29 February 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 8

I am translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English. In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week.

This will be the last installment -- at least for a while. Two months of Weimar Wednesdays is sufficient; my Google ranking has improved, and anyone searching for an English translation of the book will discover that one is in the works. A little joke to finish things off...
In the spring of 1919 a joke was making the rounds:
A man hurries down a dark street.
“Psst! Robert! Where are you going?” asks another man.
“To the gambling club, to break the bank!”
“Do you have a system?”
“No, I have a hand grenade!”

28 February 2012


W. N. P. Barbellion, The Journal of a Disappointed Man (London: Chatto & Windus, 1919), pp. 40-41:
Youth is an intoxication without wine, some one says. Life is an intoxication. The only sober man is the melancholiac, who, disenchanted, looks at life, sees it as it really is, and cuts his throat. If this be so, I want to be very drunk. The great thing is to live, to clutch at our existence and race away with it in some great and enthralling pursuit. Above all, I must beware of all ultimate questions -- they are too maddeningly unanswerable -- let me eschew philosophy and burn Omar.

27 February 2012

Quiet Hostility

George Gissing to his friend Eduard Bertz, from The Collected Letters of George Gissing: 1863 - 1880, Vol. 2 (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1990), p. 84:
The so-called civilized world is of course full of rampant barbarians -- most of them reckless of everything in the furious chase of after wealth and power. More likely than not, they will bring about terrible things in the immediate future. Be it our part to live in quiet hostility to all such baseness.

25 February 2012

Shagged to Buggery

Philip Larkin in a letter to his friend Jim Sutton, quoted in Andrew Motion's Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life (London: Faber & Faber, 1993), p. 186:
My great trouble, as usual, is that I lack desires. Life is to know what you want, and to get it. But I don't feel I desire anything. I am unconvinced of the worth of literature. I don't want money or position. I find it easier to abstain from women than sustain the trouble of them and the creakings of my own monastic personality. In fact I feel as if the growing shoots of my character -- though they must be more than shoots by now -- had turned in on each other and were mutually neutralizing each other. Or that I had been 'doctored' in some way and my central core dripped on with acid. Shagged to buggery, that's what I be.

24 February 2012


Al Purdy on leaving his job at the mattress factory, in his autobiography Reaching for the Beaufort Sea (Madiera Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 1993), p. 144:
There was the feeling that things had gotten away on me somehow; I was no longer in control of my life. I'd quit that crummy job at which I made the top wages of $1.65 an hour, and was terrified to be leaving it! That job had been a large part of my world, at least had made the other more important parts financially possible. My feelings before leaving Vancouver Bedding must have been exactly the same as those of millions of other people stuck in boring poorly paid jobs and who keep working at them all their lives. Now I was making a discovery, the same one other quitters make; it's terrifying, but also exhilerating. Quitting is a word with disgrace attached, but it frequently makes good sense.
Ibid, p. 227
[S]omething irrational had stirred in my brain. It said: stop wasting your life conventionally, waste it yourself, unconventionally. And I said: who are you to tell me what to do with my life? (You hafta treat these inner voice know-it-alls as if you have some rights too.) So I went. 

23 February 2012

Heroic Service

In the appendix to Arthur Schopenhauer's Prize Essay on the Freedom of the Will (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 94-5, professor Bryan Magee pays homage to Schopenhauer's main English translator, Eric F. J. Payne (1895-1983), who learned German in order to be able to read the philosopher in the original:
Payne was continuing to work on the translation of Schopenhauer's other writings. But publishers were even less enthusiastic about investing in the secondary works than they had been about investing in the primary one, and the rejections and disappointments piled up as Payne went on producing more and more translations. He did have one or two early successes, but there was a long period in his life when he had completed the translation of many volumes without any perceptible hope of their publication; and yet he was still working full-time at producing new ones, obscurely confident that somehow it would come right in the end. And somehow it did. [...]
By making Schopenhauer's entire output available to English speakers with no German, and doing so in the teeth of literally decades of discouragement, Payne has performed a more heroic service for philosophy in the English-speaking world than anything he accomplished as a professional soldier. People nowadays are coming more and more to regard Schopenhauer as one of the truly great philosophers; and, this being so, more and more of them are finding themselves in Eric Payne's debt as the years go by. For this he deserves to be remembered. A short, stocky man with a squarish head and merry eyes, he surprisingly resembled certain portraits of Schopenhauer. Anyone who believes in reincarnation, as presumably all of Eric's Buddhist readers do, might be tempted to wonder... Those of us who do not noted the resemblance merely, and teased him about it. But, physical resemblance or no, there can be few individuals since Schopenhauer who have done so much for his philosophy.

