THE CRAZY OIKLET 17
It must have been getting on for twenty years ago in Autun that I first came across Alain Guerin’s six volumed chronicle of the resistance (La Résistance 1930 – 1950). I’d seen everything else in that sleepy Burgundy town – the Roman ruins – the amphitheatre, the Temple of Janus, the cathedral of St Lazare with the great west front carvings by Gislebertus, and was mooching about in the town library (as one does). The set was in the reference section. Five massive black-bound volumes weighing over a kilo each and then, vol six, shaped like the others, but in fact a box, containing facsimiles of the underground pamphlets and newspapers. To think Camus and Sartre might have written for such ratsarsed lash-ups (I refer, of course, only to the presentation). I was transfixed. Later I tried to track down this work in bookshops but got nowhere. I recall trying abebooks but found nothing there either – perhaps I’d mixed up Alain Guerin (poet and journo b 1930) with the more distinguished historian of the revolution Daniel Guerin (1904-1988).
Then, bugger me, if, while rooting about in Montpellier this year, having seen the cathedral, the place de la Comédie, the Musée Fabre, the port du Peyrou, I’m idly mooching about in the Gibert Joseph bookshop opposite the hotel de Ville (as one does having seen everything else worth seeing) when I notice four of the massive black volumes in a box on the pavement along with a stack of heterogeneous rubbish priced at a mere five euros each. What a stroke! Vol 4 was missing and vol 6, the box of facsimiles. It is described as the edition cinquantenaire published in 1976 (but fiftieth anniversary of what exactly?). It is lavishly illustrated. There’s pictures of just about every two bit fascist in there - Drieu la Rochelle, Jacques Doriot, Robert Brasillach, Céline, plus examples of bureaucratic paraphernalia like the Certificate of Non-Jewishness awarded to the unfortunate Madame Finkelstein. With a name like that she’d need one even if she looked like Simone Signoret.
A fascinating period. There are many books and films on this – Philippe Burin’s Living with Defeat, Rober Gildea’s Marianne in Chains, Ian Ousby’s Occupation. Jean Dutourd’s Au Bon Beurre is a great fictional reconstruction of black market spivery in Paris under the occupation. The best film must be Marcel Ophuls’ documentary The Sorrow and the Pity along with Louis Malle’s Lacombe Lucien, Truffaut’s The Last Metro and Tavernier’s Laisser Passer. One gets the impression the French are still coming to terms with this era. Initially the myth of widespread, courageous resistance became modified and it was only fairly recently that the crimes of Vichy and the collaborationists have had more attention. Chirac actually apologised to the Jews.
Would we have been any different? I think not. There’d be plenty of fanatical psychopaths ready to torture and kill – it’s a universal type. But imagine this: Hitler invades in 1940, soon the whole country is under control, jobsworths spring up eager to facilitate the new order. Hitler’s plan was to expatriate every able bodied man between sixteen and forty five to Germany as slave labour. If you were a nipper your dad would disappear, a kraut soldier would be billeted in your house and soon you’d have a half brother, little Hans (Burrin estimates 50,000 half kraut bastards were born in France during the occupation). You’d go to school where German would be top language and you’d have to sing the Hoarse Weasel song every day. Hoarse Weasel was a ratfaced nazi kid who damaged his throat singing about the volk and the fuhrer. The crazy carpet-chewer croaks around 1948 (he was never a healthy bloke in spite of being a veggy and not smoking). The Reich collapses and before you know it the Russians are in charge. Now it’s Boris who’s billeted in your house and soon you and Hans have another half brother Ivan. Russian is now top of the syllabus and you’re flogging through Stalin’s A History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) Short Course in the original every day. You can’t get a proper job unless you know Das Kapital backwards. The working week is 120 hours but rent is bugger all and the buses are free. There’s nowt in the shops. Stalin dies to be replaced by Marshal Zhukov but the empire, now stretching from Vladivostok to Donegal is getting more and more sclerotic. The yanks land in Brittany and soon G.I. Joe Soap moves in. He’s a big hit with you, Hans and Ivan and there’s a constant supply of gum and comix. You remember a bit of English from the good old days but Hans and Ivan have to struggle with it. The syllabus is now Moby Dick and Ernest Hemingway. At the pictures it’s Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe – no more of that Eisenstein shite. Bill Haley comes over on a cultural mission, followed by Elvis.
Well – no kid should have to live through all that. But the way things are going something like it could come to pass (for the USSR substitute China).
Update: Alain Guerin’s six volumed set is readily available via Abebooks.co.uk. The whole lot can be shipped from France for as little as £75. A bargain.
