[Albrecht Dürer: Melencolia I (1515)]

Crisis Diaries

Administration Guide:



  1. Lecture / Workshop 1 - Questions of Genre
    • Fellow Travellers
      • Exercise 1: Journal-Keeping

  2. Lecture / Workshop 2 - Lady Daibu
    • The Tale of the Heike [c.1174-1232]
      • Exercise 2: Get on the Waka

  3. Lecture / Workshop 3 - Daniel Defoe
    • The Plague [1665]
      • Exercise 3: Writing a Journal Entry

  4. Lecture / Workshop 4 - Mary Chesnut
    • A Diary from Dixie [1861-65]
      • Exercise 4: Content vs. Form

  5. Lecture / Workshop 5 - Alice James
    • Alice in Bed [1889-92]
      • Exercise 5: Family Gatherings

  6. Lecture / Workshop 6 - Douglas Mawson
    • The Home of the Blizzard [1911-14]
      • Exercise 6: Travelling Hopefully

  7. Lecture / Workshop 7 - Vaslav Nijinsky
    • Diary of a Madman [1919]
      • Exercise 7: Seven

  8. Lecture / Workshop 8 - Jean Cocteau
    • Diary of a Drug Fiend [1929]
      • Exercise 8: 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

  9. Lecture / Workshop 9 - Arthur Koestler
    • Spanish Testament [1937]
      • Exercise 9: Rules & Taboos

  10. Lecture / Workshop 10 - Lydia Ginzburg
    • The 900 Days [1941-44]
      • Exercise 10: Writing from Elsewhere

  11. Lecture / Workshop 11 - Denton Welch
    • A Voice through a Cloud [1942-48]
      • Exercise 11: Changes

  12. Lecture / Workshop 12 - Prison Notes
    • Contemporary Extremities
      • Exercise 12: Tracing the Line of Desire



Two courses:

Crisis Diaries (MA: 797)

  1. Introduction - Donald Keene: Travelers of a Hundred Ages (1989)
  2. Lady Daibu (c.1157-1235): Poetic Memoirs (written c.1174-1232 / edited c.1260 / translated 1980)
  3. Daniel Defoe (1660-1731): A Journal of the Plague Year (written (ostensibly) 1665 / published 1722)
  4. Mary Chesnut (1823-1886): Mary Chesnut's Civil War (written (ostensibly) 1861-65 / edited 1880s / published 1905 / complete edition 1981)
  5. Alice James (1848-1892): Diary (written 1889-92 / expurgated 1934 / complete edition 1964)
  6. Douglas Mawson (1882-1958): Antarctic Diaries (written 1911-14 / published 1915 / complete edition 1988)
  7. Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950): Diary (written 1919 / published 1936 / complete edition 1999)
  8. Jean Cocteau (1889-1963): Opium: The Diary of a Cure (written 1929 / published 1930 / translated 1958)
  9. Lydia Ginzburg (1902-1990): Blockade Diary (written 1941-44 / published 1984 / translated 1995)
  10. Arthur Koestler (1905-1983): Dialogue with Death (written & published 1937 / expurgated 1942 / re-edited 1966)
  11. Denton Welch (1915-1948): Journals (written 1942-48 / published 1952 / complete edition 1984)
  12. Conclusion - Kurt Cobain: Journals (2002) &c.


Banned Books (stage 2: 666)

  1. Introduction - John Milton: Areopagitica (1644)
  2. James Joyce: Ulysses (1922) - banned in Britain and America [moral censorship]
  3. Radclyffe Hall: The Well of Loneliness (1928) - banned in Britain [moral censorship]
  4. D. H. Lawrence: Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928) - banned in Britain and America [moral censorship]
  5. Henry Miller: Tropic of Cancer (1934) - banned in Britain and America [moral censorship]
  6. Graham Greene: The Power and the Glory (1940) - censured by the Vatican [religious censorship]
  7. Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita (1955) - banned in Britain [moral censorship]
  8. Boris Pasternak: Doctor Zhivago (1957) - banned in the USSR [political censorship]
  9. William S. Burroughs: Naked Lunch (1959) - banned in Britain and America [moral censorship]
  10. Kathy Acker: The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec (1975) - withdrawn from sale in Britain [accused of plagiarising Harold Robbins' The Pirate (1974)]
  11. Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses (1988) - banned in most of the Islamic world [religious censorship]
  12. Conclusion - Rick Poynor: Pornotopia (2006)



Session 12

[Kurt Cobain's Diary]

Lecture 12
Prison Notes

Anthology texts to read:

  • Jack Henry Abbott: from In the Belly of the Beast (1981)
  • Kurt Cobain: from Journals (2002)
  • Donald Keene: from Modern Japanese Diaries (1999)
  • Wole Soyinka: from The Man Died: Prison Notes (1971)


WORDS suck. I mean, every thing has been said. I cant remember the last real interesting conversation ive had in a long time. WORDS arent as important as the energy derived from music, especially live. I dont think ive ever gotten any good descriptions from lyric sheets, except WHITE ZOMBIE whose lyrics remind me that theres only so many words in the English language, and most good imagery has been used, as well as good band names, LP titles and not to mention the bloody music itself. GEE, I dont want to sound so negative but were dealing with the MELVINS. IN one live MELVINS performance you wont be able to understand very many words, as is with any band) but you will FEEL the negative ENERGY. Music is ENERGY. A mood, atmosphere. FEELING. The MELVINS have and always will be the king pins of EMOTION. Im not talking about fucking stupid human compassion, this is one of the only realistic reminders that every day we live amongst VIOLENCE.

There is a time and place for this music. So if you want to shake your groove thang to simple primal rock, then go see a fucking bar band! The MELVINS aint for you. And they probably dont want ya.

Like I said im not too hip on lyrics, so I didnt ask them about lyrics. Aparently their lyrics are almost equally important as the music. In their case I have to agree, even though I can hardly decipher any of the words, I can sense they display as much emotion as the music and therefore I hypocritically plead to you "BUZZ". On the next record have a lyric sheet, and if you need, have an explanation for every line. Im shure a lot of kids would dig it. man.

Speaking of BUZZ, he looks better in an afro than that guy in the movie CAR WASH. Im thinking he should take advantage of this blessing and be the first to go beyond the hip hops shaved symbols and architectured genious of scalp artistry and SCULPt a wacky far out cactus or Bull Winkle antlers.

He writes the songs, riffs first, lyrics second and goddamn is they good! Hes an all around nice guy.

DALE lost weight, bleached and chopped his hair. He plays even harder and an all around NICE GUY.

