Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Honi soit qui mal y pense 4

From an animated banner ad I've seen recently at

Having trouble getting motivated?
Sisters drive each other to do another lap.

Wow — lap-dancing with incestuous undertones, what more can you wish for?

(Actually, as the text on the next page of the ad explained, it's for some public health programme named Everyday Choices for a Healthier Life, and the ad apparently specifically targets African-American women — hence the reference to sisters, I guess.)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

BOOK: L. Sprague de Camp, "Citadels of Mystery" (cont.)

[Continued from last week.]

L. Sprague de Camp and Catherine C. de Camp: Citadels of Mystery. London: Fontana Books, 1972. (First ed.: Ancient Ruins and Archaeology, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1964.) xii + 292 pp.

See pp. 72–3 for an interesting discussion about the letter digamma (‘Ϝ’) and the sound it represented: “Scholars had long been puzzled by the fact that many lines of Homer refused to scan. Bentley discovered that the Greek of Homer's time had a sound represented by the letter digamma, resembling our F. [. . .] The sound represented was either a v, or a w, or something in between. Between the time of Homer and that of Peisistratos, both sound and letter disappeared from the Attic dialect [. . .] With the restoration of the digammas, Homer scanned perfectly.”

Another very interesting passage is on pp. 90–1, on the light thrown on the history of Troy and on the Homeric legends by the Hittite written records.

“Homer was not unaware of the problem of anachronism” (p. 74) and took care to describe weapons that would have been used in the Mycenean age, rather than in his own (e.g. bronze instead of iron).

Schliemann “obtained a doctor's degree from the University of Rostock by the extraordinary method of submitting as his thesis an autobiography in classical Greek” (pp. 76–7). His children were named Andromache and Agamemnon (p. 77). In their defence, Schliemann's wife was Greek — perhaps those names don't seem as absurdly pretentious to the Greeks as they do to me. I went to Athens for a week a couple of years ago, and among other things we were given a tour round the Acropolis by a middle-aged guide named Aphrodite. I doubt that she had ever looked pretty. What on earth must her parents have been thinking? But of course one must admit that the Greeks have no monopoly on absurdly hubristic names. I understand that in Spanish-speaking countries, Jesus is a fairly common name, and in fact I myself once had the pleasure of starting an e-mail with “Dear Jesus”... :-)

There's an interesting chapter about Ma'rib, the Queen of Sheba's capital, located in present-day Yemen. Apparently Yemen was an exceedingly backward place in de Camp's time (I don't know whether it still is or not). De Camp mentions its “ignorant, bloodthirsty, foreigner-hating populace” (p. 96); foreign visitors, explorers and archaeologists had no end of trouble from the Yemenites (p. 105). For most of the first half of the 20th century, Yemen was ruled by “a tough old tyrant” (p. 106) extremely successful at dodging an endless series of assassination attempts and assorted court intrigues: “Life in Yemen made the palaces of Caligula and the Borgias look like health resorts” (p. 109).

As for the Queen of Sheba herself, the Bible mentions her only very briefly and does not “say how old she was, nor how beautiful, nor state that she and Solomon had any sort of love affair. For aught anybody knows, the queen might have been a tough old beldam like Ḥatshepsut or Elizabeth I in her later years.” (P. 97). Eew. I am reminded of Burns' splendid lines: “But wither'd beldams, auld and droll”, etc.

Pp. 130–1 mention Dr. Carl Peters, the German explorer and imperialist who “more or less singlehandedly annexed Tanganyika to the German Empire”. I remember him from Thomas Pakenham's Scramble for Africa, which mentions that he obtained a doctorate in philosophy with a “brilliant metaphysical dissertation, ‘Willenswelt und Weltwille’ ” (Pakenham ch. 16, p. 290). De Camp mentions Peters' extremely harsh attitude towards the “ ‘niggers,’ whom he regarded as ‘sickly and useless rubbish.’ This ‘useless rabble,’ said he, should either be made to work for the whites by a system of forced labor [. . .] or be wiped out.” (P. 130.)

In the earlier versions of the legend, King Arthur “cheerfully begat Mordred on his own half sister, the wife of King Lot of Orkney (thus combining incest with adultery).” In the Victorian era, people like Tennyson sanitized Arthur to a point quite absurd for someone who was supposed to have lived in the early middle ages (p. 145). The chapter about King Arthur also contains an interesting discussion of the struggle of the Celtic Britons against the Germanic invaders, and mentions various speculations regarding real-life people that may have inspired the legends about Arthur (pp. 146–54).