Peter Street, an oik poet from Atherton, gets in touch to ask if Penniless Press Publications would be interested in his latest collection. He’s already been published by respectable main streamers like Shoestringpress. I reply that PPP is a modest operation with no marketing or distribution capacities but if he wants to take a punt…why not? A poem by Peter will appear in the next Oik.
Soon after I get an email from Fred Whitehead in Kansas. He’s a big fan of Peter’s and exhorts me to publish him saying he’ll do the same in USA. Fred has discovered the Oik and has subscribed and wants all the back issues for his archive of prole lit.
Yes Fred, quite – whimsy and satire just about sums us up and I now feel a bit less guilty about not pursuing a more rigorous ideological line (after all - look what happened to Marxism Today!) Fred is PhD Eng Lit from Columbia who visited England on a Fulbright scholarship. Odd that he doesn’t know our Kansas City contributor Kayti Doolittle – there are only about two million people in the place. I’ll mention Fred to her when she comes back from researching the sex industry in South Korea. Kayti’s researches on sex in Thailand will appear in the next Oik.
Fred was also greatly taken with the Voices website at www.mancvoices.co.uk and called it a treasure trove. One of Fred’s passions is for 17C and 18C English satire – Pope, Swift, Dryden etc. I attach Fred’s occasional newsletter The Sandbur to introduce our new subscriber.
Tom Kilcourse writes outlining a new project:
When I began writing short stories thirty years ago I believed myself to be a member of a miniscule minority. If that was true then it is certainly not today. Witness the number of people attending creative writing courses, and the many amateur writers submitting their efforts to numerous blog sites. The quality of writing varies, but their enthusiasm is unmistakably high.
This book is the first in a short series under the title ‘Tales Without End’. I hope that some enthusiastic amateur writers will use the book for amusement, and to hone their skills. It is also intended to provide a resource for teachers of creative writing and teachers of English language. Ten short stories are presented with the end deleted, and readers are invited to write their own endings to the tales. All the stories contained in this book are taken from my first collection, ‘The Human Circus’, which was published in 2009.
The stories are not offered as examples of good writing. All writers develop their own style. I recognise that mine is idiosyncratic and not to everybody’s taste. Certainly, it is not suggested that writers should attempt to complete the stories in the style that I have written them. Where the book is used collectively, as on a course, it is my hope that students write their own endings in a style with which they are comfortable, or with which they wish to experiment. I hope also, that the stories are found entertaining as they stand. My original endings are offered at the end of the book for completeness and to satisfy any curiosity aroused. They are not presented as the proper way to end a story.
Sounds very Brettish. Is Tom heading down the A to B route? (see Oiklet 11 June 2011 – Apologies to Anthony where Martin Amis identifies two types of writer - type A with conventional, motive- driven, morally concerned narratives and type B – who get a bit fed up of this and start monkeying about with time lines, language and plot. Brett Wilson is certainly in this latter group and you can visit his spruced up website at http://www.susupublishing.co.uk/ Oddly there’s more Brett on this site in The Bedlam where many snippets lurk, plus a big chunk of his latest oeuvre Tears of God.
Another newly expanded website is Nigel Ford’s Worldscribe at http://www.worldscribe.nu/ This site lists several vols by Crazy Oik writers and offers free downloads and hard copy versions to follow up if you like what you’ve squinted at on a Kindle. This sounds like a good idea to me – a taster and then the real thing – being a book-nut I’d always follow through. And if the punter doesn’t buy then he wouldn’t have anyway so you’ve nothing to lose. Nigel and his colleagues are translators based in Sweden and offer contributors the possibility of exotic language versions of their work. Nigel’s own One Dog Barking is currently being done into Russian.
Finally I add Fred Whitehead’s latest issue of his newsletter Sanbur 3. Fred scrutinises the Occupy movement with some puzzlement. He quotes cartoonist Gary Trudeau’s skit on this tendency with their chant: “What do we want! Nothing! When do we want it? Now!” The movement seems much bigger in USA and Europe, but where’s it going? Commentators have wrestled with the paradox of socialism in the USA before – why isn’t there any? See also Irving Howe. Fred’s up to date analyses are worth a look but ultimately he’s saying if you’re expecting the revolution - don’t hold your breath.
Lest it seem that I am resorting to mocking dismissal, let me again grant that the grievances of the Occupy movement are real. The 1% have indeed ripped off the 99%, though I’d have to note that there are a sizeable part of the 99%, say 40% who still defend capitalism in spite of everything. That would be the Tea Party, unaware as they are that their organizations are being secretly funded by the 1%. America, I would argue, is the World Center of False Consciousness