.

Bloody Khaki
Another blog dealing with Forester's 1936 novel, The General.

Vile Bodies
A blog whose focus is Evelyn Waugh's 1930 novel, Vile Bodies.

EWWW! Vile Bodies
Another blog that focuses--evidently with some squeamishness--on Waugh's Vile Bodies. See also its predecessor blog, In Defiance of Long Novels.

The Sorrows of Satan
A blog dealing with Maria Corelli's 1896 novel, Sorrows of Satan.

Have a look, learn something, and leave a comment.

Confessions of An Ex-Hippie
Thursday, November 24, 2005, 05:15 AM - Memory, Myth, and Imagination

(Hat tip to Working Class Movement Library via Jack McGowan at hijackmcgowan)

For Halloween 1967 (I had just turned eight), I went trick-or-treating as a hippie and carried a sign with these words emblazoned upon it. (An uncle who lived with my family for a time while a college student put me up to it.) This was in Raleigh, North Carolina, a part of the country about as far removed from Haight-Ashbury as can be imagined.

Nevertheless most of my neighbors loved the costume and I remember a group of young women--high school or college age--who shrieked in delight and brought me inside to take my photograph. I was a big hit with everyone with one exception: a man in his 40s or 50s who sternly informed me that the sign I carried was "sinful." I was utterly perplexed, especially as I was still two or three years from having any idea what "make love" actually meant.

But I stand by the advice I innocently offered my subdivision that Halloween night.

Now the Silence Is Absolute
Wednesday, November 23, 2005, 01:39 AM - Memory, Myth, and Imagination

LONDON (Reuters) - The last known surviving allied veteran of the Christmas Truce that saw German and British soldiers shake hands between the trenches in World War One died Monday at 109, his parish priest said.

Alfred Anderson was the oldest man in Scotland and the last known surviving Scottish veteran of the war.

"I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence," he was quoted as saying in the Observer newspaper last year, describing the day-long Christmas Truce of 1914, which began spontaneously when German soldiers sang carols in the trenches, and British soldiers responded in English.

"All I'd heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight, machinegun fire and distant German voices. But there was a dead silence that morning across the land as far as you could see.

"We shouted 'Merry Christmas' even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again."

Full Story (Hat tip to Esther MacCallum-Stewart at Break of Day in the Trenches)

Upon the Altar
Tuesday, November 22, 2005, 03:09 PM - Memory, Myth, and Imagination

Six o' clock
In the morning, I feel pretty good
So I dropped into the luxury of the Lords
Fighting dragons and crossing swords
With the people against the hordes
Who came to conquer.

Seven o'clock
In the morning, here it comes
I taste the warning and I am so amazed
I'm here today, seeing things so clear this way
In the car and on my way
To Stonehenge.

I'm flying in Winchester cathedral
Sunlight pouring through the break of day.
Stumbled through the door and into the chamber;
There's a lady setting flowers on a table covered lace
And a cleaner in the distance finds a cobweb on a face
And a feeling deep inside of me tells me
This can't be the place

I'm flying in Winchester cathedral.
All religion has to have its day
Expressions on the face of the Saviour
Made me say
I can't stay.

Open up the gates of the church and let me out of here!
Too many people have lied in the name of Christ
For anyone to heed the call.
So many people have died in the name of Christ
That I can't believe at all.

And now I'm standing on the grave of a soldier that died in 1799
And the day he died it was a birthday
And I noticed it was mine.
And my head didn't know just who I was
And I went spinning back in time.
And I am high upon the altar
High upon the altar, high.

I'm flying in Winchester cathedral,
It's hard enough to drink the wine.
The air inside just hangs in delusion,
But given time,
I'll be fine

-- Graham Nash, "Cathedral"

Crosby Stills and Nash, CSN, released 1977
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Dogs of War
Saturday, November 19, 2005, 06:32 PM - Memory, Myth, and Imagination

Annie making herself at home in my office; inset: Annie's webshot on the "adoptable dogs" section of the Franklin County (Ohio) Dog Shelter.