LORI kicks John Entwistles butt, and is all around nice guy.

They enjoy the GYUTO MONKS , Tibetan Tantric choir.

One of the only forms of religious communication in which I have been emotionally affected by along with the MELVINS and uh maybe the STOOGES or SWANS raping a slave EP'. The only good thing MICKEY HART ever did was to bring this sacred group of monks on a tour in which lve heard from many, seemed like an impersonal circus or freak show. Oh well they needed money to build a new monestary. They probably didnt notice the yochie dead heads hanging out in the audience. yuk!

The special technique in the monks vocalization is a long study of producing three notes or a full chord in the form of long droning chants. It makes for a soothing eerie feeling.

- Kurt Cobain: Journals (London: Viking, 2002): 59.

So now, having spent much of the past three months discussing a number of texts from widely differing cultural backgrounds, united not by genre but by the assumption of day-to-day, quotidian immediacy and accountability in their processes of production - that, and the (possibly subjective) elements of crisis or disruption which I've identified as crucial to their creation - I guess the time has now come to ask the question where the diary is going now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century? Has the inventions and proliferation of the web-log and the personal phone made the idea of a personal journal obsolete?

It's perhaps heartening to acknowledge, then, that when I look at some of the literary successes of the past few years, I see:
  • Experiments in style and format (but not subject-matter) such as Mark Z. Danielewski's horror novel House of Leaves (2000) or Craig Thompson's graphic novel Blankets (2003)?
  • Blurring of genre / style boundaries in texts such as Alan Moore's graphic novel The Lost Girls (2006) or W. G. Sebald's Austerlitz (2001)?

According to Johnny Truant, the tattoo-shop apprentice who discovers Zampanò's work, once you read The Navidson Record,

For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You'll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you'll realize it's always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won't understand why or how.

- Mark Z. Danielewski

In Thompson's composition process, pages are initially composed

... in a very illegible form, a shorthand where words and pictures blur into alien scribbles ... I'm working with words and pictures right from the beginning, but the picture might not look any different from a letter, because they're just a bunch of scribbles on a page.

- Craig Thompson

Truth is a well-known pathological liar. It invariably turns out to be Fiction wearing a fancy frock. ... Self-proclaimed Fiction, on the other hand, is entirely honest. You can tell this, because it comes right out and says, "I'm a Liar," right there on the dust jacket.

- Alan Moore

Every river, as we know, must have banks on both sides, so where, seen in those terms, where are the banks of time? What would be this river’s qualities, qualities perhaps corresponding to those of water, which is fluid, rather heavy, and translucent? In what way do objects immersed in time differ from those left untouched by it? Why do we show the hours of light and darkness in the same circle? Why does time stand eternally still and motionless in one place, and rush headlong by in another? Could we not claim, said Austerlitz, that time itself has been nonconcurrent over the centuries and the millennia? It is not so long ago, after all, that it began spreading out over everything. And is not human life in many parts of the earth governed to this day less by time than by the weather, and thus by an unquantifiable dimension which disregards linear regularity, does not progress constantly forward but moves in eddies, is marked by episodes of congestion and irruption, recurs in ever-changing form, and evolves in no one knows what direction?

- W G Sebald

I don't know if it's really the job of critics - especially Academic ones - to be prophetic, but I guess I'm putting my money on the second of these alternatives.

In that sense, then, the diary - as the most self-undermining and potentially genre-bending literary genre in existence - might be said to have plenty of tricks up its sleeve still.

As for crises, I think it's fair to say that we're unlikely ever to be free of them - whether they come in the form of personal or collective devastation. All I can pray is that you may be spared some of their worst manifestations in your own lives.

As a wise man, from a wise and ancient culture, once said: "Live long and prosper." Another one of his mantras: "The needs of many outweigh the needs of the few," I'm not sure I can so wholeheartedly endorse.

That, at any rate, has been (for me, at any rate) the message behind this course as a whole: respect for individual rights and peculiarities, however extreme a manifestation they may find.

[Donald Keene: Modern Japanese Diaries (1999)]

Workshop 12
Contemporary Extremities

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

– W. H. Auden, "September 1, 1939."
In The English Auden: Poems, Essays and Dramatic Writings, 1927-1939, ed. Edward Mendelson (London: Faber, 1977): 246.

After a brief discussion of the prescribed texts, followed by any final seminars scheduled for this week, we'll move onto your responses to the writing exercise below as a way of preparing you for the last two assignments, due in next week:

Exercise 12:
Tracing the Line of Desire

You’ve now compiled a number of journal entries (which you should be in the process of revising), and have a research essay to write as well.

In pairs or three discuss the following questions, before reporting back to the whole group:

  • Trace the line of desire. What are your pieces about?
  • What do your characters (whether it be yourself, or someone else) want, what do they need?

If they don’t want or need anything, then you don’t really have a story.

Next week:

Both the Course Journal and the Research Essay are due in at the Department on Tuesday, 28th October (the day after Labour Weekend).

[Jeffrey Archer: Heaven: A Prison Diary, vol. 3 (2006)]

Session 11

[Denton Welch: Self-portrait]

Lecture 11
Denton Welch:
The Journals (1942-48 / 1952)

Anthology texts to read:

  • Denton Welch (1915-1948): from The Journals (1952 / 1984)
  • Denton Welch: from A Voice through a Cloud (1950)
  • Michael De-la-Noy: from Denton Welch: The Making of a Writer (1984)

[2 December, 1942]:

Today I found, or think I found, three pure white hairs. They seemed to be shining like silver, but as there is gold in my hair they were difficult to track down and I am still not absolutely certain.

When I had them all plucked out and in the palm of my hand a curious thrill of horror and pleasure ran through me. I had a resurgence of my longing for death which obsessed me so four years ago. Then I was twenty-three, now I am twenty-seven, and it comes back vividly how I longed and prayed to die before I was twenty-four.

I remember that terrible afternoon when Francis took me to the thirty-year-old religious film in the parish hall. The flickering and the spitting and the starring of the reel gave the picture an unbearable nostalgia and depression. The camels, the robes, the city gates and the hats of the parishioners and the smell of their clothes hemmed one in and stifled me. I was seized in the panic of not being able to breathe or escape.

Roughly, I pushed past the others, disarranging the row of van-wood chairs. Francis said, "Where are you going?"

I did not answer but ran out into the air.

I wandered in the street; the light was failing.