About Thomas Malory: “Besides his literary gifts he was a first-class rascal and ruffian who spent much of his life in jail for assaulting and robbing his neighbors and raping their wives.” (P. 157.)

“The Indo-Chinese, like the Polynesians, took a permissive attitude towards sex. [. . .] An eighteenth-century English diplomat posted to Indo-China complained that he could not enjoy a stroll in the evening because of the ‘horrible fornications’ he was compelled to witness.” (P. 171.)

A few interesting tidbits on Romano-Chinese contact: “In +120 a band of Greek and Roman acrobats and musicians passed over this route [i.e. through Funan in Indochina] on their way to China; and in +160 a Roman embassy did likewise.” (P. 171.) See also my post on Golding's Envoy Extraordinary.

“The Khmer armies [. . .] included elephants with catapults mounted on their backs.” (P. 174.)

“Lianas [. . .] hang everywhere, like the clotheslines of a tribe of sluttish dryads.” (P. 180.) Woo hoo — hot wet scantily-clad dryad sluts cavorting in the woods! Not only it sounds great, it should also bring lots of visitors from Google. Hello, you wankers!

So thorough was the destruction of the pre-Columbian civilizations of America that during the 18th century the prevailing opinion was that the reports about their magnificence, written by the conquistadors in the 16th century, must be gross exaggerations (p. 183).

The chapter about Tikal and the Mayas contains a few fascinating pages about one ‘Count’ de Waldeck. Among other things, he published a book about his travels around the Mayan sites in Yucatan; an unreliable book, but there wasn't much competition at the time (1838). Anyway, he was quite a colourful character: “He went on to marry, at 84, a 17-year-old girl by whom he had a son, to publish his second book at 100, and finally to drop dead at 109 just after turning to look at a pretty girl on the boulevards of Paris.” (P. 186.)

P. 190 mentions “the Mayan road system, comparable on a smaller scale to that of Rome.” I find this interesting — until now I had a vague notion (not quite sure where I got it from) that one of the reasons why the Mayans didn't invent and use the wheel was that it wouldn't have been of any use in the muddy roads and trails of their jungle-like environment. But this argument fails if they really had a decent road system comparable to the Roman one. I now found this interesting web page, which says that they were familiar with the concept of the wheel, but did not use it in transportation, mostly because they had no suitable animals to pull the cart.

The “Aztec ‘emperor’ Montezuma II was no hereditary despot of the European kind, but an elected tribal chief, of limited powers, whose tribe had established a precarious rule over some of their neighbors.” (P. 194.)

“It must be said for the Incas that, for at least a couple of centuries, they ran as efficient, well-organized, and benign a despotism as men have ever achieved. Their rule was the nearest thing yet to a practical communism.” (P. 212. He argues that the idea of communism is also a form of benevolent despotism, since the party demands all power for itself and claims that it will use this power for the common good. See pp. 213–4 for more about the Inca system.)

“There is some fossil evidence that mastodons roamed the valleys of Ecuador down to the early centuries of the Christian Era, and so the Chavín people and their successors probably knew about them; but it has not yet been proved that they hunted them or used their ivory.” (Pp. 215–6.)

“The natives [of Easter Island] do not seem to have had any name for their island; so isolated were they that they needed no special word to distinguish their land from any other. When the first Tahitians arrived in the 1870s, they called the island Rapa Nui, ‘Great Rapa,’ because it looked like little Rapa Iti in the Tubuai Islands. And Rapa Nui it has remained in the speech of the Pascuans or Easter Islanders.” (P. 237. He uses the word ‘Pascuan’ often; it's apparently derived from the Dutch name of the island, ‘Paasch Eyland’, as Dutchmen were the first Europeans to discover and name the island.)

In the 18th century, scarcity (probably due to overpopulation and deforestation; see Jared Diamond's Collapse) led to terrible intertribal wars, including cannibalism. “A favorite Pascuan taunt was: ‘Your flesh has stuck between my teeth,’ meaning: ‘I have eaten your kinsmen!’ ” (P. 249.)