For some years now, I've had two dogs as my most constant companions: Gypsy, an Australian cattle dog; and Jethro, a beagle-basset mix. Gypsy I rescued; she's about twelve years old, but that's just a guess. Jethro I raised from a pup; he just turned eight.

Yesterday my Significant Other and I added a third dog to the family: Annie, a beagle mix who is roughly eighteen months old. We got her from the local dog shelter. I dreaded going down there, for reasons I'll explain a bit later, but actually it wasn't too bad. The dogs seemed well-cared for and a steady stream of potential adoptive owners kept coming through the doors.

Even so, for much of the time a snatch of poetry--well, high-grade doggerel, no pun intended--kept running through my head: "We called him Rags. He was just a cur, but twice on the Western line . . ."

When we came home with Annie and got her properly introduced to her new surroundings (and to Gypsy and Jethro, who still aren't quite sure what to make of her), I looked up the poem. As ever, Google made it effortless:
We called him "Rags." He was just a cur,
But twice, on the Western Line,
That little old bunch of faithful fur
Had offered his life for mine.

And all that he got was bones and bread,
Or the leavings of soldier grub,
But he'd give his heart for a pat on the head,
Or a friendly tickle and rub.

And Rags got home with the regiment,
And then, in the breaking away --
Well, whether they stole him, or whether he went,
I'm not prepared to say.

But we mustered out, some to beer and gruel,
And some to sherry and shad,
And I went back to the Sawbones School,
Where I still was an undergrad.

One day they took us budding M.D.'s
To one of those institutes
Where they demonstrate every new disease
By means of bisected brutes.

They had one animal tacked and tied
And slit like a full-dresses fish,
With his vitals pumping away inside
As pleasant as one might wish.

I stopped to look like the rest, of course,
And the beast's eyes levelled mine;
His short tale thumped with a feeble force,
And he uttered a tender whine.

It was Rags, yes, Rags! who was martyred there,
Who was quartered and crucified,
And he whined that whine which is doggish prayer
And he licked my hand--and died.

And I was no better in part nor whole
Than the gang I was found among,
And his innocent blood was on the soul
Which he blessed with his dying tongue.

Well! I've seen man go to courageous death
In the air, on sea, on land!
But only a dog would spend his breath
In a kiss for his murderer's hand.

And if there's no heaven for love like that,
For such four-legged fealty-well!
If I have any choice, I tell you flat,
I'll take my chance in hell.

The poem was by Edward Vance Cooke, and contrary to my expectations, he was not a veteran of the First World War--in fact, by the time Armistice Day came he was on the high side of sixty. "Rags" isn't considered his best poem, either. That distinction, such as it is, goes to "How Did You Die?," which reads like a collaboration between Rudyard Kipling and Pollyanna. But I'll bet "Rags" is better known. It figures prominently on any number of animal rescue and anti-vivisectionist web sites.

Though Cooke spent 1914-1918 in Canada and the United States, "Rags" does capture an authentic dimension of the First World War experience, at least on the Western Front. Offhand I can't think of a conflict in which dogs played a more extensive, varied role. Rags was a mascot, of course, but thousands of other canines were working animals, used, among other things, to carry messages, search for the wounded, and pull heavy machine guns. (You can learn more than you may care to know about this at K-9 History: The Great War, 1914-1918.) At least one intrepid pooch is credited with capturing an enemy spy: That would be Stubby, The Military Dog, pride of the 102nd Infantry.

"Rags" also has a more personal resonance for me, and this gets at why I had to nerve myself to make a visit to the dog shelter. Just over twenty-one years ago I was accepted into the War Studies program at Kings College London. I was thrilled to be going abroad, of course, but at the same time I had to find a home for Lady, a cocker-springer spaniel who had been my family's pet since I was thirteen. At first I didn't think this would be a problem. But neither of my siblings were interested in or well-positioned to take care of Lady and my father, who had recently remarried, flatly refused to consider it. A couple of families from my church tried to board Lady but she was eleven years old and confused by being passed around several times in the wake of my parents' divorce and my mother's death not long thereafter. Unsurprisingly, she wet the floor or whimpered too much during her brief stay with these families, and within a day or two each one reported that things just weren't working out. I went to my father a second time, but he didn't unbend in the least. To him, Lady was just an animal, and he was not going to let himself be inconvenienced. To me, Lady was a member of the family. I could scarcely understand his attitude until suddenly I understood it all too well.