I passed down the High Street and climbed the hill inevitably to ]. E.'s house. I spied through the hedge but could see nothing; the curtains were tightly drawn. Then I slunk into the garden and flattened my face against the pane of the living room window. The warm lamp was shining, and through a crack in the living room curtains I could see the corner of a bookshelf and the cream paint of the wainscot. Once the little black Aberdeen ran across my line of vision, then there was nothing.

I took my face away in despair and utter hopelessness. It was then that I had the idea to kill myself. "These things are cumulative," I remembered reading. "If you go on trying, you'll one day succeed."

Alertly, and with more vigour, I threaded my way back through the town.

I knew now that there was something I could try. When I got back to the flat Francis was waiting for me, wanting to know why I had run away. Supper was nearly ready too. I could smell the soup.

I was in a sort of drunken state with the hard stone in my heart and stomach. I went into my bedroom "to change my shoes", as I told Francis. I sat down on the bed and looked out the little black-and-white box of Prontosil tablets. I looked at them long, nestling in the puce lining of the box. I counted them. There were sixteen. I had been ordered three or four a day and was always asked rather anxiously if they made me feel depressed. I thought from this that they must be poisonous.

Sixteen, I felt, would be decisive, or at least enough to make me extremely ill.

Getting some water in a glass, I sat with the water and tablets before me; then I began systematically to swallow the tablets until they were all gone.

I stood up desperate and happy, wondering when I should feel the effects.

I ran back into the other room where the soup was already steaming in two bowls. I felt that I must enjoy my last moments to the full. I laughed and shouted.

"Have some soup, Francis, some lovely, steaming, soothing soup."

I caught hold of the sherry bottle and poured out two glasses. I drank mine quickly, taking some more. I poured sherry into the soup and spread my toast with butter.

"I must die happy and contented," I thought.

Suddenly I burst out with what I had done. I became terrified and ecstatic because I felt a creeping tingling and swimming in my head.

"I've just swallowed sixteen Prontosil tablets," I shrieked.

At first Francis did not believe me, then he jumped to his feet nervously. "Are you all right?" he asked. "Why did you do that?"

I tried to calm him.

"Don't be so stupid. Don't be so stupid. I only feel a little queer."

I seized the sherry bottle again and poured more out, slopping it on the tray and feeling sorry at the mess and the waste. I suddenly realized that it would not matter how much I spoilt and degraded the things I loved, for I was going to die. I almost knew it, yet I could not quite believe it. When I said, "These are your last moments; look long, bore down with those eyes which will soon never be able to see anything again", when 1 said, "Taste this last bowl of soup which will never pass those lips," I wanted to cry and laugh and smack myself and wake up to find that I was still a small boy of nine or ten whose mother loved him and had a warm place by the library fire at night where his father would sit reading some old, leathery, upholstered, comforting fustian. Something about Maria who lived in Genoa which was the great and wicked rival of Venice where the winged lion, so wonderful and fierce, swam against the sky in the square of St Mark's.

I opened my eyes again to see Francis still sitting there awkwardly, feverishly fiddling with his cigarette, and giving me short, sharp furtive glances. He was clearly about to jump up and leave me.

"Those nicotined fingers," I thought, "and those dirty nails; those unspeakable teeth and your agile diverting mind, you are a wreck at thirty-four. You're craven and you'll one day be a lunatic."

I stretched out my hands and said, "Don't go." I had a sudden horror of being left to die alone.

"You can't go and leave me. Look at the state I'm in." He lurched to his feet like a frightened bullock.

"You go to bed," he urged. "Or get the doctor."

The drumming was rising to a crescendo in my ears. I could not tell now whether I was drunk or whether it was the Prontosil in action.

As he pushed his way clumsily to the front door I followed, snatching up a stick in the hall. We walked rapidly in the direction of his house.

My legs were getting curiously heavy but I was still able to move them. I laughed and sang, cracking stupid jokes and saying how disgusting it was to leave someone who was dying. When we got to the fork at the Star and Garter I shouted again: "You can't go. You can't go. What's going to happen to me? I can't be abandoned like this. It is shameful, you're a monster. "

Anyone seeing us would think we were acting. It was midnight, the lights were still burning in the silence. Nothing moved.

"Shall I take you to the doctor's!" he asked, half-heartedly. "Yes, if I can walk that far," I answered.

Then I saw the craven, lazy light come into his eyes again and he veered away rapidly, saying, "Good-night. Go back to bed quickly."

I screamed oaths and blasphemy after him, half in fun, then, alone, beginning to be frightened, I wondered whether to go on to the doctor's house or home.

I decided on home and dragged myself there somehow. The fire was still burning in the sitting room. I told myself that there were things that must be burnt before I lost consciousness.

I threw them on to the fire so that great flames licked out and roared up the chimney. The paint on the mantle piece blistered. I got alarmed, ran for water and E. carne in excitedly.

Gradually the blaze subsided. Then l lay down and thought that my hour was nearly come. My head was splitting. Everything in me seemed to be burning. I was in some way losing all the salt and virtue of my senses; all was dumb, muffled, distorted, terrifying.

I told E. to ring the doctor. I dreaded calling him so late, but I felt that I could not be left in ignorance like this.

I waited, wriggling and lashing about on the bed, with the dull stone heated to red heat now in my stomach or my heart.

He came and saw me on the bed. There was an unbearable moment of self-consciousness. He roughly turned me towards him and said, "What's this?" like a school prefect coldly, disdainfully.

I faltered out something about the Prontosil and more about my unhappiness. His manner suddenly changed to one of businesslike gaiety.

"I think first of all we'd better try and make you sick," he said. I smiled and laughed in spite of everything.

He went for the mustard, the hot water, the spoon.

I drank the yellow stuff in great gulps, and waited. Nothing happened. He looked at me rather anxiously.

"Nothing doing?" he asked. "I don't think so," I said.

Then, because my head seemed about to boil and crack, I added, "Can you give me anything for my head or to make me sleep?"

"It would be very much better for you if you didn't," he said. "You've taken quite enough drugs for one night."

He laughed and joked and I began to be grateful to him. He had driven away the nightmare, if only for the moment.

At last he left me. He came forward saying ceremoniously, like a schoolboy again, "Let's shake hands."

I sat up in bed and held mine out. It was not silly, although it was self-conscious.

"I'll come and see you tomorrow," he said. "Try to sleep and be as calm as possible. Although you'll have a hell of a night. It's much better that you shouldn't take anything else. You've got to work all that stuff out of you."

