Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lecture 13

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Wk 7 - Mon (15/9), 3-4 pm lecture: HSB1

Graham Greene: The Comedians (1966) -

The Bipolar Explorer

Here are some notes from Sean Sturm's guest lecture on Graham Greene:

Doubling in Greeneland:

  1. Greene as novelist and Greene as secret agent
  2. Greene’s division of his oeuvre into “entertainments” (thrillers) and “novels”
  3. Greene as imperialist and Greene as deracinated nomad
  4. Greene as pragmatist and as existentialist Catholic
  5. Greene as man in control [the Cs. or ego/Ich] and cruel demiurge; Greene as man at the prey of dark forces, internal and external [the Ucs. or Id/Es and a world of angst] . . .

Fritz Lang (dir.), The Ministry of Fear (USA: Paramount, 1944):

This is the Ministry of Fear, a network of terror that lays bare the secret thoughts in every man’s mind, using strange, hypnotic torture, relentless, cunning, tangling their quarry in a web of horror until he reaches the brink of madness . . .

“Who speaks? Who said that? Who told you that? [Scream] . . .”

There is no escape from the Ministry of Fear—where menace lurks behind every shadow, where the blind man sees and strikes in the night . . .

Graham Greene, Ways of Escape (Simon and Schuster, 1980):

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human condition. . . .

Sigmund Freud, “Creative Writers and Daydreaming [Der Dichter und das Phantasieren]” (1908):

  1. Writers are egoists; the hero = the writer’s self, thus literature is autobiographical. In fact,
  2. writers are borderline neurotics: imaginative activity provides them with the release that prevents them from becoming fully-fledged neurotics—creativity is thus a substitute for neurotic symptoms, pathologies, etc.
  3. Writing is a form of confession, then, akin to the neurotic’s confession to his or her analyst, or rather,
  4. literature is therapy, both for the writer and for the reader, where we can vicariously live out our own wishes and work out our own problems, etc.
  5. And it’s structured like dreams: the mechanisms operative in dreams, that is, condensation, displacement, composite images, spatial logic, lack of systematic connections, lack of causality, amongst others, are also operative in literature.

Greene on travel in The Lawless Roads (1939):

There is so much weariness and disappointment in travel that people have to open up — in railway trains, over a fire, on the decks of steamers, and in the palm courts of hotels on a rainy day. They have to pass the time somehow, and they can pass it only with themselves. Like the characters in Chekhov they have no reserves — you learn the most intimate secrets. You get an impression of a world peopled by eccentrics, of odd professions, almost incredible stupidities, and, to balance them, amazing endurances.

Graham Greene on The Comedians:

My first two visits to Haiti in the fifties had been happy enough. That was the time of President Magloire, there was extreme poverty, but there were many tourists and some of the money they brought was allowed to trickle down the social scale. . . . I met Haitian poets and painters and novelists, and one man I like above all who was the model for Doctor Magiot in The Comedians, a novel I never dreamed then that I would come to write. He was a doctor and a philosopher — but not a Communist. For a time he had been Minister of Health, but he found his hands too tied, so he resigned (something which it would have been very dangerous to do under Doctor Duvalier). . . . He was a very big man and very black, of great dignity and with an old-world courtesy. He was to die in exile—more fortunately than Doctor Magiot? Who can tell? It was during that period I attended the Voodoo ceremony I describe in the novel. . . .

In my hotel, the Oloffson (I call the Trianon in The Comedians), there were three guests besides myself—the Italian manager of the casino and an old American artist and his wife — a gentle couple whom I cannot deny bore some resemblance to Mr. and Mrs. Smith of the novel. He wanted to teach the use of the silk screen to Haitian artists, so that they could earn a better living by selling reproductions of their paintings in the States…One night the three of us braved the dark to visit the brothel I have described as Mere Catherine’s. There were no customers except a couple of Tontons Macoute. “Mr. Smith” began to draw the girls who had been dancing together decorously and decoratively, and the Tontons glared through their dark glasses at this strange spectacle of a fearless happiness and an innocence they couldn’t understand. . . .

The Comedians, I am glad to say, touched him [Papa Doc Duvalier] on the raw. He attacked it personally in an interview he gave in Le Matin, the paper he owned in Port-au-Prince — the only review I have ever received from a Chief of State. “Le livre n’est pas bien ecrit. Comme l’oeuvre d’un ecrivain et d’un journaliste, le livre n’a aucune valeur.”

[F]or five long years after my visit his Ministry of Foreign Affairs published an elaborate and elegant brochure, illustrated on glossy paper, dealing with my case. A lot of research had gone into its preparation, with many quotations drawn from the introductions I had written for a French edition of my books. Printed in French and English and entitled Graham Greene Demasque Finally Exposed, it included a rather biased sketch of my career. This expensive work was distributed to the Press through the Haitian embassies in Europe, but distribution cased abruptly when the President found the result was not the one he desired. “A liar, a cretin, a stool-pigeon . . . unbalanced, sadistic, perverted . . . a perfect ignoramus . . . lying to his heart’s content . . . the shame of proud and noble England . . . a spy . . . a drug addict . . . a torturer." (The last epithet has always a little puzzled me.)

I am proud to have had Haitian friends who fought courageously in the mountains against Doctor Duvalier, but a writer is not so powerless as he usually feels, and a pen, as well as a silver bullet, can draw blood.

(from Ways of Escape, 228-230, 232).

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