Easter Island “gave its people a good living—at least until they became too numerous—but it afforded almost no variety. [. . .] So they got bored. To relieve the tedium they went in for games and sports, for fantastic rites and ceremonies, for bizarre forms of personal adornment, for megalithic construction projects, and finally for ferocious warfare. Anything was better than simply eating sweet potatoes day after day and listening to the boom of the surf.” (Pp. 259–60.) De Camp tries to infer from this a lesson about various philantropic efforts to improve the world, especially the standard of living; he speculates that, if “most of the risks and injustices [were] removed from life, many would begin to yearn, not for more social justice or self-improvement, but for more change and excitement. And then their conduct would not much resemble that of the inhabitants of a paper Utopia. Instead, they would behave more like those delightful thieves, killers, and cannibals of Easter Island.” (P. 260.) But this is surely ridiculous. It's yet another example of his expressing a political opinion with which I strongly disagree. I guess I'll never understand why some people like to imply that, if people were finally liberated from the requirement to run around like hamsters on a wheel in order to make a living, they would then somehow be less happy or behave in a worse manner than they do now. The obvious fact is that it is precisely the opposite — the need to work for a living requires us to act like knaves in a million horrible ways, and, if freed from that, we could finally follow our own interests without minding those of other people, or getting into conflicts with them. The idea that people would be bored in such an utopian world (or that they would resort to crime and violence to relieve their boredom) is, of course, ridiculous. Even in the case of Easter Island it would not have come to so much warfare and cannibalism if it hadn't been for the competition over scarce resources (the very opposite of an idle utopian life). Besides, modern technology means that we have innumerable ways of keeping ourselves occupied and entertained, without having to resort to either work or violence: television and the internet, music and sports, etc., etc. The idea that people will be bored if they don't have to work so much any more is the lamest excuse for avoiding utopia that I've ever heard.

“The Turkish letter ı represents a sound something like the vowels in the words tick, tuck, and took, but not exactly like any of them.” (P. 265.) This makes about as much sense as saying that a certain color is something like red, green, and blue, but not exactly like any of them. From this description I haven't got the foggiest idea what this vowel actually sounds like. The wikipedia has a more useful description, and it seems that the sound is much like /u/, except that your lips should be spread rather than rounded.

Anyway, I recommend this book to anyone interested in some accessible and enjoyable reading about the dozen or so sites mentioned here; if, however, you are more interested in the various crackpot theories that have become attached to them, it would probably be better to read de Camp's Lost Continents instead. Another possible drawback of the book is that it was first published in 1964 (and according to the copyright page it's partly based on articles that de Camp wrote even earlier, some dating as far back as 1946); thus, it's possible that much more is known about the sites discussed here than it was known in the 1960s when the de Camps wrote this book. And it isn't only archaeology that has moved ahead in the last 30–40 years, but pseudoscience as well — Citadels of Mystery never mentions von Däniken, let alone the veterans of the new crank wave of the nineties, such as Hancock, Bauval, Colin Wilson (the author of the pricelessly-titled Atlantis and the Kingdom of the Neanderthals) and other such luminaries of pseudoscientifical crankdom.

(Incidentally, another little detail in which the book shows its age is that it consistently uses ‘men’ in the meaning ‘people’. This was of course quite OK in the 60s but would probably be unthinkable nowadays.)


  • According to his Wikipedia page, de Camp wrote several other nonfiction books. Two of them sound quite interesting: Ancient Engineers and Great Cities Of The Ancient World.
  • Colin Wilson: Atlantis and the Kingdom of the Neanderthals. This title is simply too priceless to miss.
  • Frank Joseph: The Destruction of Atlantis: Compelling Evidence of the Sudden Fall of the Legendary Civilization. That which we call fiction marketed under any other name is just as fine to read.
  • Carl Peters: The Eldorado of the Ancients (1903). Contains Peters' weird ideas about Zimbabwe. Mentioned on p. 131.
  • Gilbert and Colette Charles-Picard: Daily Life in Carthage (1961). Sounds interesting.
  • W. M. Flinders Petrie: Seventy Years in Archaeology (1931).

Besides the last three, the bibliography in Citadels of Mystery mentions a number of other potentially interesting books.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

BOOK: L. Sprague de Camp, "Citadels of Mystery"

L. Sprague de Camp and Catherine C. de Camp: Citadels of Mystery. London: Fontana Books, 1972. (First ed.: Ancient Ruins and Archaeology, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1964.) xii + 292 pp.