I lay back in the dark room, thankful to him and grateful but just a little resentful about his seeming unconcern about the effects of prontosil. I'm sure it will be more serious than he makes out, I thought. If only there had been more tablets I would have swallowed them all. I am fond of him for being nice. He is young and lusty and quite different from me and those people are only nice when everything else is stripped away, and they see someone else left quite hopeless and "dished". In ordinary circumstances they are bound up and encased in all their funny little fetishes and taboos.

Towards early morning I fell into a short sleep, and on waking, the fantastic memories of the night seemed to hover above my head, out of reach; then they came down like a shirt enveloping me, lapping me round, submerging me.

The Journals of Denton Welch, edited by Michael De-La-Noy (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984): 26-30.

[Agatha Christie: The Mousetrap]

The Significance of the Country House in English Fiction

[Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers etc. -- but also Forster's Howards End (1910) and Waugh's Brideshead Revisited (1945)]

What is the significance of the country house in British fiction? Obviously it's a good vehicle for examining themes of class, of course (peasants, servants, guests, and Aristocrats / Middle-Class Social climbers at home). It pits nostalgia and conservatism against the encroachments of modernity -- and that's as true in detective fiction as it is in more considered "state-of-England" novels such as Howards End or Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day (1989).

In chapter six of Ian McEwan's Atonement (2001) the young heroine Briony Tallis's mother Emily's migraine provides a pretext for an almost Fall-of-the-House-of-Usher like self-identification with the fabric of her own estate. She is forced to conclude, though, that:

She could send her tendrils into every room of the house, but she could not send them into the future. She also knew that, ultimately, it was her own peace of mind she strove for; self-interest and kindness were best not separated. (71)

The country-house is, finally - from Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey to Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited - a symbol for well-meaning selfishness.

Lady Marchmain, General Tilney and Emily Tallis, then, might be seen as birds of a feather. "Self-interest and kindness were best not separated" - an oxymoron if ever I heard one.

[Denton Welch: Mythological Landscape]

Workshop 11
A Voice through a Cloud

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days flow through my eyes
But the days still seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what
they're going through
- David Bowie, Changes

After a brief discussion of the prescribed texts, followed by any seminars which have been scheduled for this week, we'll move onto your responses to the writing exercise below:

Exercise 11:

Graham Greene’s advice was to write autobiographically but always change one thing. This is one way to make the transition from auto¬biographical to fictional writing.

  • Think of something that changed your life. It could be something as superficially trivial as a new haircut. It could be a chance meeting or moving house. Make some rough notes, trying to locate the precise moment of change, and to relive what it felt like from the inside.
  • Now make your change. Alter a setting, or switch characters, while keeping to a first person narrative.
  • You are now on the road to fiction. One alteration may well lead to another. Don’t specify the changes you’ve made during initial feedback from the workshop. Later on, a general discussion will be helpful. What difference did your change make to the story? How did it affect the rest of the material? Could the members of the workshop tell what you had invented? And does it really matter any more?

NB: This exercise was adapted from The Creative Writing Handbook: Techniques for New Writers, edited by John Singleton and Mary Luckhurst (London: Macmillan, 1996): 90-91.

Next week:

Exercise 12: Tracing the Line of Desire and Any remaining seminars due (by arrangement with your lecturer).

[Kurt Cobain]

Session 10

[Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony no. 7 (1944)]

Lecture 10
Lydia Ginzburg:
Blockade Diary (1941-44 / 1984)

Anthology texts to read:

  • Lydia Ginzburg (1902-1990): Blockade Diary (1984 / 1995)
  • Harrison E. Salisbury: from The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad (1969)

[Excerpts from a Siege Day]:


N did not immediately understand why every day at work, after about one o'clock, he was possessed by a strange sense of malaise. Then he realized what it was - urgency. This urgency was one of the guises of starvation or starvation trauma. Urgency as a mask for hunger - the ceaseless rush from one stage of eating to the next, accompanied by the fear of missing something. This urgency was particularly associated with lunch. This was given out by an indifferent government agency. That is, it had objective criteria for everything - this was certainly true and the criteria were certainly objective. But what if it wasn't enough? Several times during the winter there hadn't been enough porridge.

Nowadays canteens always give out everything they're supposed to. Nowadays urgency is a reflection of the mind, a chase from one aimless goal to another. These goals are set in a circle, a repetitive series leading nowhere.

If the motivation were just the usual ordinary feeling of hunger, it would be something heartening, reassuring. It is at precisely that time of day that it begins to sharpen. But the traumatized person can't stand feeling hungry; that in turn gives rise to lassi­tude and fear. N concentrates now on the desire to go out (his working day has not been standardized). He reads his typing, moving effortfully from line to line. The most unpleasant thing is transferring a correction from one copy to a second, then a third. A triple brake on his urgency. Nowadays he has to observe the decencies and he does so, meticulously slowing down his gestures. He speaks carelessly: "You give it in, then. I've got to go out just now. I'll be back before four, if anyone needs to know ... "

Somebody enquires: "You off to the canteen?"

"Yes, that is I will be. I have some things to do first."

You can't reveal your hurry.

The secretary says in a bright voice: "You know it would be so nice if you signed this paper right now."

From her point of view it just means a delay of a minute or two. Sweet girl, she doesn't realize that she has cut into the internal headlong dash of a traumatized man and that it's painful.

By now N is unable to carry out a single braking movement. He can't get to his desk. He asks the secretary for a sheet of paper, although he has paper in his briefcase; it would mean snapping the lock of the briefcase again. He grabs the nearest pen, which barely works, sits himself down somewhere, and writes a few lines in an alien hand, gaining a minute that way. He writes think­ing that he still has to overcome the exit to the street, the tram, the queue at the control point, the canteen queue, the deliberateness of the serving-girl ... And in that series of problematic actions, the thing for the sake of which he they are being carried out _ a helping of 200 grams of soup seems imperceptibly brief and ephemeral.

After the tram, there remains an extremely unpleasant stretch on foot. On the way he encounters people coming back from the canteen. It's hard to resist the question: "What is it today?" and you want to resist so as to keep all expectations open. You can also make deductions from the way they hold their bags, lunch pails or briefcases. Round the corner he sights the entrance, always half­open. Now nothing (including air raids or shelling) will stop you going up to it and going inside. In the depths of the dark corridor there is a patch of light where the bald head of the server flickers by - the joyous sign of extra helpings. Sometimes though, the smooth surface of the counter gleams dismally.

