The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Thursday, September 15, 2005


While clearing out some old papers, I came across a copy of the New Statesman and Society dated 12 April 1991. It induces vertigo thinking how much personal and global history has taken place since then; in particular, there are some horrible ironies in the comments on Gulf War I, such as: “Propaganda in the west generally took Bush at his word, which was also the word of the British government. It is now becoming increasingly clear to many people who honestly defended the war on the basis of Bush’s word and John Major’s word that their trust was betrayed and that they were misled, even deceived, by those in the media who say it is their job to keep the record straight.” (John Pilger, “Who Killed the Kurds?”)

And this: “Boxed into administrative districts and agencies, often in politically sensitive zones, the problems of these groups [tribal minorities such as the Kurds] in the 1990s will judder many states, even threatening their very existence.” (Akbar Ahmed, “Death of the Noble Savage”.) He was writing about Iraq, but the resonance of it makes me nauseous thinking that the beginning of the fall of Yugoslavia was just a few months down the road.

Graham Greene had died the previous week.

And, weirdly, there is this, in Sean French’s (half of the crime writer Nicci French) Diary on page 8:

“I came across the strangest example in a book over Easter. Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket’, first published in 1837, is about a mutiny after which four sailors are cast adrift in an open boat. At their final extremity they draw lots as to whom shall be killed and eaten. The lot falls on a sailor named Richard Parker.

“In 1884 a yacht called Mignonette, bound for Australia, foundered and the four crew members escaped in an open boat, but with only one can of food and no water. To survive, they drew lots, then killed and ate the 17-year-old cabin boy, Richard Parker. Of all the coincidences that have been used by Arthur Koestler and his acolytes as evidence that there is some unifying force in the universe, this is the one that gives me a real shudder.

“The book in which I read of the case gave me a number of these. It is by legal historian A W Brian and has the wonderful title, Cannibalism and the Common Law (it was published in the mid-1980s by Penguin) […] as Simpson demonstrates in grisly detail, sailors quickly turned to human flesh and blood, on which it is also possible to survive for long periods. And, until the Richard Parker case, the law played no part in preventing them.”

You may recall that the Bengal tiger cast adrift with the boy in Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi is called…Richard Parker.

* * *

On the subject of Koestler’s unifying force, I reject it. I’m increasingly thinking that I’m an existentialist, without being hugely sure of what one is. The little I’ve read about it, I agree with. One of the interesting things about it is how it includes the notion of the absurd - not only is the universe meaningless, it’s ridiculous. Which I didn’t quite get, until I thought of the line from Macbeth:

“It is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.”

Not only is the tale meaningless, it’s told by an idiot. That Shakespeare. There really is nobody he can’t lick.


At 16 September 2005 at 15:14 , Blogger Yvonne said...

If the unifying force posited by Koestler was responsible for this sort of thing, I'd rather it didn't exist.

I'm happy to believe in an underlying-energy-type-thing (e.g. the Tao) but not that these connections actually mean anything. You get weird patterns like this thrown up by the warp and weft of events, but I don't think they tell us much about the nature of the universe. It's difficult to express this logically, it's just a gut feeling.

At 24 September 2005 at 00:21 , Blogger Joe said...

Truly a case of plus ca change, plus la meme chose... Listening to Bill Hicks' rants about the Gulf War Distraction again it is eerie just how well it fits the sequel events.


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