I first heard of Sprague de Camp a couple of years ago, when I bought the Dover edition of his Lost Continents: The Atlantis Theme in History, Science, and Literature. That was a very pleasant book discussing the various manifestations of the Atlantis idea among all kinds of cranks (Donnelly, theosophists, occultists of all descriptions, etc.), as well as in fiction. Sprague de Camp was apparently quite well acquainted with science fiction and fantasy authors from the late 19th century onwards — not surprising really, as he was a SF/fantasy author himself; but he also wrote several nonfiction books, such as Lost Continents and Citadels of Mystery.

As for Citadels of Mystery, I first heard of this book on some on-line commerce site, probably eBay, where the description of the book mentioned that it “[e]xplores the various space invaders created earth or man or Atlantis theories”. This sounded intriguing; although I cannot take this sort of crank theories seriously, they usually make for enjoyable reading, so a book about such theories also sounds promising. A few weeks ago, I found a really cheap copy on eBay and bought it; having now read it, I must say that it was a good and enjoyable read, but I was slightly disappointed in my above-mentioned expectations. These expectations were actually reinforced by the preface, where the authors say: “We will tell of the discovery of these ruins, the controversies over them, the fictional and pseudo-scientific uses to which they have been put, and the progress of archaeology towards solving the enigmas they present” (p. xii). But in fact, the book spends relatively little time on presenting pseudoscientific theories. Most of it is actually good old popular science; the book consists of a number of relatively short chapters, each dealing with a particular site: the pyramids of Egypt, Stonehenge, Troy, Ma'rib (supposed capital of the queen of Saba, in Yemen), Zimbabwe, Tintagel, Angkor, Tikal, Machu Picchu, Nan Matol (in the Pacific Ocean), and the Easter Island. Each chapter includes a short history of the site itself and of the culture that produced it, as well as of the discovery of that site by explorers and archaeologists in the last one or two centuries. Crank theories are mentioned, but the focus is clearly not on them. And there is of course nothing wrong with all of that; it's just that this isn't what I was hoping for when I started reading the book. Apart from this, I don't have any serious complaints about this book; it's informative and very readable; you can see right away that one of the authors is a good storyteller (i.e. Sprague de Camp, being among other things a novelist), and they even inserted many humorous passages to help keep the reader interested.

Incidentally, there seems to be some small amount of cannibalizing going on among these various books by Sprague de Camp; several passages here in Citadels of Mystery were almost exactly the same as certain passages in his Lost Continents: compare CoM p. 6 with LC p. 9–10; Plato's dialogues as “little plays”, CoM p. 3, LC p. 3; the illustration of Atlantis, CoM p. 5, LC p. 11; bishop Landa and the Mayan alphabet, CoM p. 8, LC p. 32; the story of Paul Schliemann (see below), CoM pp. 13–14, LC pp. 45–6; James Churchward, CoM p. 14, LC p. 47; Mme. Blavatsky's life and her theories about the past races of humankind, CoM pp. 228–30, LC pp. 54–6, CoM p. 231, LC pp. 57–61; Hanns Hörbiger and his Cosmic Ice Theory, CoM pp. 216–8, LC pp. 86–8 (but CoM spells his name Hans, not Hanns); relations between languages, CoM p. 18, LC pp. 100–1, CoM p. 19, LC p. 99. I don't really have any objections against this sort of cannibalizing in principle, but I must admit that in this particular case I was rather annoyed as I had been hoping to read something new rather than re-reading the same things I've already heard in the other book.

Now that I mentioned Mme. Blavatsky, one curious thing that I saw in Sprague de Camp's story of her life, both in Lost Contintents (p. 54) and here in Citadels of Mystery (p. 228), is that he mentions that she was the mistress of a “Slovenian singer” at some point. I am of course curious who this singer might have been, and how they happened to meet each other. After all, I doubt that our singers travelled abroad very much at the time, and I don't think she travelled through Slovenia or indeed any other part of the Habsburg empire (where one might conceivably expect to find Slovenian singers). A handful of web sites mention this factoid, but none of them provide any details about the singer, and for all I know they might all have copied it from the same source (some of those hits in Google are actually for web pages containing various writings by de Camp; others might have borrowed their HPB factoids from de Camp, or from the same sources that he had used; he unfortunately doesn't mention where he got the HPB-as-mistress-of-a-Slovenian-singer factoid). Her biography in the Wikipedia doesn't mention any Slovenian singers, only an “Italian opera singer Agardi Metrovich” — perhaps this is the one that de Camp and others have in mind. His surname sounds more Croatian than Slovenian to me, but it certainly doesn't sound Italian at all. Some more googling also turned up a thesis, which says that Metrovich was a “Hungarian opera singer and a member of the radical Italian Carbonari political group”. Another web site, however, says that Metrovich was “the illegitimate son of the Duke of Lucca”.