During the winter (especially before the general evacuation) an hours-long queue used to stand here by the control point. They stood submissively. It seemed natural to employ every effort to get the lunch which saved them from starvation. Besides, people stood in a chilly corridor, not out in the freezing cold. Nowadays it was empty here - the reason being that everybody was in so much of a hurry. Getting their cards, money and passes mixed up, everybody wanted to push through the dam of the three or four slowly advancing backs; everybody had to get their tallies as soon as might be just to calm down (so long as the serving-girl hadn't lost them ... ) the old trauma was still working.

Nowadays this would seem to be an apparently third-rate canteen (an imitation of normal existence) with its unwatered flowerpots on the tables, half-grimy tablecloths, almost dean serving-girls. It may not he seen at once (during the winter every­thing was seen at once), that people here are acting out a tragedy. You realize this if you look closely; how they lick their spoons quickly (it isn't done to lick your plate any more), scrape their plates clean, tilting it up, running the finger round the rim of the tin of porridge, how they stop talking as the food is served and study it carefully, how their heads automatically turn to follow the serving-girl.

Of all the meals, lunch bore the least resemblance to its name. The soup still gives ground for hope. It's not very tasty and there's more of it; and after all, it is the first course. At lunch the saddest thing is eating the porridge; the briefest of acts, so brief that the start touches the finish. Two swings of the spoon are enough to wreak irreparable damage on the round fluffy mass doled out on your plate, with the dimple in the middle, and ten grams of dark­golden oil poured over it.

- Lidiya Ginzburg: Blockade Diary, 1984, trans. Alan Myers (London: Harvill Press, 1995): 103-05.

[Stalin and Voroshilov in the Kremlin]

The Siege of Leningrad as the Human Condition

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then ,as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall, -
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now...'

- Wilfred Owen, "Strange Meeting" (1918)

It's important to remember that every war is as much of an ideological battle as it is a physical one. Think of the opening passage from Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms (1929):

There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of the places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.

Then compare them to this, Winston Churchill speaking to the House of Commons on 4th June, 1940:

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender

I think it's a fair juxtaposition. There's something magnificent about those Churchillian periods, of course: just like that speech two weeks later heralding the beginning of the Battle of Britain:

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."

But we must beware. That was the point of all those surrealist outrages in the first place. Hitler could make eloquent, moving speeches, too - so could Stalin. So could (for that matter) Walt Disney, whom Goebbels admired as the master propagandist of the age.

Possibly, then, we should interrogate Ginzburg's strange, distant Blockade Diary as much for what it does not do as what it does. Soveit literature abounds in plenty of examples of heroic idealisation of the victims of the siege.

What, then, is Ginzburg especially attentive to avoid? W. H. Auden put it best, perhaps, in his "At the Grave of Henry James" (1945):

All will be judged. Master of nuance and scruple,
Pray for me and for all writers, living or dead:
Because there are many whose works
Are in better taste than their lives, because there is no end
To the vanity of our calling, make intercession
For the treason of all clerks.

For every Hemingway, stripping our rhetoric bare and showing us the grinning skull beneath the skin, there's a war propagandist lavishly hymning the deeds of a leader who never actually left his bunker to visit the front. Yes, there are many "whose works / are in better taste than their lives."

Lydia Ginzburg is clearly on the side of the angels when it comes to that dichotomy.

[The Siege of Leningrad (1941-44)]

Workshop 10
The 900 Days

“Ilya's mother, thinking him asleep, quietly asked a neighbour: if she covered him with her body, would that protect against the German bullets? The neighbour thought it wouldn't. His father smoked his pipe, looked out the window and stared up at the cloudy sky.”
– Harrison E. Salisbury, The 900 days: The Siege of Leningrad, 1969 (London: Pan Books, 1971): 251.

After a brief discussion of the prescribed texts, followed by any seminars which have been scheduled for this week, we'll move onto your responses to the writing exercise below:

Exercise 10:
Writing from Elsewhere

The Leningrad Blockade undoubtedly had its most dramatic effect on the children who experienced it. Think of something traumatic that happened to you as a child.

You’re now going to write a poem or short prose text describing it.

  • First outline (quickly, in note form) the shape of the story, the sequence of events.
  • Then think about how old you were, what time of year it was, where it all took place.
  • When you start to write, try telling the story from the perspective of one of the other people involved, not from your own point-of-view.
  • Write it as concisely as possible – as if you were telling it as an anecdote to a group of people at the dinnertable.

Next week:

Exercise 11: Changes and Seminars on The Journals of Denton Welch due.

[Denton Welch: A Voice Through a Cloud]

Session 9

[Arthur Koestler (1948)]

Lecture 9
Arthur Koestler:
Dialogue with Death (1937 / 1942)

Anthology texts to read:

  • Arthur Koestler (1905-1983): from Dialogue with Death (1942)
  • Arthur Koestler: from Spanish Testament (1937)
  • Arthur Koestler: from The God That Failed (1950)
  • Arthur Koestler: from The Invisible Writing (1954)
  • George Orwell: from Homage to Catalonia (1938)

[March-April 1937]:

... With the evening soup he brought me a whole basketful of the most fabulous treasures. Cigarettes, matches, toothbrush, toothpaste, sardines in oil, sardines in tomato sauce, lettuce, vinegar, oil and salt in a special container, red paprika sausage, dried figs, cheese, Andalusian cakes, chocolate, tunnyfish in oil and four hard-boiled eggs. My bed was transformed into a delicatessen store. I poured my ration of lentils down the w.c. at one swoop, and devoured these luxuries in any order I fancied – chocolate and sardines, sausage and sweetmeats.

For the first time for six weeks I feel satisfied - satisfied, contented and tired.

If only I could get a word to D.

Sunday, March 28th.

Through Angelito bought socks, writing paper, basket to store my provisions and further delicacies. Day passed chiefly in eating and smoking. Librarian brought three little volumes of humorous sketches by Averchenko.

In the afternoon the blond young German spoke to No. 37 again. Said he had got paper to write to his Consul and prom­ised the invisible Carlos to lend him a peseta.

In the evening the bugler blew a new tune for the last post.

An even more melancholy tune.

Monday, March 29th.

All my pleasure in eating and drinking has gone to the devil. Every bite reminds me of the origin of the money and the letter. These attacks of homesickness recur at short intervals and with a violence I've never before experienced. What a sad sort of creature one is; so long as one's hungry, one has no other desire but to eat and eat, but the moment one is replete the 'nobler feelings' suddenly make themselves felt and spoil all one's pleasure. Three days ago a piece of cheese seemed to me the highest of all earthly gifts. Now, the moment I set eyes on a piece of cheese or a sardine tin, the thought of home inevitably occurs to me, and then there's the devil to pay. The good God has definitely put a few wheels too many in our heads.