Well, there was no help for it. Faced with a choice between abandoning Lady and abandoning my plans to attend Kings College London, I abandoned Lady. I took her to the Humane Society, nuzzled her one last time, and gave her leash to one of the attendants. The last I saw of her she was trotting away from me, gentle as ever, hopelessly confused but obedient and trusting.

I'd like to think she somehow found a home the way Annie has done. But I know better. Once I'd actually given Lady up, my sister, who had previously been as indifferent to the matter as my father, suddenly reappraised the situation and tried to get Lady back. She called the Humane Society, but of course only one thing happens to eleven-year old dogs in a place where the needs are so great and funds so lacking. And it already had.

Lady (1973-1984)
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Clash of the Dummies
Thursday, November 3, 2005, 10:04 AM - Memory, Myth, and Imagination
Brett Holman at Air-Minded has an interesting post tracking down the origins and permutations of the famous tale of the Germans who constructed a fake airfield to deceive the British and the British who, undeceived, responded by striking it with a fake bomb.

First World War Literature Blog
Friday, October 14, 2005, 09:00 AM - Memory, Myth, and Imagination
Dr. Stephen Ogden has created a blog (now well underway) for use in his English literature class at Simon Fraser University. The title:

First World War Literature: Rats, Gas and Shell-Shock

(Hat tip to Esther MacCallum-Stewart at Break of Day in the Trenches)

The White Man's Ballad - Pt 2
Sunday, October 9, 2005, 10:39 AM - Memory, Myth, and Imagination

Fahs, Alice, and Joan Waugh, eds. The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. Illustrations, notes, index. 286 pages. $59.95 (cloth) ISBN 0-8078-2907-2; 19.95 (paper) ISBN 0-8078-5572-3.

[forthcoming in H-War; published here with permission]

I once heard the distinguished historian Ira Berlin succinctly explain the difference between history and memory. History, he said, is open to discussion and disagreement. Memory isn’t. Civil War buffs may endlessly debate, for example, the reasons for the Confederate army’s defeat at Gettysburg. That’s no problem. But it is out of bounds to suggest that this was an army of traitors who fought and bled and died trying to keep three and a half million Americans in bondage. That’s sacrilege.

"History," said Napoleon in one of his ceaseless aphorisms, "is a fable agreed upon." If one substitutes for "history" the phrase "public memory," Napoleon got it exactly right. But a fable agreed upon by whom? And with what moral in mind? These are questions that in recent years have fascinated a growing number of historians, and perhaps none more raptly than those whose area of specialization is the Civil War, an episode called, with reason, the American Iliad.[1]

The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture is a valuable new contribution to this dialogue. It is the fruit of a conference held at the Huntington Library in October 2003, which in turn grew out of a round table at the 1999 annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians entitled, "What Do Military and Cultural Historians of the Civil War Have to Say to Each Other?" (Not a lot, apparently, since only two of the essays in the volume were written by scholars with extensive publications dealing with the military dimension of the conflict.) According to the introduction, it "examines a variety of battles over the memory of the war during the last 135 years . . . recovers the racial and gender politics underlying numerous attempts to memorialize the war, provides new insights into how Lost Cause ideology achieved dominance in the late nineteenth century, and shows how contests over memories of the war were a vital part of politics during the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s." (p. 1) This covers quite a swath. It could have made for a scattered, uneven product, but the result holds together well.

The Memory of the Civil War can in many ways be seen as an extension of the thesis and argument in David Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.[2] In it, Blight deftly explored the construction of the dominant public memory of the conflict in the first half-century after the conflict. He suggested that initially there were three broad strands of memory: a white Unionist interpretation that emphasized the war as the salvation of a republic that Lincoln called "the last best hope of earth"; a white Southern interpretation that swiftly rejected slavery as having anything to do with the conflict and emphasized instead the defense of state’s rights; and an African American interpretation that stressed the conflict as the moment that not only destroyed slavery but also pointed America in the direction of human equality. The sympathies of Race and Reunion lay quite obviously with the third, "emancipationist vision." It did the best job of any work thus far in uncovering and elucidating that vision. It then went on to do the best job of any work thus far to show how white Americans buried that vision in the interests of creating a public memory that asserted the moral equivalence of the Union and Confederate causes.

