Archive for the ‘The Independent’ Category
Imagine for a moment that, for whatever reason, you find yourself to be in possession of a case of monogrammed surgical instruments that in 1943-44 had been used by SS Maj Anton Burger on the inmates of the notorious Theresienstadt concentration camp. Lined with purple velour, the case contains a hacksaw, large knives, some scalpels, surgical scissors, clamps and straps, and some strange instruments that look like long-handled forks. Burger – who, it seems, had no medical training – used them on countless victims, mostly Jewish. What do you do with such an object?
To be honest, I’m not sure of the answer. There would certainly be a strong argument to destroy every last trace of these ghastly things, perhaps on the site of Theresienstadt itself; the case for preserving them in a museum, as part of a Holocaust exhibition, would probably be more compelling. Either way, it should be pretty clear what you do not do with it. You do not even consider putting it up for auction at the Villa Hall Auction House in Cornwall on Saturday 11th February, with a guide price of £2000-£4000. But that is exactly what is happening.
Nine decades ago, on February 2 1922, Ulysses was born. It arrived in a handsome turquoise cover, its face embossed in gold. (At least, it did in Paris. In the UK it remained banned for a further fourteen years, on account of a masturbation scene.)
Over the years, this iconic Modernist text has been written about and written about. But one of its most important lines is not often enough discussed. It occurs in Episode 3, Proteus: “remember your epiphanies on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died to all the great libraries of the world.”
By the time he scrawled those words, James Joyce had long been working to claim the term “epiphany” on behalf of secular literature. Hitherto, the word had an ancient, and predominantly religious, history. It has its genesis in ancient Greece (ἐpιfάνeιa), where it was used beautifully to refer to the first glimmer of dawn, the first sight of the enemy in battle, or the first vision of a god. It became Judaised in 2 Maccabees, when it was used to describe the God of Israel, and was Christianised in 2 Timothy, where it mainly referred to the Second Coming; thereafter it came to describe the personal realisation that Christ was the Son of God. In AD 361, the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus used the word for the first time to refer to a Christian feast (epiphanion). In the centuries that followed it was mainly used in connection to a variety of Christian festivals, which were celebrated differently, and at different times, by the different Churches.
Joyce, however – an atheist with profoundly Catholic roots (which he described as “black magic”) – felt that the term could more usefully be applied in a humanist context. Each of his Dubliners stories is structured around a central epiphany. Moreover, his less widely read autobiographical novel, Stephen Hero, contains an explicit exposition. Epiphany, Joyce writes, means “a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself.” It is for the “man of letters” to “record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.”
(Several years prior to writing this passage, Joyce himself had begun to create a group of seventy-one fleeting, disembodied epiphanies, ranging in content from the supoernatural to the mundane. Forty of these survive in manuscript form, and are collected at the American Universities of Cornell and Buffalo; they were reprinted in the early nineties by Faber.)
Bedales School – a progressive, co-educational public school in the heart of Hampshire – is well-known for its famous alumni. Lily Allen, Sophie Dahl and Minnie Driver were all educated there, and celebrity parents include Mick Jagger, Jude Law, Jeremy Paxman and Boris Johnson.
Such an institution, and such a clientele, will inevitably attract media attention. It is no surprise, therefore, that the school frequently has to endure the ignominy of having its dirty laundry made public. When six students were thrown out for drugs offences last year, the story made the national headlines; when two more were expelled last summer for “having sex in a sandpit,” it caused even more of a furore.
The novelist Amanda Craig – who herself went to Bedales forty years ago – was among the most vociferous critics of her former school. Writing in the Daily Mail, she recounted how she was sexually assaulted by a gang of boys while walking back from an evening assembly. From then on, she writes, she was “relentlessly bullied,” and became “tense, white-faced and desperately lonely.”
Last week, as Bedales’ writer-in-residence, I had the opportunity to assess it from the inside. I spent five days leading workshops, speaking to the literary societies, meeting children of all ages for one-to-one tutorials, lecturing and advising staff. And although I concede that my time there was limited, what I saw had little in common with the Bedales of Amanda Craig four decades ago. Continue reading on the Independent website