My real-time review continued and consolidated from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/capeks-newts-corengate-at-the-dark-tower/. [All my other real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/]
WAR WITH THE NEWTS – (1936) by Karel Capek
Catbird Press – translation by Ewald Osers
The actual reading of this book is at the behest of Quentin S Crisp. Not that I had to read it. But I was strirred to do so by his intriguing reports of it.
I. 1 – 3
A cross between Alan Coren, Stephen Leacock, Rhys Hughes, Jonathan Swift. A blend that makes me believe in the creaturification of words. Tails lumping between the lines.
“And God has no shingle at all, on earth or in heaven.”
Interesting use of uppercases and uppercuts. (15 Jan 11)
“Those poor little buggers so multi-pigged themselves in Devil Bay – “
Amazing stuff. Narrative and disbelief of narrative by others within the same narrative, plus memory loss – concerning giant walking lizards that the locals see as Devils, the pearls that our Jules-Vernian captain is teaching them (he says) to harvest. Multi-plied, not -pigged. (16 Jan 11)
I. 5: Captain J. van Toch’s Trained Lizards
“Back home, man, we have devil priests who are downright wizards.”
Gossiping of Capek Toch – and the transportation of his lizards and their human-likeness or king-kongish novelty – “ts ts ts ts ts” – they go – or do they speak like we do – in tongues? Like Eliot’s cats? Stealing our own pearls of wisdom? I am getting a feeling for this sf-topian fiction, a feeling that it is true, because it makes so much sense in the context around me. My birthday tomorrow. (17.1.11)
6. The Yacht In The Lagoon (Part One)
This book is really taking off nyfely. A gradually benuding Botticelli nymph nommed Sweetiepie Li watched by male admirer – ABEing, after original considerations of cannibal talk & kingkongish ‘gorilla’ nature with their fay wray – she meets the lounging lizards – doing obeisances before her and giving some sort of communion by pearl-fishing… Nyfe in the Water. Ts ts ts. Who would have read this book without some sort of pushing…. (18 Jan 11)
7. The Yacht In The Lagoon (Continued)
This lagoonery seems to be a panoply-within-panoply of the emerging lizards (now nown as newts) – as if the book itself is giving gradual birth to them via its own literary-real process of evolution… and it appears I was spot on at least with the kingkong ethos and faywray … and the photostatoo — of a giant lizard hugging a woman within the comments below — that I used for the cover of a book called Cern Zoo in 2009… I am protoplasmically entranced by WWTN. (19 Jan 11)
8 Andrias Scheuchzeri – 9 Andrew Scheuchzer
Scientific context and technical names for our new newzardy friends emerging from the primeval waters of a rare fiction-reality and London Zoo where they’re human-language-talking freely about their new readers who have come to them as a result of my review. Or rather Quentin’s suggestion that I and others read about them. Thanks, Quentin. It is so much like the ethos of ’Cern Zoo’, I can’t quite believe it. Not that you knew that, really, I suppose. It’s like serendipity has emerged from a ’one in an eternity of trillions chance’ conflux of dream and reality.
“As can be seen, fame demoralises even newts.” (20 Jan 11)
10: The Fair at Nové Strašecí
” ‘How much is six times seven?’ / ‘Forty-tw0,’ quacked the newt with an effort.”
A hilarious but equally sad freakshow type scene – with both Capektain protagonist and newt shrunk to tin-bath or book’s own size. (21 Jan 11)
11 – 12 – Of Men-Lizards; The Salamander Syndicate
“(You talk as if this is a novel.)”
Indeed, I wonder if this is a novel at all but rather a specialist literary exercise never seen before (except possibly in Lovecraft), plus piecing together clues and documents – team-building by means of suppositions and Minutes of a business meeting trying to value the share price of global geomantic upheaval or the tangible creation of the very SFtopia we are reading into existence via our imaginative-ontology-teleology or simple ultimation of unneutered fiction neutered by truth (or vice versa?).
I still have the Appendix: The Sex Life of the Newts to read and review, but otherwise we have reached the end of this book’s first section (entitled Andrias Scheuchzeri) (22 Jan 11)
Appendix to ‘Book One’: The Sex Life of the Newts
“…the important concept of the sexual milieu, which represents a separate intermediate stage between parthenogenesis and sexual reproduction.”
We must remember, I suppose (although I yet fail to see how, in the light of the Intentional Fallacy, it could ever be relevant to a textual appraisal of the book and its pure imaginative resonance), that WWTN was published in Czech in the period leading up to the 2ndWorldWar. Meanwhile, this section talks of the sexual patterns or mating dances, erotic, religious, physical, spermatic, of a collective newtork. The Collectivity of Andrias Scheuchzeri -Andrew Scheuchzer as a single character in this book rather than a breed of giant lizards or salamanders or newts. The book’s Gunslinger with the bullets built in. Entailing parthenogenetically the distaff- as well as spear-carrier.
[NB: The first ‘Nemonymous’ in 2001 was printed with the subtitle: A Journal of Parthenogenetic Fiction and Late-Labelling – later giving birth to lizardy CERN ZOO as its 9th edition.]