22 February 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 7

I am translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English. In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week.

The subject of this installment is Max Klante, who ran a Ponzi scheme offering 600% returns and conveniently accepted after-hours deposits at the cafés he owned:
Yes, he knew how to bind his followers to him, holding assemblies in the Circus Busch where they crowned him with laurels and hoisted him on their shoulders. He raised their hopes with new ideas and plans, and they remained faithful to him -- he wanted to take over a major liquor company and start a whole line of cocktail bars. Cocktail and juice bars were all the rage back then, and they were like gold mines. And so the Klante system hit paydirt ... 
But after a few weeks it became obvious that this seam of ore was really fool's gold. Klante could no longer meet the demands of his creditors and fled to a sanatorium, pleading chronic illness. But this could not protect him from the investigation launched by the public prosecutor. 
His overly credulous creditors filed 90 million marks' worth of claims. His racehorses, his mansion, and his cars covered only a tiny fraction of that sum. The money had been offered up by people who had once considered him a saviour, and now they wanted to crucify him.
According to the Wikipedia article on Klante (only available in German), his scheme was so popular that there were branches in most major cities.

21 February 2012

A Perfectly Suitable Smile

Guy Vanderhaeghe, Man Descending (Toronto: Macmillan, 1982), p. 189:
A last cursory inspection of the bathroom and I spring open the door and present my wife with my best I'm-a-harmless-idiot-don't-hit-me-smile. Since I've been unemployed I practice my smiles in the mirror whenever time hangs heavy on my hands. I have one for every occasion. This particular one is a faithful reproduction. Art imitating Life. The other day, while out for a walk, I saw a large black Labrador taking a crap on somebody's doorstep. We established instant rapport. He grinned hugely at me while his body trembled with exertion. His smile was a perfect blend of physical relief, mischievousness, and apology for his indiscretion. A perfectly suitable smile for my present situation.

20 February 2012

The Sickest of All Sick Things

Since today is Family Day in the province of Ontario, here is a clip of Charles Bukowski talking about starvation, art, and family life:

18 February 2012

Non amo te, Sabidi

W. N. P. Barbellion, The Journal of a Disappointed Man (London: Chatto & Windus, 1919), p. 101:
For any one who is not simply a Sheep or Cow or whose nervous organisation is a degree more sensitive than the village blacksmith's, it is a besetting peril to his peace of mind to be constantly moving about an independent being, with loves and hates, and a separate identity among other separate identities, who prowl and prowl around like the hosts of Midian -- ready to snarl, fight, seize you, bore you, exasperate you, to arouse all your passions, call up all the worst from the depths where they have lain hidden... A day spent among my fellows goads me to a frenzy by the evening. I am no longer fit for human companionship. People string me up to concert pitch. I develop suspicions of one that he is prying, of another that he patronises. Others make me horribly anxious to stand well in their eyes and horribly curious to know what they think of me. Others I hate and loathe -- for no particular reason. There is a man I am acquainted with concerning whom I know nothing at all. He may be Jew, Gentile, Socinian, Pre-adamite, Anabaptist, Rosicrucian -- I don't know, and I don't care, for I hate him. I should like to smash his face in. I don't know why... In the whole course of our tenuous acquaintance we have spoken scarce a dozen words to each other. Yet I should like to blow up his face with dynamite.

17 February 2012

Misery and Futility

Sébastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort, Oeuvres complètes de Chamfort, Vol. I (Paris: Chaumerot Jeune, 1824), p. 407. My own translation:
When I was young I was driven by passions, and they drew me into the world. I was forced to look, in society and in pleasures, for a little respite from painful aches. People used to preach to me about the joys of solitude, of work, and they bored me to tears with pedantic sermons on the subject. Having arrived at the age of forty and having lost the passions that made society bearable, I now see only misery and futility in it. I do not need people to escape from aches that no longer exist. I have developed a very strong taste for solitude and work, and it has replaced all the rest; I have ceased to go out into the world. Now people will not stop tormenting me and saying that I should return; they accuse me of being a misanthrope and so on. What to make of this strange difference? The need that men have to find fault with everything.

16 February 2012

To a Blocked Writer

From Ten Spurts of Venom, by Joseph S. Salemi (via Anecdotal Evidence):
You claim you're blocked, and can't squeeze out the words?
You're constipated, so we're spared your turds.

