Tuesday, November 9, 2004

The diaries of Arnon Grunberg (4)

In the night of 9 to 10 November 1938 throughout Germany Jewish synagogues and shops were rampaged and burnt down by German mobs. My grandparents did not live in Germany themselves but they had several relatives, one of whom was killed, after being brutally beaten and tramped by members of the SA, the military arm of Hitler’s party. Of course, I was too young to have experienced Kristallnacht as this night of barbarism was named, but every Jewish child was immersed with the fear that was handed down from generation to generation. I therefore have very vivid memories of Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass.

I have memories of a Jewish school being set aflame by seventeen and eighteen year old boys who tore the old Talmud teacher by his beard out of the building, before breaking the man’s back by repetitive and relentless kicking, while the elder comrades of the boys and SA Gruppenfuehrer stood aside laughing and inciting by his laughing the brown vested vandals and murderers to be. A fifth boy painted a white Star of David on the walls, before they disappeared in the night, leaving a dead man and disgrace.

This fear was vivid but it was a child’s fear nevertheless. This fear was no larger than the fear of Santa Claus that I inherited from my playmates in the street. In Amsterdam Santa Claus has Moorish assistants called Zwarte Piet who would put you in their jute bags to take you away to Spain if you have behaved badly during the year, and this legend aroused such fear of consciousness in me, that Zwarte Piet seemed to me endlessly more evil than the Nazi’s even though Zwarte Piet was a racist legend of a white-Christian society.

I later realized that as a Jewish boy I had much more in common with Zwarte Piet than I could imagine as a child. Today, I realize that the Moorish assistants of Santa Claus in Europe are one of the most evil and fascist inventions of European history. Zwarte Piet is the only icon of Nazi ideology that is tolerable in modern schools in Amsterdam, and little children are taught from very early on, to fear the evil that the black Moor represents. It is thanks to the good white Saint Nicolas who submitted the evil black Moor that children are rewarded for their faithfulness to the Church of Christ.

“Schools are burning in Uden, pig heads and Molotov cocktails are thrown at mosques all around the Netherlands. They are collective targets of an ethnic hatred that has been unconsciously premeditated by loosely related websites preaching violence covered by the freedom in which name they speak, individual politicians stirring up the fear on which they thrive, and popular media demonizing Muslims for years. Racist opportunism and extreme right extremists waited for the right wave of the moment that was bound to come. Now they all got their ride, and like a wave their frustrated hatred hit the dikes of tolerance and left governments that for years protected Dutch Muslims from the coup of civic small-mindedness that is so typical of the Netherlands.
The tidal wave of hatred splattered years of bred hatred and disgust, and is set loose by an invisible hand under which cover all act anonymously and remain innocent in its absent working. All who warmed themselves in this heat now are suddenly enlightened by the dark coldness that is exposed and from which they could not be liberated until it broke loose. They are the lost sheep returning to the flock bitten by the fearsome enemy of evil within oneself.”

Thursday, November 4, 2004

The diaries of Arnon Grunberg (3)

As a writer you think of the day after your death more often than the average person. This is a professional deviation that all writers share, and it could probably even be claimed that if you often think of the day after your death, that you must have a talent to write. So I write. We man, we all, but writers especially, want to leave an eternal memory of ourselves to the world. Don’t we all see in our fantasy that sobbing circle of friends and family, as our beloved ones whisper their last words ‘we will never forget you.’ Finally, our consciousness slides into a happy oblivian.

Writers are different from philosophers who think more of death in abstract terms. But a writer thinks only of his own death. Writers turn up their noses for philosophers for this reason alone, because they will never satisfy the deeper objectives of their desires. A philosopher denies the very motives in him self that he acknowledges to be the driving force behind the desires of others. No, we writers envy another class of professionals, a writer really envies movie directors.

A movie is the only medium of expression that supersedes the power of writing, the medium of thought. Cinema transcendents writing because it directly appeals to the viewer not only in words, but in sound and vision. A movie is a total work of perception, in which the artist can express himself completely and convey the moment absolutely onto the viewer. Compared to cinema, literature is the incomplete world of thinkers, and its the incompleteness that attracts many people who feel comforted by the reenactment of this imperfection of thought. But cinema is a life’s Gesamtkunstwerk.

One of my favorite movies has long been ‘A Day at the Beach’ by Theo Van Gogh, after the novel by Dutch author Heere Heeresma, Roman Polanski had earlier rewritten it already into a scenario in 1970. The 1984 movie is about an alcoholic, divorced father who takes his handicapped daughter for a day at the beach. But the father gets drunk in a bar close by and ultimately looses sight of his daughter at the beach. The father blows this rare moment of fulfilment on alcohol and looses the most precious part of his life by his addiction to failure. This fate of decay is the nucleus of the movie’s success.

The day after a writer’s death is the most important day of his life. It is the moment of the unraveling of a life’s plot, where the threads of his actions end and begin, this moment is his alpha and omega. The day after a writer’s death the meaning of his life is revealed to his readers. The exact scenario of this day is therefore subject of a writer’s reoccurring dreams. A writer’s doubt is ruled by questions like: do all the elements fall in place, are the right protagonists present, is the moment in the day right, are none of the details missing, does the light fall right on my face when I sigh my last breath and my eyelids close slowly to cover the light in my eyes.

A good death makes all the difference in the memory a writer leaves to his readers. It can be the difference between the branding mark of tragedy and sinking away into a void of romance novellists. The memory of the people is not a remorseful soul but a grinding mechanism, everything has to be right in order to escape it. Einstein knew that without the manipulating forge of the hand of his own genius he would not stand the test of time as the inventor of the theory of relativism that shook the perception of man. Nor did Freud leave it to the invisible hands of historiographers to ensure the remembrance of his discovery of unconcsciousness.

“Theo wrote weekly columns for Metro, a free daily newspaper in the Netherlands. His columns were offensive to most who were attacked by his sharp and cynical pen, but this was his mark, and those not a target loved reading them. He had made a name off of scandal and law suits, and people had grown to adore the attack of untouchable persons in the establishment. His latest series were written to provoke the Islamic immigrants. But immigrants didn’t understand the sharp attacks on their faith and their proud was deeply offended.
‘To offend is the test of freedom,’ said Theo. ‘Your freedom ends where mine begins and freedom stands on the ground of mutual respect,’ said Muhamed. So Theo offended Muhamed and Muhamed’s freedom was tested.
Theo was slaughtered like a pig in front of cafe The Dutchman. Muhamed caught up with Theo, both driving their bikes in front of East Park. Muhamed shot several times, Theo said, don’t do it, don’t do it. Muhamed did.”