Wednesday, 19 July 2017

A simile is a deceived appearance . . . The House that looks like Hitler.

The putrefaction of the perfect rhyme
That marries Blood and Lime with Mud and Time.

Long, long ago, I read for the first time, Adorno’s minatory dictum: ‘Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch’ (‘To write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric.’ Culture Criticism and Society, 1949.)
            It struck me then that such an absolutist Death Sentence on Art would have been staunchly repudiated by the persecuted who went to their deaths believing the lyric voice to be unquenchable, and the pen mightier than the sword.
            In my own view, Adorno’s injunction – though noble in intention – is actually a kind of distorted echo of those gloating Nazi voices and their ideological refrain: ‘When I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun.’
            Certainly, such an injunction would have unfairly denied a voice to a poet as profound as Karen GershonKindertransport refugee.

A simile is a deceived appearance.
For self-evident reasons, Swansea’s 
House that looks like Hitler
does not appear on this page.

All the same, over the years I have remained alert to those writers who despoil race memory by their absurd theatrics of  ‘immersion’, in the manner of method actors. As I have written elsewhere, one should be cautious – not say downright denunciatory – of certain solipsistic postwar poets who exhibit a maudlin notionality of identification with Holocaust victims that devalues the scale of human suffering . . . 
To my mind, the ludicrousness of Dickinson’s Empress of Calvary was exceeded only by the pallid self-pity of Plath’s Lady LazarusAnyhow, I preferred the verses of Karen Gershona poetess who in my own view eclipsed Plath in gravitas, insofar as Gershon was in actuality a Jewess and had no need for maudlin notionality. (From A Room to the End of Fall, 2015, in A Bad Case.)
Yet the ill-advised posturings of Sylvia Plath are defended by Zadie Smith in her 2008 Kafka essay, in which she writes, ‘For there is a sense in which Kafka’s Jewish Question (“What have I in common with Jews?”) has become everybody’s question, Jewish alienation the template for all our doubts. Sylvia Plath hinted at this: “I think I may well be a Jew.” ’  

For further observations on the fatuities in Zadie Smith’s arguments as to the supposed Ghettoization of English identity (she was evidently not raised as a morning-faced New Elizabethan), see:

Appearances deceive.
So, as you can recognise from my uncompromising critical stance, my grievance with certain poets is their often specious transmutation of familial angst into Judaical diasporic victimhood à la Plath. 
            Accordingly, when I came to write The House that looks like Hitler I was very careful to forewarn the editor of my misgivings. I wrote:
Germanness and cultural dispossession take many forms, and Jewishness is not the only conduit to a continuing sense of betrayal because appearances deceive, which is the poem’s subject, of course. A simile is a deceived appearance.

Welsh Incident.
However, any anxious reservations I had about the subject were, in the event, mitigated by the thought that the poem had practically written itself, arising as it had, from a media frenzy that had seen the wondrous Animation of the Inanimate, an event no less astonishing, were the tabloids to be believed, than the Miracle when the Sun was Seen to Dance, observed by one hundred thousand Portuguese believers in Fátima in 1917.

The elderly owner of an unassuming end-of-terrace house in Swansea has been left bewildered by his home becoming a global media sensation after its resemblance to the Nazi dictator was noted by a passer-by whose photograph gained instant press coverage across the UK and around the world. News item March 2011.

The House that looks like Hitler

                                The corollaries by which we measure 
                                pleasure torment us with War's aftermath;
                                yellow stars by order of the Führer
                                drowned every time we take a bubble bath.

                                How slyly patterns in the carpet hide 
                                swastikas to desecrate our languor.
                                Piano wires to Mendelssohn are tied; 
                                guilt talcums feet with thoughts of falanga.
                                The scraps uneaten on your laden plate,
                                the glass abandoned that nobody drank.
                                Each lunch hour summons the hunger-racked fate 
                                of Judentransport, of silent Anne Frank.

                                The mundane taints our haunted lineage.
                                Pyjamas strung up washdays upside down,
                                black bread and soup are slaves to vision's cage:
                                from mirrors stare the eyes of Eva Braun.

                                Today's phenomena are marvellous,
                                yet each lame rhyme or tortured simile
                                is captive to a truth made ruinous
                                by liars out-deceived: Arbeit Macht Frei.                         

                                                                                               Catherine Eisner

Catherine Eisner believes passionately in plot-driven suspense fiction, a devotion to literary craft that draws on studies in psychoanalytical criminology and psychoactive pharmacology to explore the dark side of motivation, and ignite plot twists with unexpected outcomes. Within these disciplines Eisner’s fictions seek to explore variant literary forms derived from psychotherapy and criminology to trace the traumas of characters in extremis. Compulsive recurring sub-themes in her narratives examine sibling rivalry, rivalrous cousinhood, pathological imposture, financial chicanery, and the effects of non-familial male pheromones on pubescence, 
see Eisner’s Sister Morphine (2008)
and Listen Close to Me (2011)

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