“…the Great Copulator…” (23 Jan 11)
II. Up The Ladder of Civilization
This section with much data (some in very small print) may take me a while to study and absorb. So all readers of this real-time review need to be patient. Fundamentally, it appears that Mr Povondra, seemingly exhibiting today’s fashionable form of male aspergers, is collecting all the News of Newts, i.e. cuttings and other data, with the condescendingly indulgent permission of his mother, who recognises that men should have their boyish ‘nutcase’ obsessions. Apparently, too, Mr P is also doing this for his own posterity or legacy as the doorman who allowed Capektain Vantoch in to see Mr Bondy and hence ignited the world’s (currently) 70 million Newts and its consequent geomantic transfiguration (akin to an erstwhile benign form of global warming?)… (24 Jan 11)
“…in consequence the pace of history was accelerating quite extraordinarily…”
“”Cf. the following highly interesting cutting, unfortunately in an unknown language and therefore untranslatable: ‘Saht na kchi te / Salaam Ander bwtat / Shat gwan t’lap ne Salaam Ander bwtati og t’cheni bechri ne Simbwana m’bengwe ogandi sumkh na moimoi opwana Salaam Ander sri m’oana gwen’s. Og di bwtatna Salaam Ander kchri p’we ogandi p’we o’gwandi te ur maswali sukh? Na ne ur lingo t’Islami kcher oganda Salaam Andrias sahti. Bend op’tonga kchri Simbwana medh, salaam!’ ” (25 Jan 11)
“In reality the salamander market looks quite different. In that marble building of the S-Trade in Singapore you will not find a single Newt but only busy smartly dressed clerks in white suits, accepting orders by telephone.”
[Please compare my own story of the Lovecraftian Monsters Financial Market entitled MELTDOWN (first published in The Starry Wisdom – Creation Books 1994) – text HERE !! (26 Jan 11)]
“Newt-shell racing is now the vogue in America […] In a light, prettily decorated shell, skimming over the sea’s surface, stand the girl racers in the scantiest possible and most charming swimming attire, holding the silken reins of their salamandric three-in-hand, competing for the title Venus,” (26 Jan 11 – five hours later)
Amid some of these cuttings, there is a striking description of the Newt trade, their “Newt soup” like noodles: of tureen transport, their burrowing, their riddling, their intrinsic promissory notes of existence outside of fiction, I attest. Their state as “macaroni“. (27 Jan 11)
The cuttings and extracts continue in extended pointilliste detail-obsessions. I am sure there is nothing quite like this anywhere else in literature. There is a brief speculation in my reading today upon Newts as “Ni**ers” (my google-proof asterisks) and such racial human matters. This is possibly a consideration with which I cannot truly empathise from 2011 UK to 1936 Czech-land. But, so far, this speculation is not only brief but seems merely completist rather than fundamental.
“…and the United States had begun to construct the first aircraft island on the 37th meridian (two storeys, with a gigantic hotel, a sports stadium, a Fun Park and a cinema seating five thousand).”
“…it is a matter of some interest that a Newt whose tongue we removed forgot how to talk and had to be taught afresh”… i.e when the tongue grew back.
“We were sorry to lose our Hans but he had lost his sight in the course of my trepanation experiments. His meat was dark and spongy but there were no unpleasant aftertaste effects.” (28 Jan 11)
“For details see the book: Mme Louise Zimmermann: sa vie, ses idées, son oeuvre (Alcan). We quote from the reminiscences of a devoted Newt who was one of her first pupils: / ‘She would recite to us Lafontaine’s fables, sitting by our simple but clean and comfortable tank; although she suffered from the damp she disregarded her own discomfort: so dedicated she was to her educational task. She used to call us “mes petits Chinois” because, like the Chinese, we were unable to pronounce the consonant r. After a while, she got so used to it that she herself pronounced her name Mme Zimmelmann.'” (29 Jan 11)
For me, an inexplicable footnote: “In Germany, in particular, all vivisection was strictly prohibited – though only to Jewish researchers.”
“…an international League for the Protection of Salamanders was founded under the patronage of the Duchess of Huddersfield.” One of her suggestions was that, for the sake of the protection of women, the women themselves should make skirts for the Newts… (30 Jan 11)
I have now ploughed enjoyably through the cuttings and gathered information and tiny print footnotes till the end of this section’s second chapter. I could have continued quoting passages evidencing the serious economic, political, sexual, religious concerns that surrounded or constituted the Newt Age: the Great Salamander, the pornographic ‘Sexual Milieu’, the heresies, the this, the that, which altogether are cleverly pieced into a gestalt without me for once forcing the things together. A Golden Age of the Newt or the Newt Problem in the past of our world, yet we’ve completely forgotten all about it – because it was not Golden or Problematic, but simply the indulged dreams of a Robinson Crusoe on his island of self? I know what I believe, though. I am, at last, the chosen reader of this book. Every book has one. And every reader thinks he or she is that one.
I can’t resist one further quote from this long section: “…but Maitre Pierrot declared that what was at stake was not a natural possibility or impossibility but a legal principle, and that he himself was willing to take for his wife a female Newt to demonstrate that the reform of matrimonial law he advocated should not just remain on paper.”