Afternoon Angelito paid me a private visit and relieved me very willingly of a part of the cause of my misery by devouring sardines, cheese and chocolate. Afterwards the new jefe de servicio came to inform me that Colonel Fuster had not yet answered his inquiry about my confiscated money and luggage. Doesn't interest me now. Asked him when a decision as to my case was to be expected. Said he didn't know; I was an important case, one didn't capture a Red journalist every day. I was highly flattered, but wonder whether it's good or bad to be an important case.

Tuesday, March 30th.

I fancy the jefe only visited me because he had heard I'd got some money. It is really curious to see how my prestige has risen overnight and how my own self-confidence has grown since I've had some money.

Have sixty pesetas left; must begin to be careful. Dreamed - for second time during imprisonment - that I was free. All rather colourless and disappointing.

Got Mill once more and made extracts whole day.

Wednesday, March 31st.

At midday the warder asked me whether I would like some wine. You bet I would. Got a big beaker full for 45 centimos - about half a pint. Learned that every prisoner has the right to buy wine for the midday and evening meals, but no more than this quantity ... I keep the midday ration for evening, so as to drink both together. Tolerably good white wine, but too little to have any effect. All the same very good to have wine at all.

Thursday, April 1st.

Got Nerval's Aurelia, Bunin's Puyodol and Stevenson's Olala at same time. Now I have pretty good food, wine, cigarettes, clean underclothes and good books, no material worries, no bother with publishers, editors and colleagues. Soberly viewed, things are going quite well with me if it were not for my fear. I fancy that if my state of uncertainty came to an end, and later on I were to receive permission to be with the others in the patio, I should rub along quite well here.

When I read I forget everything for hours on end and am quite contented and really cheerful. Then I remember the letter and all the commiseration expressed in it and I have a feeling that I have a conventional obligation to be unhappy. I picture to myself how my wife must be picturing my situation and my commiseration reflects her commiseration like the echo of an echo. Again and again I catch myself being conscience-stricken at being so cheerful. Custom demands that a man in prison must suffer.

It must be very irksome for the dead to have the living think of them.

Friday, April 2nd.

What pearls one discovers in comparatively unknown books, when, as a result of unwonted circumstances, one forms the unwonted custom of reading attentively!

Gerard de Nerval spent half his life in a madhouse; he wrote the book that I am reading partly between two attacks of madness and partly during an attack; it contains page after page of completely absurd visions and the plot of the story is his own fluctuation between insanity and reason. At one point his condition seems definitely to improve, and his mind grows clear. The result is that he is now kicked out of the asylum and has to wander homeless through the streets of Paris in the cold winter nights, without a penny in his pockets and without an overcoat, instead of pursuing his gay visions in the well-heated madhouse. Half-dead with exhaustion, he muses:

'When you regain what people call reason, its loss seems scarcely worth bemoaning.'

At thirty-five he was found hanged.

I should like to know whether he hanged himself because, at the moment when he knotted the rope, he happened to be mad or because he happened to be sane.

The outside world becomes more and more unreal to me. Sometimes I even think that I was happy before. One weaves illusions not only about one's future, but also about one's past.

Saturday, April 3rd.

Got needle and thread, spent the whole day cobbling the tattered remains of my shirt, my pants and my new socks. At midday got fresh lettuce from Angelito wrapped up in a scrap of old newspaper. Saw from it that King of the Belgians had been in Berlin and that Italy had concluded a pact with Jugoslavia; but nothing about the Spanish war. Was astonished and horrified to find how little this news affected me and how much my interest in what is happening outside is waning. And the second month is not yet up.

What interests me much more is that the siesta promenaders - Byron and the consumptive - have now got a companion. Lanky, unshaven, dirty, and wears glasses. Has on a short leather coat which looks much too small for him. His whole appearance is somehow comic and pathetic in its awkwardness; have no idea what he can be.

Sunday, April 4th.

Very bad day. Only a few hours' relief in sleeping and writing. My heart is giving me so much trouble that at times I feel as though I am suffocating. Whole day in bed in a kind of apathetic coma. The idea of getting up alarms me.

Have never been so wretched since Malaga.

Monday, April 5th.

Had heart attack during night, just like the one in 1932. Am very much afraid another one coming on.

- Arthur Koestler: Dialogue with Death, trans. Trevor & Phyllis Blewitt, 1937, abridged edition, 1942, revised Danube edition, 1966 (London: Papermac, 1983): 144-47.


The Outsider

Albert Camus' L’Étranger was first published by Libraire Gallimard in Paris in 1942. In 1946, it was first translated into English by British author Stuart Gilbert and this translation was read by millions for over four decades. A second English translation was published in 1982 by British publishing house Hamish Hamilton. This translation, by Joseph Laredo, was adopted by Penguin Books in 1983 and reprinted for Penguin Classics in 2000. In 1989, another translation by American Matthew Ward was published.

The tone of the three English translations is quite different, with the Gilbert translation exhibiting a more formal tone. An example of this difference can be found in the first sentence of the first chapter:

French: "Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas. J'ai reçu un télégramme de l'asile: Mère décédée. Enterrement demain. Sentiments distingués. Cela ne veut rien dire. C'était peut-être hier"

Gilbert translation: "Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure. The telegram from the Home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday."

Ward translation: "Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours. That doesn't mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday."

Laredo translation: "Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know. I had a telegram from the home: 'Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely.' That doesn't mean anything. It may have been yesterday."

Plot Summary:

At the start of the novel, Meursault attends his mother's funeral, where he does not express any of the usual emotions that such an event often induces. He is asked if he wants to view the body of his mother but declines, instead smoking and drinking coffee in front of the body. Meursault sent his mother there because he felt she would be more happy with other people rather than living alone with Meursault in his apartment. The novel goes on to document the next few days of his life through the first person point-of-view. His best friend Raymond Sintès, one of his neighbors, of whom Meursault aids in dismissing his Arab girlfriend because Raymond suspects her of infidelity. Later, Raymond and Meursault encounter her brothers on a beach, and Raymond is injured in a resulting knife fight. After retreating, Meursault returns to the beach and shoots one of the brothers in a moment of confusion caused in part by the glare of the sun. "The Arab" is killed, and Meursault fires four more times into the dead body.

At the trial, the prosecuting attorneys seem more interested in the inability or unwillingness of Meursault to cry at his mother's funeral than the murder of the Arab, because they find his lack of remorse offensive. The argument follows that if Meursault is incapable of remorse, he should be considered a dangerous misanthrope who should be executed by guillotine in order to set an example for others who consider murder. Meursault is charged largely due to the lack of emotions shown at his mother's funeral, rather than for the murder of the Arab man.