Something Finer

The appeal of Pre-Raphaelite art, from E. P. Thompson's biography of William Morris (New York: Pantheon Books, 1955), p. 57:
"Why is it," asked Thomas Dixon, a working man from Sunderland, writing to William Michael Rossetti about The Germ, "these pictures and essays being so realistic, yet produce on the mind such a vague and dreamy sensation, approaching as it were the Mystic Land of a Bygone Age? ... There is in them the life which I long for, and which to me never seems realizable in this life." 
So it seemed to many other men and women, dissatisfied with the poverty of their lives, and finding their sense of loss reflected in these canvasses, their yearning for something finer, more "ideal". It was as if the human spirit was being driven to more and more remote regions, but was still struggling to keep alive. As Burne-Jones once declared: "The more materialistic Science becomes, the more angels shall I paint."

15 February 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 6

For the last few Wednesdays I have been posting excerpts from the book I am translating, Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). This week, I offer a change of pace -- some music from Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester, who will be on tour in North America starting next week.

While studying to become an opera singer at the Universität der Künste Berlin, Raabe met several other students who shared his enthusiasm for music from the 1920s and 1930s. They formed the Palast Orchester in 1986 and have become quite a success.

Here is Gib mir den letzten Abschiedskuss (Give Me the Last Goodbye Kiss):

For those who speak German, here is a clip of Raabe discussing the Übers Meer album, which is made up entirely of songs from the Weimar period.

14 February 2012

The Academic Nature

Philip Larkin in a letter to Monica Jones on 15th September 1959, from Letters to Monica (London: Faber & Faber, 2010):
[T]he break up of the library meant that a good deal of wooden shelving could be had cheap, and strange sights were seen -- Wood in on Sunday, gaping speculatively round, people who never set foot in the library between end of term and beginning of term (and not often otherwise) were running in as easily as rats. The intoxicating spicy Trade Winds of Something for Nothing bring our jolly mariners out of the hold as limber as weasels -- my God! I've never known a safer bet than that academic people will be round you like wasps round a jar if you so much as whisper 'no charge'. They will carry off anything no matter how useless. There were people bearing away mouldy spars on the grounds that it would be 'cheap even as fire wood', like some crazed medieval yokels. Don't you think that in the academic nature filthy meanness reaches a pitch when it is a streak of pure romanticism -- as if the famished search of the sandalled swine for the Lost Teat of the World were some Grail Quest instilled in childhood?
The "Wood in on Sunday" is Arthur Wood, Larkin's deputy at Hull University library.

13 February 2012

Yellow Pebbles

John Ruskin, The Veins of Wealth (New York: John B. Alden, 1885), p. 32-33:
[A]n accumulation of real property is of little use to its owner, unless, together with it, he has commercial power over labour. Thus, suppose any person to be put in possession of a large estate of fruitful land, with rich beds of gold in its gravel, countless herds of cattle in its pastures: houses, and gardens, and storehouses full of useful stores; but suppose, after all, that he could get no servants? In order that he may be able to have servants, some one in his neighbourhood must be poor; and in want of his gold -- or his corn. Assume that no one is in want of either, and that no servants are to be had. He must, therefore, bake his own bread, make his own clothes, plough his own ground, and shepherd his own flocks. His gold will be as useful to him as any other yellow pebbles on his estate. His stores must rot, for he cannot consume them. He can eat no more than another man could eat, and wear no more than another man could wear. He must lead a life of severe and common labour to procure even ordinary comforts; he will be ultimately unable to keep either houses in repair, or fields in cultivation; and forced to content himself with a poor man's portion of cottage and garden, in the midst of a desert of waste land, trampled by wild cattle, and encumbered by ruins of palaces, which he will hardly mock at himself by calling "his own". 
The most covetous of mankind would, with small exultation, I presume, accept riches of this kind on these terms. What is really desired, under the name of riches, is, essentially, power over men; in its simplest sense, the power of obtaining for our own advantage the labour of servant, tradesman, and artist; in wider sense, authority of directing large masses of the nation to various ends (good, trivial, or hurtful, according to the mind of the rich person). And this power of wealth of course is greater or less in direct proportion to the poverty of the men over whom it is exercised, and in inverse proportion to the number of persons who are as rich as ourselves, and who are ready to give the same price for an article of which the supply is limited.