It's interesting how publishing trends change with time. This is a popular science book, and it's a mass-market paperback — almost an unheard-of combination nowadays, when such books typically only occur in hardcover and trade paperback, while mass-market paperbacks are limited to a few genres such as romance, SF, and fantasy. Nowadays I almost find it hard to imagine that as little as twenty years ago, a paperback edition, even of a book that has some sort of quality and is not merely pulp fiction, would by default be a mass-market paperback, small, convenient, unpretentious, and quite inexpensive, everything that a trade paperback isn't. Don't get me wrong, I like trade paperbacks much better than mass-market ones; they look better, are often better produced, and almost certainly have larger type so they are easier to read; but they are also more expensive and take up much more space on the shelves. Thus when I encounter a mass-market paperback from a few decades ago, I'm often impressed at the amount of content it can squeeze into such a truly tiny amount of space. As for the price, this 1972 mass-market paperback of Citadels of Mystery lists the RRP as £0.45, which, according to the inflation calculator, is equivalent to £3.98 in 2005 currency. Needless to say, nowadays a typical trade paperback of a popular science title like this one costs at least twice that amount.

One minor complaint about this mass-market paperback edition is that it apparently lacks some of the plates; there are only eight plates, while the text of the book refers to plate XX on p. 192. I guess that an earlier edition, e.g. the hardcover one, had more plates. The table of contents is also curious: it lists nine plates, not eight; plates 7–9 in the table of contents correspond to plates 6–8 in the actual plate section, while the latter contains no plate corresponding to plate 6 of the table of contents.

The title seems somewhat unusual given the contents of the book; the dictionaries typically define a citadel as a fortified place, usually in a city; but many of the sites presented in this book don't fit this description — e.g. the pyramids, Stonehenge, Easter Island, etc. According to the colophon, the book was initially published as Ancient Ruins and Archaeology, which I think is a more reasonable title. But the fact remains that the text of the book refers to the sites being discussed as “citadels” a number of times.

The book uses a curious system of representing dates: “+123” for AD 123 and “-123” for 123 BC; and “+IV” for the 4th century AD, “-IV” for the 4th century BC. There's nothing wrong with this in principle, but I don't see the point of introducing a new notation when in fact years and centuries aren't mentioned so often that the usual and more familiar (if slightly wordier) system wouldn't be just as satisfactory.

Another minor complaint I have about this book is that de Camp's political opinions seem to sometimes lean a little bit towards the conservative side of the political spectrum, and he doesn't seem to have been wholly enthusiastic about some of the progressive things that were going on in the 60s and 70s while he was writing this book. See for example p. 95: “If somebody kills people in a peculiarly gruesome way, they say that the killer is really a good fellow at heart who suffers from frustration or insecurity, and in any case it is all the fault of Society.” (P. 95.) I agree with this a hundred percent, though it's obvious from de Camp's tone that he doesn't. And after he describes the harassment that an archaeological expedition suffered at the hands of the despotic and ultra-conservative regime of the Imam of Yemen, de Camp adds: “Back in the bad old days of imperialism, a civilized government whose people were so used would probably have landed the marines and hanged the rascally Imâm from the palace window. But such is not the custom in these progressive times.” (P. 108.) I guess this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but I can't resist a lingering suspicion that he doesn't think that gunboat diplomacy is a completely bad idea. For another thing where I disagree with him, see the discussion about Rapa Nui near the end of this post (and in the book on p. 260.)

On p. 13 the book mentions “Dr. Paul Schliemann, grandson of Heinrich Schliemann the archaeologist. In 1912 the younger Schliemann, apparently getting tired of being a little man with a big name, sold the New York American an article entitled How I Discovered Atlantis, the Source of All Civilization.” This article is now available on the wonderful web site. But J. B. Hare, the editor of, mentions that “Paul Schliemann dropped out of sight as quickly as he emerged”, and the article contains several such gross archaeological bloopers that the most likely explanation is that it was really written by some tabloid journalist, without the involvement of any grandson of Heinrich Schliemann. Interestingly, de Camp seems to have misquoted the title of the article — the version begins with ‘How I Found the Lost Atlantis’.