As the novel comes to a close, Meursault meets with a chaplain and rejects the chaplain's insistence that he turn to God. The novel ends with Meursault recognizing the universe's indifference toward humankind. The final lines echo his new realization: "As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself — so like a brother, really — I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate."

According to Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction (New York: Methuen, 1987), p.9:

The dominant of modernist fiction is epistemological. That is, modernist fiction deploys strategies which engage and foreground questions such as … “How can I interpret this world of which I am a part? And what am I in it?” Other typical modernist questions might be added: What is there to be known?; Who knows it?; How do they know it, and with what degree of certainty?; How is knowledge transmitted from one knower to another, and with what degree of reliability?; How does the object of knowledge change as it passes from knower to knower?; What are limits of the knowable? And so on.

He then goes on to formulate a second thesis (p.10):

The dominant of postmodernist fiction is ontological. That is, postmodernist fiction deploys strategies which engage and foreground questions like the ones Dick Higgins [in A Dialectic of Centuries (1978)] calls “post-cognitive”: “Which world is this? What is to be done in it? Which of my selves is to do it?” Other typical postmodernist questions bear either on the ontology of the literary text itself or on the ontology of the world which it projects, for instance: What is a world?; What kinds of world are there, how are they constituted, and how do they differ?; What happens when different kinds of world are placed in confrontation, or when boundaries between worlds are violated?; What is the mode of existence of a text, and what is the mode of existence of the world (or worlds) it projects?; How is a projected world structured? And so on.

Epistemology foregrounds questions of consciousness.

Ontology foregrounds questions of existence.

[Robert Capa: Falling Soldier (1937)]

Workshop 9
Spanish Testament

““When the storm rages and the state is threatened by shipwreck, we can do nothing more noble than to lower the anchor of our peaceful studies into the ground of eternity.”
– Johannes Kepler (6th November 1629)
quoted in Arthur Koestler. The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe. 1959 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972): 427.

After a brief discussion of the prescribed texts, followed by any seminars which have been scheduled for this week, we'll move onto your responses to the writing exercise below:

Exercise 9:
Rules & Taboos

For better or worse, institutions all have rules. Draw up a list of five rules from your childhood.

  • Draw on your experience of family, school, the workplace, hospital, church or prison and describe some of the unspoken rules that influenced your life.
  • What happened when you broke the rules?
  • Have you ever told a lie? Were you found out? Write about the incident and its aftermath.
  • Alternatively, you could recall an embarrassing moment from your own life and imagine you are trying to explain it all away to an adult. Write the dialogue.

NB: This exercise was adapted from The Creative Writing Handbook: Techniques for New Writers, edited by John Singleton and Mary Luckhurst (London: Macmillan, 1996): 96.

Next week:

Exercise 10: Writing from Elsewhere and Seminars on Lydia Ginzburg's Blockade Diary due.

[Doroga zhizni / The Road of Life]

Session 8

[Jean Cocteau]

Lecture 8
Jean Cocteau:
Opium: The Diary of a Cure (1929 / 1930)

Anthology texts to read:

  • Jean Cocteau (1889-1963): from Opium: The Diary of a Cure (1930 / 1958)
  • Aleister Crowley: from Diary of a Drug Fiend (1922)


If an addict who has been completely cured starts smoking again he no longer experiences the discomforts of his first addiction. There exists, therefore, outside alkaloids and habit, a sense for opium, an intangible habit which lives on, despite the recasting of the organism. This sense must not be taken for the regret felt by an opium-addict who has become normal again, although this regret does constitute part of the appeal. The dead drug leaves a ghost behind. At certain hours it haunts the house.

An addict who has been cured keeps defences against the poison within himself. If he becomes addicted again his defences come into action and force him to take stronger doses than those of his first addiction.

Opium is a season. The smoker no longer suffers from changes in the weather. He never catches cold. He suffers only from the changes in drugs, doses and hours, in everything in fact which influences the barometer of opium.

Opium has its colds, shivers and fevers which do not coincide with cold and heat.

Doctors would have us believe that opium dulls us and takes away our sense of values. But if opium takes away the old scale of values from under our feet, it sets up another for us, superior and more delicate.

(1930). One cannot say that opium, by removing all sexual obsessions, weakens the smoker, because not only does it not cause impotence, but what is more it replaces those somewhat base obsessions by others which are somewhat lofty, very strange and unknown to a sexually normal organism.

For instance a type of mind will be sensed, sought out, and linked across the centuries and the arts, against all appearances, and will haunt the untended sexuality across the most dissimilar sexes and social backgrounds (Dargelos, Agathe, the stars and the boxers in Paul's bedroom).

All animals are charmed by opium. Addicts in the colonies know the danger of this bait for wild beasts and reptiles.

Flies gather round the tray and dream, the lizards with their little mittens swoon on the ceiling above the lamp and wait for the night, mice come close and nibble the dross. I do not speak of the dogs and monkeys who become addicted like their masters.

At Marseilles, among the Annamites, where one smokes with implements calculated to confuse the police (a gas-pipe, a sample bottle of benedictine with a hole in it, and a hat-pin), the cockroaches and the spiders form a circle in ecstasy.

A POOR TYPE. THIS UNINTERESTING CREATURE. Labels which would be attached by the newspapers and the police to all those whom we love and admire. Leonardo da Vinci, for example.

In addition there are certain superior cliché remarks made by the people who know. But the young Annamites do not smoke. In Indo-China the people don't smoke any longer. It's only in books that they smoke aboard ship.

When I hear one of these phrases I close my eyes, I see again the boys' berths on board the X., one of the largest steamers on the Marseilles-Saïgon line. The X was waiting to get under way. The purser, one of my opium-smoking friends, had suggested the escapade to me. At eleven o'clock at night we crossed the deserted docks and climbed up the ladder on to the deck. We had to follow our guide at full speed and avoid the watch. We climbed over cables, worked round columns and Greek temples, crossed public squares, labyrinths of machines, shadow and moon­light, we mixed up the companion ways and the corridors so much and so well that our poor guide began to lose his head, until, softly, that powerful strange smell put us on the right path.

Imagine enormous berths, four or five dormitories, where sixty 'boys' lay smoking on two tiers of planks. In each dormitory a long table filled up the empty space. Standing on these tables, and cut in two by a flat, unmoving cloud half-way up the room, the late­comers were undressing, tying up the cords where they liked to hang up their washing, and gently rubbing their shoulders.