The rejection of the emancipationist vision is one that both Blight and the essayists in The Memory of the Civil War deplore, and for good reason. It not only marginalized the African American experience, making them seem the passive recipients of freedom despite the fact that some 200,000 blacks served in the Union army and navy, it also helped to legitimate a white supremacist racial order that lasted until the 1960s. Yet the need for sectional reconciliation required some kind of synthesis of the public memories of the conflict, and since it would have been impossible to synthesize all three interpretations—the Unionist, states’ rights, and emancipationist visions—it seems predetermined that one of these would be cast aside. In retrospect, one might wish that that the synthesis would have been between the Unionist and emancipationist visions (with unreconstructed rebels perhaps forced to leave the country as happened to 125,000 pro-British Loyalists after the American Revolution). But given the common commitment to white supremacy in both the North and South, it is hard to imagine any such thing occurring, and the essayists in The Memory of the Civil War do not try. Instead they extend Blight’s argument in new directions and track it longitudinally into the 1960s, when, thanks to the Civil Rights movement, the "emancipationist vision" begins to reappear.

Some of the essays deepen our understanding of matters that are already reasonably well known (indeed, four of the pieces have been previously published). Joan Waugh, for example, underscores how, during the mid-1880s, Ulysses S. Grant composed his Personal Memoirs in such a way as to reject the already growing consensus that the North and South fought for different but morally equivalent visions of America. Gary W. Gallagher explores the ways in which three men: Robert E. Lee; his wartime subordinate turned hagiographer Jubal A. Early; and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Douglas Southall Freeman worked successively—and successfully—to entrench precisely that vision. Working from another angle, James M. McPherson performs a similar service in his study of how the Daughters of the Confederacy, United Confederate Veterans, and other Southern organizations worked tirelessly to embed this vision into school textbooks. David W. Blight’s essay exploring the origins of Memorial Day in the North and South is one of the key chapters in Race and Reunion.

Others I found more fresh, particularly Alice Fahs’s exploration of the Civil War as portrayed in the children’s literature between the 1860s, when the Northern literature emphasized motherhood and gave at least some respect to the African American experience; and the 1890s, when it had (in ways for which she does not really account) come to emphasize fatherhood and (in ways that are more fully explored) come to depict African Americans in the shuffling, yassuh, steppin-fetchit mode that would become the typical twentieth century white stereotype. The authors of children’s books, she argues, picked up on and faithfully passed along the emerging white vision of sectional reconciliation, in part because it gave such books a wider geographical market than they would otherwise have commanded. And she points out that while children’s literature is often dismissed as a "step-child" of adult literature, it is also an important conduit by which values—in this case, racial values—are transmitted from one generation to the next.

The caliber of all the contributions is uniformly high, but perhaps the best among a very good collection is Stuart McConnell’s concluding essay on "The Geography of Memory." It not only draws together the volume’s other essays but also moves us forward in the understanding of memory as a concept. "Having absorbed the postmodern lesson that we cannot surgically remove information from the story in which it becomes embedded without embedding it in some other story," McConnell writes, historians "are too often content to line the stories up next to each other, like pieces of a dream, without considering their interrelation. . . . Thus, where the Civil War is concerned there can be Northern and Southern memories, men’s and women’s memories, black and white memories, Republican and Democratic memories, all peacefully coexisting without much thought given to their connections." (pp. 258-259)

Better, McConnell suggests, to draw a cognitive map of the landscape of memory that "describes not just relations of cultural space but relations of cultural power" (p. 262), and to understand that each generation has its own distinctive map. "We may abhor the Victorians’ penchants for blind partisan politics, mawkish sentimentality, reactionary jurisprudence, or racist social thought," McConnell writes. "Yet these were the landmarks around which all late-nineteenth century Civil War memories arranged themselves." (p. 263) Over time, he continues, "the highly political Gilded Age gave way to a twentieth century that put ever more stress on commercial entertainment, consumption, and tourism. . . . [M]emory . . . came to be seen as a kind of entertainment (rather than, in the nineteenth century, a political weapon.” (p. 264) Understanding this shifting geography of memory, he concludes, “is to reimpose narrative on a sprawling democracy of versions." The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture is a significant step in this direction.