Very telling, that last bit, for this book and its reader. (30 Jan 11 – another 3 hours later)
MR POVONDRA READS THE PAPER AGAIN
“Somebody’s got to be neutral…”
With history’s war (or global trepanation?) in view, Mr P watches his mother darn a Ceylon-shaped sock-hole upon a wooden mushroom – and wonders whether, after all, as that doorman, he should have been quite so generous whom he let through it. And I now can glance ahead for the first time (with horror) at the title of the book’s next section… (30 Jan 11 – another 30 minutes later)
III. War With The Newts
1. The Massacre on the Cocos Islands
The first skirmish several years before vaguely reminding me of the Falklands Islands conflict … but… a gap of a few years until…
2. The Clash in Normandy
And please don’t forget, when you read this chapter, that this book was written in 1936. (30 Jan 11 – another 4 hours later)
3. The Incident In The Channel
“…the surface muddied with yellow slime and covered with dead fish and mangled Newts.”
One lives through the prose almost a 24/7 TV rolling and breaking newts. And confused as in all wars or troubles (cf Egypt today) as to who is fighting whom and for what (and indeed whether newts are fighting newts). Not so much a war with newts but a war with news. (31 Jan 11)
4. Der Nordmolch
“It showed the great doctor with a fat book in his hand; by his feet, sitting erect, was a noble Nordic Newt, gazing into the distance, towards the infinite coasts of the world ocean.”
Earth-shifting fiction. It is realler than in the history books I was given to read as a child. This is not so much a premonitory of racial cleansing, as a promontory, a beach-head of SFtopian truth – and following the earlier ‘Sexual Milieu’ we find Marquis de Sade a journalist of the day in France. (31 Jan 11 – three hours later)
5. Wolf Meynert Writes His Great Work
A striking treatise on the history of Man and his difficulties in becoming Mankind. Toynbeean Challenge-and-Response with a ‘trojan virus’ implanted into such a faltering evolution (by the ultimate strength of fiction) to stress-test it. With reference, in 1936, to the German Reich.
That virus: “Newtdom“. (31 Jan 11 – another two hours later)
6. A Warning from X
“But a more terrible danger to us than their numbers and strength is their successful, and indeed triumphal, inferiority.”
The X Factor prefigured.
This chapter begins with the avant garde aspect instilled by the existence of the Newts – and this real-time review is just one branch from that part of their ongoing influence today in our own readality. And it ends with fascinating considerations on their economic influence, up to the inferred Bankers’ bonuses scandal and consequent hatred … and beyond. (31 Jan 11 – another hour later)
7. The Louisiana Earthquake
A Newt Orleans cataclysm, premonitory of Katrina. Whether the Newts can claim responsibilty will remain a moot point, in or out of fiction. Not that I heard Bush blaming them. (31 January 11 – another 45 minutes later)
8. The Great Salamander Presents His Demands
Japanese earthquakes or whatever, I am not amused by earth-shifting or sea-enlarging, even if you thread Gilbert & Sullivan music with your threats. This book is not a Bible. I can shut this book at any time and you Newts will just vanish. Rest assured. Real-time is like that. (31 Jan 11 – another 30 minutes later)
9. The Vaduz Conference
“‘A British gentleman,’ the Prime Minister declared, speaking for the whole nation, ‘will protect animals but he does not negotiate with them.'”
A British wartime spirit allows me to continue – and this spirit is very much akin to the real British wartime spirit in the 1940s (from this viewpoint of a 30s Capek) which is cleverly evoked by Capek before its real-time. A retrocausal conference is contrived. A pre-emptive one presaging a post-Potsdam against the Newts. (31 Jan 11 – another hour later)
10. Mr Povondra Takes It Upon Myself
I blame the translator. I think I may have been muddled up about the relationship between Mr P the erstwhile doorman (who opened the door to the repercussions of this book’s plot) and the Mrs P who was darning Ceylon on the wooden mushroom (not flooding it but filling it up again). They are husband and wife, not son and mother? Someone please tell me. But no matter. It seems only despair awaits Mr P with the arrival of the Newts even in land-locked Prague. Well there are the rivers … Prose is like rivers or lines of print letting in the dangers of meaning into your sitting-room. All Mr P’s collecting of cuttings, all my own real-time reviewing, meticulous, time-consuming, almost autistic – all gone to waste. Unappreciated. Ridiculed. Left on the literary shelf. Neutered. (31 Jan 11 – another 45 minutes later)
11. The Author Talks To Himself
A consolation for me: the ultimate nemonymity of the ending whereby the head-lease author creates a lease to himself. There is a pecking order in Narration as well as Newtation. A relief that my literary theories have not gone to waste.
Meanwhile, I have found the whole book a highly significant experience.
Spoiler: In all seriousness, this book can be read as a frightening premonition of 21st century global warming. A beauty-and-beast in one. Particularly in the last chapter. Hence, my calling this coda a spoiler. (30 Jan 11 – another hour later)
“The point is, am I about to become half-dead, or should I consider myself as being half-alive?” – Alan Coren (The Best of Alan Coren 1980)