Sunday, May 17, 2015

The threat within ourselves

Inside the front cover of a paper back copy of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice –faded yellow with its spine held together by sticky tape – someone has scratched out the first initial of my older sister’s name and changed it to a younger sister’s initial.  The book was presumably a hand-me-down for school.



Underneath my sister’s name, my father has written the words: GEKKEN EN DWAZEN SCHRYVEN HUN NAMEN OP DEUREN EN GLAZEN, which translates into ‘People who are silly and mad write their names on doors and windows’.

My sister gave me the book recently.  She’s going through a phase where she wants to rid herself of all negative energy and the words on the front cover of this book exude just that, at least they do for her. 

For me these words are intriguing and given I do not have many examples of my father’s handwriting, they’re a treasure.  However much I might disagree with the sentiment they express. 

When I was little I wondered what these words could mean.  How could it be such a stupid thing to write your name down on the front of your books?  Or maybe my father was having a go at those who write their names on trees and walls and fences, graffiti artists and the like. 

They do more than inscribe their names, but certainly the mark or tag of a graffiti artist seems to be an important part of their work.

 I still write my name in the front of my books, mostly as a territorial thing.  I claim this book as my own.  Not that it helps the book to stay in my possession. I am an inveterate book lender and even though I once tried to keep a list of all books borrowed out to others so that I might remind the borrowers in the fullness of time they have my book, I forget to fill in the list.  It’s incomplete and then I forget where I put it. 

So my books with my silly name in the front cover are scattered all over in other people’s libraries. 

As long as they’re loved, I say. 

I made my annual pilgrimage to the Freud conference yesterday.  The two main speakers from Germany spoke about fundamentalism, fanaticism and religion to a large audience. 

The topic was daunting, not least because during the introductions the conference organiser told us that ‘for reasons of security for this particular conference’ they would lock the doors during sessions and a body guard would protect the premises at all times. 

She told us this in case we decided to go outside during the breaks.  She told us this in order to remind us that should we go outside during one of the breaks we should return at least ten minutes before the proceedings resume so that we are not locked out.

Moreover, the conference organiser told us to keep our nametag on at all times. 
‘If the guard sees you without your nametag, you will be escorted from the building’.
 
I call this overkill.
 
Some said it was necessary.  Maybe it was.  A duty of care, one person told me during the break.  Maybe again it was, but it also created an aura of the enemy, the ‘other’, the one lurking outside who might at any moment enter with a machine gun or hand grenade to attack us in our seats or to take us hostage. 

And so we experienced the effects of terrorism first hand, albeit at a distance.  After all, terrorism is designed to terrify.

This contrasts with other injunctions from government spokespeople and the like who say, go about your business as usual and don’t be afraid.  Be alert, but unafraid.

The conference made me more afraid than I might otherwise have been but even though the threat of terrorism is real and there are good reasons for all of us to pay attention, the greatest fear I reckon lies in ourselves. 

Our own tendencies to look at life in terms of the black and the white, insiders and outsiders, clashes of identity.

During the breaks I managed to speak to many people, some old acquaintances, others new, but always I had the sense – as I so often have at conferences – that we are ships who pass in the night. 

Some of these people I saw last year at the Freud conference and I will see them again in a year at the next Freud conference. 

Conferences like this one that happen every year have the quality of Christmas family get togethers. 

Not everyone in the family comes, but there are enough of us who get together, along with a few extras, occasional friends or extended family members, to create a strange tension. 

It reminds me of the energy my sister talks about from the front cover of her book. 

The pride and prejudice of it all. 

I suspect my father’s words might reflect his own difficulties in acknowledging his identity.  He was proud of his name, the same name as that of his father, his father’s father, his father’s father’s father going back through the centuries. 

But he could not wear his name with the confidence he might have liked, given his decimation through war and family trauma, and so he could not tolerate the idea that his children should wear their own names with pride.  

Especially not his daughters.




  

5 comments:

Glenn Ingersoll said...

My mother wanted me to write my name in my books but I resisted because I hated to mar the nice clean book. Maybe there was some element of resistance to the name itself. I don't know. I never grew to be one who marked up books, even in college.

Andrew said...

Having a guard and high security disturbs me. I see guards outside Jewish institutions and while I have sympathy with the reasons, it disturbs me that it is felt to be necessary. I won't even start on private security at buildings and nightclubs.

Jim Murdoch said...