[1] See, e.g., Otto Eisenschiml and Ralph Newman (eds.), The American Iliad: The Epic Story of the Civil War as Narrated by Eyewitnesses and Contemporaries (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1947), and Charles P. Roland, An American Iliad: The Story of the Civil War, 2nd ed. (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2004).

[2] Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Part 1 - Part 2
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Shadow Warriors - Pt 10
Thursday, September 8, 2005, 08:14 PM - Memory, Myth, and Imagination
I know, in truth, that it is a noble thing for a man to fetter his feelings, to guard his tongue, whatever he may think. The weary cannot struggle against fate, nor may the sad of mind find aid. Therefore the self-respecting man binds fast his gloomy mood within the coffers of his mind. So I, care-ridden, from my friends and kinsmen, must seal up my soul.

-- Translation of a passage from a Saxon poem, The Wanderer

How will you receive this blow? I weep for you more than for myself. The fact is, I have reached a point where life is a disgrace and death a duty. Here, denounced by the Emperor, rejected by his minister who was my friend, charged with an immense responsibility for which I am blamed and to which I was led by fate, I have to die. I ask your forgiveness for it, but it must be done. I am driven to it by the most violent despair. . . . Adieu, adieu, comfort my family and those to whom I may be dear. I would have liked to end now, but I cannot. How lucky I have no child to receive my awful heritage and be burdened with my name! Ah, I was not born for such a fate, I never sought it, I have been forced to it despite myself. Adieu, adieu.

-- Pierre-Charles Villeneuve, admiral of the French fleet defeated at Trafalgar in 1805, to his wife. Written in a hotel room in Rennes just before his suicide.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9 - Part 10

A Good Day to Die - Pt 10
Saturday, September 3, 2005, 07:28 AM - Memory, Myth, and Imagination

Lyrics to A Good Day to Die, by Robbie Robertson

"Traditional Lakota warriors would shout 'Hoka Hey!' to one another as they charged into battle. In the context of battle hoka hey meant, 'it is a good day to die.' In his When The Tree Flowered, however, based on his conversations with Lakota Holy Man, Eagle Voice, Nebraska poet, John Neihardt, explained the origin of the phrase. Literally translated, hoka hey means 'hold fast. There is more!'"

-- Bobby Bridger

In non-battle contexts, "Ho'ka hey" is said to mean “Welcome to the soul.”

-- Ho'

"In the West, death is one of the great taboos; constant violence in films and on television negate the reality of death through constant repetition of stereotyped death scenes, and the media numb our imagination with accounts of deaths on a vast scale and under horrific circumstances. Paradoxically, this numbing of the appreciation of death also numbs the vivid appreciation of life. Those who take to danger sports (such as car-racing, mountaineering and sky-diving) often report recapturing a keen, fresh awareness of life and its beauties as a result of their brushes with death.

In the martial arts, of course, death is a constant presence. The whole activity revolves around it. Attack, defense and counter-attack are all performed as if a true life-or-death situation were involved. With proficiency, the vigour of the actions increases and, if one is using weapons, one may employ, for instance, a 'live' (naked) sword instead of a bamboo or wooden sword; all of which make the situation genuinely dangerous.

The confrontation with death is perhaps the most important element of spirituality."

-- Peter Payne, Martial Arts: The Spiritual Dimension
A longer passage, from which the above is excerpted, is here.

“The hero of yesterday becomes the tyrant of tomorrow, unless he crucifies himself today.” (Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, 353)

“The last act in the biography of the hero is that of the death or departure. Here the whole sense of the life is epitomized. Needless to say, the hero would be no hero if death held for him any terror; the first condition is reconciliation with the grave.” (Campbell, 356)

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9 - Part 10