11 February 2012

Manipulated by the Marketers

Clive Hamilton, The Freedom Paradox (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin,  2009), pp. 56-7:
Deception is essential to modern marketing. It is not true that a particular brand of margarine will impart a happy family life or that a sports car will deliver sexual allure. Yet the purpose of advertising is to convince us that these things are true. Supporters of the market who might suggest that this is just harmless fun and that consumers know how to apply a degree of scepticism need to explain why year after year billions of dollars are committed to such a futile activity and why such a large proportion of the world's creative talent is employed by marketing agencies. 
For [Friedrich] Hayek, a person's freedom hinged on 'whether he can expect to shape his course of action in accordance with his present intentions, or whether somebody else can so manipulate the conditions so as to make him act according to that person's will rather than his own'. Is this not the point we have reached, where in every decision the 'essential data' of our lives have been created or manipulated by the marketers, so that our will is bent to another's purpose?

10 February 2012

The Last Kick

W. N. P. Barbellion, The Journal of a Disappointed Man (London: Chatto & Windus, 1919), p. 42:
My body is chained to me -- a dead weight. It is my warder. I can do nothing without first consulting it and seeking its permission. I jeer at its grotesqueness. I chafe at the thongs it binds on me. On this bully I am dependent for everything the world can give me. How can I preserve my amour propre when I must needs be for ever wheedling and cajoling a despot with delicate meats and soft couches? -- I who am proud, ambitious, and full of energy! In the end, too, I know it intends to carry me off... I should like though to have the last kick and, copying De Quincey, arrange to hand it over for dissection to the medical men -- out of revenge. 'Hope thou not much: fear thou not at all' -- my motto of late. 

9 February 2012

The Absolute Hopelessness of Everything

In Tropic of Cancer (New York: Grove Press, 1961), Henry Miller writes about taking one of Gandhi’s disciples to a brothel in Paris. Unfamiliar with Continental plumbing, the young Indian causes a stir when he relieves himself in the bidet. The incident puts Henry into a philosophical frame of mind:
And so I think what a miracle it would be if this miracle which man attends eternally should turn out to be nothing more than these two enormous turds which the faithful disciple dropped in the bidet. What if at the last moment, when the banquet table is set and the cymbals clash, there should appear suddenly, and wholly without warning, a silver platter on which even the blind could see that there is nothing more, and nothing less, than two enormous lumps of shit. That, I believe, would be more miraculous than anything which man has looked forward to. It would be miraculous because it would be undreamed of. It would be more miraculous than even the wildest dream because anybody could imagine the possibility but nobody ever has, and probably nobody ever again will. 
Somehow the realization that nothing was to be hoped for had a salutary effect upon me. For weeks and months, for years, in fact, all my life I had been looking forward to something happening, some extrinsic event that would alter my life, and now suddenly, inspired by the absolute hopelessness of everything, I felt relieved, as though a great burden had been lifted from my shoulders. At dawn I parted company with the young Hindu, after touching him for a few francs, enough for a room. 
Walking toward Montparnasse I decided to let myself drift with the tide, to make not the least resistance to fate, no matter in what form it presented itself. Nothing that had happened to me thus far had been sufficient to destroy me; nothing had been destroyed except my illusions. I myself was intact. The world was intact. Tomorrow there might be a revolution, a plague, an earthquake; tomorrow there might not be left a single soul to whom one could turn for sympathy, for aid, for faith. It seemed to me that the great calamity had already manifested itself, that I could be no more truly alone than at this very moment. I made up my mind that I would hold on to nothing, that I would expect nothing, that henceforth I would live as an animal, a beast of prey, a rover, a plunderer.

8 February 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 5

I am translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English. In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week.

In this installment, Ostwald describes the gambling craze:

An irresistible urge to gamble had taken hold of every segment of society. After the pressure of the war, there was a rash of gaming and dancing. A lot of people needed a way to relieve their overwrought nerves. There was also the ongoing economic squeeze, the secret and subtle inflation sickness. Everybody felt as if the floor was pitching and rolling beneath their feet. Many wanted to lose this sense of uncertainty in gaming, or numb themselves, while others were attracted by the money and the dazzling bustle.   
This was not simply the case in Berlin, but also in Chemnitz, Dresden, Breslau, Hamburg, Essen, Krefeld, and all over Germany. In the spa town of Nauheim the casino had to be closed. For a while at the beginning of 1919, gambling had been permitted throughout the night, since restricting opening hours only encouraged underground gaming dens. If the legitimate casinos closed at midnight, the gambling fiends would simply change locations; everything had been prepared earlier and was waiting in a hidden room nearby, so that only the bank had to be opened. By removing restrictions on gaming hours, the police hoped to put an end to the underground clubs. In fact, the casinos grew at such a rapid pace that by the middle of September they were all shut down. But not much was improved as a result. The registered clubs were soon allowed to reopen for card playing and other games. Only those places accused of rigged gaming were closed, such as the Schlesische Hof in Salzbrunn in July of 1919, and the casino in Bad Harzburg in July of 1921.