In Tartessos, silver was “so common that the Tartessians' hogs ate from silver troughs” (p. 20).

Apparently, in Spain there exists (or existed) a “Royal Pigeon Shooting Society” (p. 23).

Are you a ruler troubled by budget deficit? Do you think issuing bonds is for sissies? Boy, do we have a solution for you! “Herodotos also reported the stories told him by his guides. They said, for instance, that Khufu had prostituted his own daughter to help to pay for the Great Pyramid” (p. 37).

One usually hears that the Sphinx's nose was demolished by Napoleon's soldiers. However, apparently it was really done centuries earlier by some religious fanatic (p. 38). See this web page for more details.

The Druids occasionally practiced rather grisly religious rituals, which earned them much censure from the Romans. De Camp criticizes the Romans for this: “The Romans, who had done the same sort of thing a few centuries earlier and who were at that time forcing gladiators to kill each other by the thousands in the arena, professed to be shocked by these sacrifices.” (Pp. 48–9.) I don't doubt that there was a strong element of hypocrisy in the Roman attitude, and that in many cases they were just looking for an excuse to suppress the Druids so as to control the population of their Celtic provinces more easily; but at the same time, I can't agree with de Camp's implication that one has no right to be shocked at something merely because one's ancestors practiced the same thing a few centuries earlier. That would make us hypocrites whenever we are shocked by slavery, let alone by concentration camps or the death penalty where the time difference is even smaller.

“Among the ancient Irish in particular, ‘They count it an honorable thing, when their fathers die, to devour them. . .’ ” (P. 49, citing Strabo 4.5.4. Incidentally, though de Camp's quotation ends there, Strabo continues: ‘and openly to have intercourse, not only with the other women, but also with their mothers and sisters; but I am saying this only with the understanding that I have no trustworthy witnesses for it’.) When it comes to bizarre Irish funerary customs, here's another splendid one: “In final homage to the fallen kings whom the ancient Irish sent to their fathers, they were drowned in a vat of mead and their palaces set alight.” (Toussaint-Samat, History of Food p. 36.)

In the 17th and 18th centuries, some people thought the giant stones at Avebury a nuisance to farming, and toppled and destroyed several of them. “Unfortunately, all these people are dead and so cannot be boiled in oil as they deserve.” (P. 64.)

[To be continued in a few days.]

Friday, June 09, 2006

Seks in verska blaznost

Eden najboljših prispevkov, kar sem jih kdaj videl na forumu Financ:

„Po tej poti želim obvestiti širšo javnost o prostaškem zlorabljanju moje komaj polnoletne invalidne vnukinje Svetigral s poltenimi parklji in s paranormalnim nasiljem Polikarpa: duhovnika, redovnika Frančiškanovega beraškega reda iz samostana pri Tromostovju. . .“ [link]

Fenomenalna kombinacija seksa, verske blaznosti in prijetno staromodnega sloga, za katerega sem mislil, da je izumrl že pred vsaj kakšnimi petdesetimi leti in ki ga dandanes srečamo le še pri kakšnem Blažu Ogorevcu v Mladini. Tudi izdatna raba besed iz registra katoliške cerkve je odlična in močno pripomore k bizarnosti besedila. Če verska blaznost še ne bi obstajala, bi si jo bilo treba izmisliti :)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Damn! Damn! DAMN!!!!

Doughty's Dawn in Britain, the 1943 one-volume edition, VG in dustjacket, sold to somebody else for £6.45 because I forgot to bid on the goddamned auction!

I had it open in a browser window in the background, but then in the last hour or so before the auction I got so engrossed in writing the draft of yet another book commentary that I forgot about the auction until it was too late.

The cheapest one currently offered on ABE, G without dustjacket, costs £80.

Grrrr. Remind me again why I don't trust sniping services?

*bangs head against table*

Saturday, June 03, 2006

KNJIGA: Josip Kalinikov, "Ženske in menihi"

Josip Fedorovič Kalinikov: Ženske in menihi. Prevedel Rudolf Kresal. Založba Obzorja, Maribor, 1955. 506 + 475 str.

Kako bi se človek mogel upreti romanu s takšnim naslovom? In na ovitku sedita drug poleg drugega na klopci bradat, kosmat pravoslavni menih in okrancljano oblečena, rahlo obilna ženska. Pa še tako poceni sem ju dobil — obe knjigi za 1800 SIT na lanskih Dnevih knjige.

