Listening to Cassandra

Sandys, Frederick, 1829-1904; Cassandra

(Frederick Sandys, Cassandra; Ulster Museum)

Voting ends today in the Conservative leadership contest, ‘a curious spectator sport’, William Davies wrote recently, ‘(save for the 160,000 electors with Conservative Party membership cards) in which the first contestant to accept reality is the loser.’[1]

Neither candidate had many brushes with reality but it was hardly to be expected that they would. Their more febrile supporters are not interested in that kind of thing. For the rest of us, since the depressing facts about the overwhelming favourite—a proven liar who squandered grotesquely large sums of public money, whose views change in accordance with what his audience wishes to hear and whose only loyalty seems to be to himself—are widely known and rarely disputed, the real point of interest is how he can still command so much support and what are the real motives of those supporting him? As for what comes next – there are, there have been, many incisive and compelling pieces but their only audience, I suspect, has been among those already thinking along similar lines, who ‘follow politics’ and know something of the relevant history. And beyond that? The name ‘Cassandra’ comes to mind.

Cassandra was the daughter of Priam and Hecuba. The god Apollo offered her the gift of prophecy in return for her sexual favour, an arrangement which she agreed to – but she evaded him once he had bestowed it. Apollo supposedly then spat in her mouth, rendering the gift useless, since her predictions would never be believed. So she foresaw the fall of Troy, the fatal role of Paris, the disastrous entry of the wooden horse into the city and more – but nobody listened. Abducted by Ajax, she fell as prize to Agamemnon, bore him twins and, when taken back to Mycenae, was murdered by Clytemnestra – along with Agamemnon.

Cassandra

(Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Cassandra in the BBC series Troy: Fall of a City)

So a good many commentators may have read the runes correctly, diagnosed the sickness correctly and, in all probability, predicted the results correctly – but another god has spat in their mouths and termed them part of ‘Project Fear’.

As for the original Cassandra: there are several versions of her too – but try a taste of Anne Carson’s:

‘Bear me witness:
I know that smell. Evils. Evils long ago.
A chorus of singers broods upon this house,
they never leave,
their tune is bad, they drink cocktails of
human blood and party through the rooms.
You will not get them out.’[2]

I think she may be on to something there. Best listen to Cassandra.

 

Notes

[1] See his ‘Short Cuts’, London Review of Books, 41, 14 (18 July 2019), 9-14.
[2] Aeschylus, Agamemnon, in An Oresteia, translated by Anne Carson (New York: Faber and Faber, 2009), 54.

 

Some like it hot; some do not

Overlooking the Bay 1921 by Juan Gris 1887-1927

(Juan Gris, Overlooking the Bay: Tate)

In Anne Carson’s translation of Agamemnon, the messenger says, ‘I could tell you stories of winter so cold it killed the birds in the air.’ By way of seasonal contrast, I remember reading back in 2012 that birds had been falling from the sky in Iraq, where the temperature had breached 50 degrees Celsius.

It was 50 degrees in Basra yesterday; 42 in New Delhi, 40 in Cairo and in Florence too. Temperatures of 45 are predicted in the South of France and parts of Spain in the next few days.

Yesterday marked exactly eighty years since the death of Ford Madox Ford. Scheduled for tomorrow and Saturday, there is a conference taking place on the Mediterranean coast of southern France, ‘Ford and Toulon: Biography, Culture and Environment in the 1920s and 1930s’, under the auspices of the Université de Toulon and the Ford Madox Ford Society. Ford visited Toulon in 1925 with Stella Bowen, and again the following year. According to the dates and places of composition that he gives in the books, he began A Man Could Stand Up— in Toulon, and finished both A Mirror to France and New York Is Not America there. He socialised with the painter Juan Gris and his wife Josette, and Stella Bowen recalled that their group at the café was often joined by the art critic Georges Duthuit and his wife – Duthuit’s dialogues with Samuel Beckett (drawn from their correspondence) would first appear in 1949. Ford later lived with Janice Biala in the Villa Paul on Cap Brun in the last decade of his life. Further details of the conference are on the Ford Society website:
http://www.fordmadoxfordsociety.org/upcoming-events.html

I won’t be in Toulon – which is probably just as well. Even if the temperature doesn’t reach 45, it will be at least 20 degrees above my comfort level these days: I’ll go a couple of degrees higher if there’s a stiff breeze; maybe a few more if I were in Greece, where the heat seemed to bother me less –­ though it’s 33 degrees in Athens today and, given our aversion to flying, will we ever get back?