The scene was lit by the dim lights of the lamps, and on top of them burnt the spluttering drug. The bodies were wedged against each other and without causing the slightest surprise, or the slightest un­graciousness, we took our places where there was really no place left, with our legs doubled up and our heads resting on stools. The noise we made did not even disturb one of the boys who was sleeping with his head against mine. A nightmare convulsed him; he had sunk to the bottom of the sleep that stifled him, entering into him through his mouth, his large nostrils and the ears which stuck out from his head. His swollen face was closed like an angry fist, he sweated, turned over and tore at his silken rags. He looked as though a stroke of the lancet would deliver him and bring forth the nightmare. His grimaces formed an extraordinary contrast with the calm of the others, a vegetable calm, a calm which reminded me of something familiar. What was it? On those planks lay the twisted bodies in which the skeletons, visible through the pale skin, were no more than the delicate armatures of a dream ... In fact, it was the olive trees of Provence which those young sleepers evoked in me, the twisted olive trees on the flat red earth, their silver clouds hanging in the air.

In that place I could almost believe that it was all this profound lightness that alone kept this most monumental ship floating on the water.

I wanted to take notes during my stay in the clinic and above all to contradict myself in order to follow the stages of the treatment. It was a question of talking about opium without embarrassment, with­out literature and without any medical knowledge.

The specialists seem to be unaware of the world which separates the opium addict from the other victims of poisons, 'the drug,' and drugs.

I am not trying to defend the drug; I am trying to see clearly in the dark, to make blunders and to come face to face with the problems which are always approached from the side.

I imagine that young doctors are beginning to shake off the yoke, to revolt against the ridiculous prejudices and follow new developments.

A strange thing. Our physical safety accepts doctors who correspond to the artists whom our moral safety rejects. Imagine being cared for by someone like Ziem, Henner or Jean Aicard.

Will the young doctors discover either an active type of cure (the present method remains passive), or a regime which would enable us to withstand the blessings of the poppy?

The medical faculty detests intuition or risks; it wants practitioners, forgetting that they only arise thanks to discoveries which in the first place come up against scepticism, one of the worst forms of comfort.

There will be objections – art and science follow different paths. This is not true.

A normal man, from the sexual point of view, should be capable of making love with anyone and even with anything, because the instinct of the species is blind; it works in the mass. This explains the casual behaviour of the people and above all of sailors, which is usually attributed to vice. Only the sexual act counts. A brute is little concerned with the circumstances which provoke it. I do not speak of love.

Vice begins with choice. According to the heredity, intelligence and nervous fatigue of the subject con­cerned, this choice becomes more and more selective to the point of becoming inexplicable, comic or criminal.

A mother who says 'My son will only marry a blonde,' does not suspect that her remark corresponds to the worst sexual imbroglios. Travesties, mingling of the sexes. torturing of animals, chains and insults.


Art is born of coitus between the male and female elements of which we are all composed, and they an: more balanced in the case of artists than of other men. It results from a kind of incest, of love of self for self, of parthenogenesis. It is this that makes marriage so dangerous among artists, for whom it represents a pleonasm, a monstrous effort towards the norm. The 'poor specimen' look which is the mark of so many men of genius arises from the fact that the creative instinct is satisfied elsewhere and leaves sexual pleasure free to exert itself in the pure domain of aesthetics, inclining it also towards unfruitful forms of expression.

One cannot translate a real poet; not because his style is musical, but because his thought has a plastic quality, and, if this changes, the thought changes .

A Russian said to me: 'The style of Orphée is musical in the opposite way to what the public calls musical. In spite of its lack of music, it is musical because it leaves the spirit free to profit from it as it wishes.’

A poet, unless he is a politician (such as Hugo, Shelley or Byron), must only count on readers who know his language. the spirit of his language and the soul of his language.

The crowd likes works which impose their melody. which hypnotise, which hypertrophy its sensibility to the point of putting the critical sense to sleep. The crowd is feminine; it likes to obey or bite.

Radiguet said 'The public asks us if the author is serious. I ask the public if they are serious.' Alas! works of genius demand a public of genius. One can achieve a substitute for this receptive state of genius through the electricity emanating from an agglomeration of mediocre persons. This substitute allows one to have illusions about the fate of a play in the theatre.

- Jean Cocteau: Opium: The Diary of a Cure, 1930, trans. Margaret Crosland and Sinclair Road, 1958 (New York: Grove Press, 1980): 74-81.

International Modernism:
Art Movements (late 19th Century / early 20th century)

1880 – post-impressionism

1905 – fauvism

1905 – expressionism

1907 – Pablo Picasso: Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

1908 – cubism

1909 – futurism

1909 – Henri Matisse: La danse

1910 – Roger Fry: Post-impressionist exhibition, London

1910 – Frank Lloyd Wright: Robie House, Chicago

1912 – vorticism

1913 – Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

1914 – Wyndham Lewis: BLAST (Issue I)

1915 – Ezra Pound begins The Cantos

1916 – dada

1917 – Marcel Duchamp: Fountain

1918 – Tristan Tzara: Dadaist manifesto

1919 – bauhaus

1920s – art deco

1920s – magic realism

1920s – constructivism

1922 – T. S. Eliot: The Waste Land

1922 – James Joyce: Ulysses

1924 – surrealism

1924 – André Breton: Surrealist manifesto

[Jean Cocteau: Opium (1930)]

Workshop 8
Diary of a Drug Fiend

“As Glanvil says: Man is not subjected to the angels, nor even unto daeth utterly, save through the weakness of his own feeble will.

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
– Aleister Crowley, Diary of a Drug Fiend, 1922 (London: Sphere Books, 1979): 7.

After a brief discussion of the prescribed texts, followed by any seminars which have been scheduled for this week, we'll move onto your responses to the writing exercise below:

Exercise 8:
13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

Bring a picture with you to class – perhaps a photograph out of a magazine, or any image which intrigues you in some way.

Using Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” as a model, you’re going to write a poem or short prose paragraph describing it.

  • Look at the picture carefully. List the things you see in it.
  • How do you react to those things? Write down some of those reactions.
  • Try grouping them together. Are there common factors?
  • When you start to write, describe the picture, then your associations with it – what it means to you.
  • Remember, your description must convey the essence of the picture even to a reader who can’t see it.

Next week:

Exercise 9: Rules & Taboos and Seminars on Arthur Koestler's Dialogue with Death due.

[Robert Capa: Soldier Killed by Snipers]