No, to skratka je ruski roman, kot se spodobi — velik, rejen, s kopico oseb, od katerih ima vsaka kopico imen in vzdevkov; dogajanje se razteza čez vrsto let; zgodba spremlja zdaj ene, zdaj druge, vse pa je med seboj pošteno povezano in prepleteno. Pravzaprav je ta roman večji in bolj ambiciozen, kot sem sprva pričakoval po naslovu in ilustraciji na ovitku. Vse skupaj se mi zdi nekako tako kot kakšna Vojna in mir, le da se dogaja približno sto let kasneje — od 1905 do oktobrske revolucije in še malo po njej. To je zanimivo in pomembno obdobje v ruski zgodovini; že leta 1905, v času vojne z Japonsko, je prišlo v Rusiji do precejšnjega revolucionarnega vrenja, le da iz njega takrat še ni nastalo nič posebej konkretnega (no, vsaj parlament so si izborili). Kot se za takšen dolg roman spodobi, ima avtor obilo priložnosti ilustrirati družbene razmere tistega časa in prikazati, kako so se v njih znašli razni družbeni sloji. Obenem pa je to zelo berljiva pripoved, ki jo človek težko odloži in mu ni na koncu prav nič žal, da je bila tako dolga.

„Kalinikov ni samo eden izmed največjih erotično-socialnih pisateljev Rusije, temveč vsega sveta.“ Tale stavek iz spremne besede (str. 1.11) se mi zdi zelo posrečen in dobro opisuje dvojno naravo tega romana. Po eni strani vidiš v njem kup stvari o takratni družbi in življenju, po drugi strani so v romanu izdatne količine ljubezni in seksa v vseh mogočih pojavnih oblikah; od maksimalno zafrustriranega večdesetletnega koprnenja meniha Afonke do Fenje, prek absurdno goreče, idealistične ljubezni Borisa do Line, ljubezni, ki ima po značaju mnogo skupnega z verskim fanatizmom in se na koncu celo res sublimira vanj (IV. knjiga), pa do čisto preproste pohote, ki ji marljivo podlega večina menihov, nun, trgovskih žena, ki prihajajo v samostan na počitnice, itd., itd.

Ko sem že ravno omenil nune: glej predvsem V. knjigo, razdelki V-VII. Tule je en prijetno sleazy in melodramatičen odlomek s str. 1.375, ki dokazuje, da se s pohoto ne gre šaliti: „bičale so se s postom in z molitvijo, ihtele, da so jih zvijali krči na trdem ležišču, bile s čelom do nezavesti ob tla in vendarle niso pozabile, niso mogle ubiti tega, kar je bilo njihovo pravo življenje, in so čakale, da jih je smrt odrešila grešnega mesa, ali pa so se izčrpane po brezupnem boju nebrzdano vdale grehu, se vlačugale z vsakim, ki mu je bil dober njihov hotni objem — vseeno, ali je bil moški ali ženska, le da je objem odrešil vpijočo, mučeno kri“. Gl. tudi 1.385 o lezbištvu pri nunah in 1.390–3 o komplikacijah pri spravilu otroških trupelc.

Treba je tudi priznati, da čeprav knjiga veliko govori o nemoralnosti po samostanskih ustanovah, to ne pomeni, da je avtor kakšen protiverski fanatik. Nekaj menihov jemlje svoja verska načela tudi bolj resno in so prikazani v bolj pozitivni luči. Nasploh se mi zdi, da je imel avtor o veri kolikor toliko dobro mnenje, nasprotoval pa je temu, v kar se je tisti čas izrodila pod okriljem okostenelih cerkvenih inštitucij.