7 February 2012

Cheated and Angry

Philip Larkin in a letter to his friend Jim Sutton, quoted in Andrew Motion's Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life (London: Faber & Faber, 1993), p. 133:
What do I believe would comfort me? Not much, as I grow increasingly pessimistic. I believe that the world is composed for the most part of people so unlike me that we think each other mad and wicked. I know I can't save it or it save me, and I doubt whether it can save itself or I save myself. I believe that human beings can do nothing for one another except provide amusement, which is pleasant but does not last. By amusement I include everything from an evening at the cinema to a love affair. I believe when I am old I shall bitterly regret having wasted my life, which I may have done. This is because I shall never attain the absolute -- in other words the continued ecstasy -- because it doesn't exist. Therefore in addition to being afraid of death I shall feel cheated and angry.

6 February 2012

Not Quite So Foolish

Sébastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort, Oeuvres complètes de Chamfort, Vol. I (Paris: Chaumerot Jeune, 1824), p. 405. My own translation from the French:
In seeing or suffering the pain associated with extreme emotions, in love or in friendship, whether it results from the death of someone you love or from accidents in life, one is tempted to believe that dissipation and frivolity are not quite so foolish, and that life is hardly worth more than what regular people make of it.

4 February 2012

An Enormous Power of Enjoyment

Gabrielle Fleury reports on George Gissing's final days, from The Collected Letters of George Gissing: 1901-1903, Vol. 9 (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1990), p. 281:
In one of the dreadful nights of the last week, after dolorous moaning, he said: "Oh, but I must not give way to these feelings, it is unworthy of me, unmanly, and besides unphilosophical. If I am to die, well, it is by law of Nature; I must not rebel against it. And I have to remember that there are some things in my life for which I must be thankful. I have had an enormous power of enjoyment, so that, in spite of all my poverty and miseries, I have enjoyed life more than more fortunate people. And I have done work which, I think, will not be forgotten tomorrow. Then I have known you, my girlie..."
In her recollections (Id., p. 314) Fleury records one of Gissing's frequent sayings:
When something troubles or worries you, only think of the importance it will have in some fifty years hence, and you will feel how futile these things in fact are.

3 February 2012

Happier Alone

Sébastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort, Oeuvres complètes de Chamfort, Vol. I (Paris: Chaumerot Jeune, 1824), p. 396. My own translation from the French:
One is happier alone than amongst others. Does this not stem from the fact that, in solitude, one thinks about things, while in society one is forced to think about people?

2 February 2012

Unutterably Bloody

The second Lord Redesdale's xenophobia, described by his daughter Jessica Mitford and quoted in Virginia Nicholson's Among the Bohemians (New York: Harper Collins, 2002), p. 224:
According to my father, outsiders included not only Huns, Frogs, Americans, blacks and all other foreigners, but also other people's children, the majority of my older sister's acquaintances, almost all young men -- in fact, the whole teeming population of the earth's surface, except for some, though not all, of our relations and a very few tweeded, red-faced country neighbours to whom my father for some reason had taken a liking.
Nicholson goes on to discuss the contemporary distain for travel:
'Abroad' was 'unutterably bloody', a place fit only for perverts and pinkos; if you didn't fall foul of the bad drains you were liable to be shot by anarchists or buggered by dagos. It was a place where people spat in railway carriages, where the food was full of nasty garlic and grease, and where you were lucky if you just got away with flatulence and rancid indigestion.

1 February 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 4

I am in the midst of translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English. In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week.

Today's lesson: Should your country experience hyperinflation, think twice before ordering the roast beef...
When gourmets tucked into pot roasts in the hotels and small restaurants where "everything was on offer", their consciences were not troubled by the fact it all came from the black market. 
Mind you, what they took for roast beef was often a piece of some old cart horse. If they were lucky, it was a race horse. In 1923, when the sale of horse flesh was permitted but there was still a lack of meat, many thoroughbred horses were stolen and sold off to slaughter. Animals that were worth several thousand marks in peace time were sold for just a few marks and delivered to the horse butcher.