I suppose at some time I must’ve written my name in a book. When I was a kid. None of the books I currently own have my name in them. An address book has. My name and several address crossed out but not this address. I haven’t contacted any of the people in the book since I moved here. Nor when I was in my last flat. I’m not sure about the one before that. Probably not many. I do underline books. Some books. When I was young my dad taught us a method of underlining in three colours, blue, red and green in that order. He’d picked up the method from a professor—in my mind it was a professor—who’d said that a text hadn’t been studied properly unless it had been underlined in four colours—he added black to the mix—but Dad found that three colours sufficed and I concur; few paragraphs have more than three main points and where they do you just cycle the colours. I never took to highlighters. They weren’t neat enough. I was never one for marginalia either. I don’t think I’ve added comments to any book I own although I do own books where their previous owners have had their way with them.

When I gift copies of my books to people I sign them because it’s expected but I’d rather not. In that respect I’m glad fame’s avoided me. I’d hate to do a book signing. I write with a ruler as you’ve probably guessed. Someone once asked me if I’d been in the army. Apparently it’s a thing there. So they said. First I’d heard of it. I began doing it because I’d noticed my handwriting was disintegrating—this would be in the early eighties—and so that was when I finally developed my own distinct style. Before that I wrote like my dad. As a kid he’s written down the alphabet for me and I copied it. My mother’s handwriting was big and a bit childish; it suited her. Dad’s was smaller and neater. At the same time as I introduced the ruler I also began buying fountain pens and soon began practicing with italic nibs and incorporated some of actions into my regular handwriting which slowed me down a little and made me neater which is what I’d been aiming for. Now, of course, like the rest of us I never write anything of any length by hand. Even poems I work out in Word and why not as I always have a computer close to hand.

I don’t believe energy is good or bad. Its expenditure can have good or bad effects but it’s like a hammer: a hammer can tap tacks into a carpet or beat a guy’s head in. In neither scenario is the hammer good or bad. I have a sentimental attachment to certain books but that emanates from me; the book is merely an aide-mémoire and I need as many of these as I can amass these days. So I don’t believe in bad juju or anything of that ilk. Ridding oneself of reminders of an unhappy past does make sense though.

I avoid lending books to people quite simply because they never (virtually never) return them and I resent them for it. I’d said before that I’m not a materialist and I’m not but being in a room surrounded by books brings me pleasure. Some people get that from their gardens. Not me. Gardens are hard work. Bookshelves only trouble me to dust them occasionally. Very occasionally. I can’t imagine sitting in a room surrounded by backup drives and feeling anything remotely like how I feel in my office even though I spend very little time in there nowadays. It’s like a security blanket. It’s there whenever needed.

I don’t go to conferences any more. Home is safe. Outside not so much. I was watching the news this morning and apparently IS has been smuggling their supporters onto ships alongside genuine refugees fleeing Syria. Everything gets tainted. Who would want to blow up a hall full of Australian psychologists? Not sure where Islamic terrorists stand on Freud. Can’t imagine they teach him in their schools.

PhilipH said...

My wife and I lived in the east wing of Mellerstain House for five or six years from late 1995. This beautiful Robert Adam house is the home of the Earl of Haddington and his family, who live in the west wing.

The main house is open to the public during the summer and we used to be on duty to help the visitors as they toured the house.

The library is one of the most impressive and beautiful of all the rooms and contains a large number of books collected by the first owner during the 18th century. Very fine leather-bound books which bears the owner's ex libris mark on each frontispiece or the inside cover.

These books require careful handling when being cared for by experienced librarians-cum-preservationist and is a very lengthy procedure. Happens only now and then.

These books are seldom read but they are, sometimes, made available to scholars and others who need to do detailed research into a topic that one or more of these books cover.

This collection of old books is an asset and a liability at the same time. One would NEVER write anything on any part of each book, nor underline or 'dog-ear' a page. I would NOT want to own them and if I DID I'd flog 'em straight away! OK, I'm a schmuck but no worries.

Anthony Duce said...

I’ve never thought of books, even the many I have bought, as mine. I know I will give them away for others to read and pass on.. even the books I hold dear and have forgotten are still on my shelves, I see as mostly the vehicles holding some precious or not so precious story inside, rather than being the story themselves.
Knowing from your previous posts the nature of the relationship between daughter and father, it is easy to understand the pride and prejudice of it all☺