Ena zelo nenavadna oseba v knjigi je inženir Kiril, ki je nekakšen plemeniti kapitalist. S svojimi delavci ravna za tiste čase nenormalno dobro (in zaradi tega celo žanje zgražanje svojih stanovskih kolegov), glavna skrb pa mu ni dobiček, pač pa to, da bi tovarna čim bolje obratovala; zgraža se nad zastarelo družbeno in gospodarsko ureditvijo v Rusiji in podpira revolucionarne spremembe, ki bi na mestu tega zgradile kaj boljšega (str. 2.24–5, 106–9). Hecna pojava! No, kot vidimo dandanes, takšnih kapitalistov ni ravno veliko in njihov obstoj vsekakor ne ščiti večine ljudi pred tem, da ne bi pod kapitalizmom slabo živeli in trpeli izkoriščanja. Zato obstoj takšnih ljudi (če v resnici sploh obstaja kakšen tak) seveda ne more biti argument v prid obstoju kapitalizma. Sicer pa, kot vidimo v zadnjem delu knjige, ko dejansko izbruhne revolucija, Kirilu njegovi napredni nazori razmeroma malo koristijo; z revolucionarji je težko sklepati kompromise (2.305–6, 315–19, 337–8). Nasploh je v zadnjem delu knjige čutiti, da je avtor revoluciji sicer naklonjen, da pa se obenem zaveda tudi, da so stvari med njo hitro postale grde. Ne manjka se plenjenja in streljanja; to, da si bil nekoč buržuj, je resen prestopek; nekdanji menih Afonka postane čekist in prav marljivo pobija domnevne sovražnike revolucije. Sicer pa lahko na to, da bodo stvari postale grde, sklepamo že precej prej, ko na str. 2.42 vidimo Nikodimov trdi, zelotski fanatizem. Toda vse to je konec koncev le naravna posledica tega, da so bogataši ljudi prej tako dolgo in vztrajno zatirali; ko takšen ekonom lonec raznese, res ni čudno, če so posledice grde. Mene revolucionarno nasilje ne bi kaj dosti motilo, če bi na koncu le pripeljalo do uvedbe nekakšnega komunizmu podobnega sistema, v katerem bi lahko ljudje kolikor toliko dobro živeli; škoda, da se v Rusiji to ni preveč dobro izšlo.

Na str. 2.93 je razmišljanje Afonke, ki se je med vojno boril na fronti, o vzrokih za vojno. Gre v bistvu za dobro znano stališče, da so vojno zakuhali vladajoči sloji obeh strani, ki so se od nje nadejali koristi, preostalemu prebivalstvu obeh strani pa je vojna le škodila. V tem je verjetno precej resnice, ampak po drugi strani je treba priznati, da je izbruh redkokatere vojne javnost vpletenih držav pozdravila s tako širokim odobravanjem kot ravno prvo svetovno vojno (čeprav je seveda tudi res, da je bila javnost tedaj, tako kot vedno, zavedena s strani propagande, ki so jo širili vladajoči sloji). Kot opisuje Fromkin v svoji knjigi Europe's Last Summer, je do prve svetovne vojne prišlo zaradi rivalstva med evropskimi velesilami, še posebej zaradi skrbi Nemčije, da je ne bi sčasoma prehitela in zasenčila Rusija. Jasno je, da na te diplomatske zadeve revni sloji družbe niso imeli kakšnega posebnega vpliva; ampak ali iz tega že tudi nujno sledi, da vojne za razliko od vladajočih slojev niso podpirali? Če bi npr. Nemčiji šlo v vojni vse po sreči in bi se uspela okrepiti na račun Rusije in mogoče Francije, ali ne bi imeli od tega koristi tudi nemški delavci in kmetje? Hm, verjetno je tako, da bi se nemški delavec ali kmet zavedala, da bosta v primeru vojne onadva tvegala glavo v jarkih (ne pa pripadniki vladajočih slojev), koristi v primeru uspešnega izida vojne pa bi bile zanju vendarle majhne — mogoče bi se jima življenjski standard počasi malo povečal, če bi se država kot celota zaradi uspeha v vojni bolj razcvetela; ampak to je bolj slaba motivacija za to, da greš tvegat glavo. Škoda je torej, da so ljudske množice tako podlegle propagandi, da so vojno prva leta podpirale in da so se začele obračati proti njej šele, ko so bile njihove države že toliko izčrpane, da za ljudi niso več mogle normalno skrbeti.

„Dolge dneve se je premetaval v mračni izbi na svojem ležišču, in da si je preganjal čas, je lovil muhe, ki mu niso dale spati. Ubite muhe je lepo spravljal v škatlico, v kateri so bili nekoč ceneni bomboni, in vsak večer je zapisal na zid s koščkom oglja število dnevnega plena.“ (Str. 1.73.)

Eh, bolj in bolj ugotavljam, da mi gre pisanje komentarjev o leposlovju od rok precej slabše kot o neleposlovnih knjigah. Zato bom tale komentar tukaj kar končal, za konec naj le še enkrat ponovim: tole je odličen roman; kdor ima rad debele ruske romane, mu ga toplo priporočam.