Harry

So, deep shade for me – some reading, a little wine, a little conversation (two-way with the Librarian, one-way with the cat). And perhaps some material from that conference might find its way, by and by, into Last Post: A Literary Journal from the Ford Madox Ford Society. . .

 

Kidneys out of mind

AB-rear-7-Feb-1965

(Anthony Burgess at the rear of 7 Eccles Street, 7 February 1965. From The Listener via James Joyce online notes: http://www.jjon.org/joyce-s-environs/no-7-eccles-street )

‘Cut to ECCLES STREET. Number 7, Bloom’s Ithaca, was being demolished to make way for office blocks, but the destroyers were persuaded to hold off for a day while we filmed in what would have been the Blooms’ bedroom. Much speech was slurred by the need to down much whisky in freezing pubs. Some of my monologues were unacceptable in London, They had to be redone as voice over.’[1]

‘Kidneys were in his mind as he moved about the kitchen softly, righting her breakfast things on the humpy tray.’ This is our first sight of Mr Leopold Bloom in his house at 7 Eccles Street, in James Joyce’s Ulysses. I still find ‘Kidneys were in his mind’ funny when I revisit: it was certainly a point of contention among the translators of Joyce’s novel into French and one of the examples that Valery Larbaud sent to Joyce, suggesting that, in the version by Auguste Morel and Stuart Gilbert, ‘The humourous side of the phrase in the text is lost.’[2]

valery larbaud

(Valery Larbaud)

Crossing the bedroom to the bathroom, I hear Melvyn Bragg signing off from his radio programme, ‘In Our Time’, by mentioning that next week they’ll be discussing the evolution of teeth. Damn, really? I think that’s what he said but could have been unduly influenced by the fact that teeth are in my mind again just lately, biting into it, in fact, with increasing force. Yes, I’ve been to the dentist: and have another appointment for Friday. Can I hang on that long? No. I make a phone call and plead my case. The appointment lurches a little closer to me.

Eyes slammed shut while the drill gets into its stride, I pass the time in the dentist’s chair running through the seventy-nine titles Ford Madox Ford published in his lifetime, going backwards on this occasion, in tune with the current national mood. I’ve barely reached A Little Less Than Gods (1928) before I experience a fierce spasm that lifts me a little out of the chair. It happens twice more. ‘Yes’, my dentist explains later, ‘where you were feeling the most sensitivity in the gums on the far side of that tooth, I had to inject anaesthetic directly into the nerve.’

ALLTG

http://www.fordmadoxfordsociety.org/first-editions-gallery.html

In Anne Carson’s compelling ‘The Glass Essay’, the narrator writes of her visit to her father, in company with her mother, in the hospital where he is cared for, having suffered from dementia for several years:

I notice his front teeth are getting black.
I wonder how you clean the teeth of mad people.

He always took good care of his teeth. My mother looks up.
She and I often think two halves of one thought.
Do you remember the gold-plated toothpick

you sent him from Harrod’s the summer you were in London? she asks.
Yes I wonder what happened to it.
Must be in the bathroom somewhere.[3]

With teeth no longer in my mind—nor kidneys, for sure—I can again eat normally, rather than biting down on precisely the same point with every mouthful. Even better, I can once more take liquids into my mouth without gripping the edge of my seat convulsively or tipping my head tipped steeply sideways as though going fast around a sharp corner in a motorcycle sidecar. Water, tea, coffee, yes. And wine. Red wine. Santé.

 
References

[1] You’ve Had Your Time: Being the Second Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess (London: Heinemann, 1990), 100.

[2] James Joyce, Ulysses (1922; London: The Bodley Head, revised edition, 1969), 65; Richard Ellmann, James Joyce, new revised edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 602fn.

[3] Anne Carson, Glass, Irony & God, introduction by Guy Davenport (New York: New Directions, 1995), 26.