Posts Tagged ‘John Steinbeck’

Nini Bennett. Die muse is ‘n kat

Monday, August 26th, 2019

 

 

 

Honde, katte, hoenders, poue of papegaaie – noem maar op: menige skrywer het ’n wollerige of geveerde literêre agent wat deel is van die lang, eensame skryfproses. En hierdie vierpotige muses is onafskeidbaar van hulle skrywende eienaars; tree op as sosiale kommentators in eie reg, en maak selfs kameevertonings in hulle versorgers se fiksie. Derrida, Foucault en Deleuze het graag met hulle katte geposeer. En as jy besondere elegieë wil lees, lees dan die verse wat digters oor hulle ontslape troeteldiere geskryf het.

Volgens oorlewering het die twintigjarige Lord Byron op ’n dag tydens sy studie aan Trinity College sy hond kampus toe gebring. Uiteraard het die kampusowerheid vir Botswain, ’n Newfoundland, die deur gewys. Maar dit het die jong Byron nie van stryk gebring nie. ’n Mak beer sou hom met die volgende besoek vergesel. In 1807 het hy heel pittig aan ’n vriend die volgende geskryf: I have got a new friend, the finest in the world, a tame bear. When I brought him here, they asked me what to do with him, and my reply was, ‘he should sit for a fellowship’.
Botswain was egter Lord Byron se eerste liefde. Ongelukkig is sy beste maat in sy arms oorlede aan hondsdolheid; en die digter het tydens ’n opeenvolgende psigotiese episode ’n aangrypende elegie oor hom geskryf. Die vers is gegraveer in Botswain se grafsteen, ’n steen wat selfs groter as Byron s’n is. Die graf kan in Newstead Abbey besigtig word.

 

EPITAPH TO A DOG

Near this spot
Are deposited the Remains
Of one
Who possessed Beauty
Without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
And all the Virtues of Man
Without his Vices.

The Price, which would be unmeaning flattery
If inscribed over Human Ashes,
Is but a just tribute to the Memory of
“Boatswain,” a Dog
Who was born at Newfoundland,
May, 1803,
And died in Newstead Abbey,
Nov. 18th, 1808.

When some proud son of man returns to earth,
Unknown by glory, but upheld by birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And stories urns record that rests below.
When all is done, upon the tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his master’s own,
Who labors, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonored falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the soul he held on earth —
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.

Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power —
Who knows thee well must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy smiles hypocrisy, thy words deceit!
By nature vile, ennoble but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye, who perchance behold this simple urn,
Pass on — it honors none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one — and here he lies.

Ook Charles Dickens was by uitstek ’n diereliefhebber, en het katte, honde, ’n kanarie, ’n ponie, ’n arend, ’n kraanvoël en kraaie aangehou. Die bekendste was seker sy kraai, Grip (en al die opvolgers ná Grip het  ook so geheet). Inteendeel: so lief was hy vir Grip I dat hy na sy dood die voël laat opstop en hom gefiksionaliseer het in Barnaby Rudge. Die jong Edgar Allan Poe het Dickens en Grip ’n paar keer tydens reise raakgeloop, en volgens kenners was Grip Poe se inspirasie – en sneller – om self oor kraaie te skryf.

 

Mark Twain, op sy beurt, het sy kat, Bambino verafgod. Maar toe Bambino eendag nie terugkeer huis toe nie, het Twain ’n advertensie in die New York American geplaas met ’n beloning van $5 vir die een wat sy kat veilig aan hom terugbesorg: Large and intensely black; thick, velvety fur; has a faint fringe of white hair across his chest; not easy to find in ordinary light. ’n Paar dae later het Bambino sy opwagting in die bure se tuin gemaak, maar Twain-bewonderaars het steeds help soek en obskure swart katte na die skrywer se woning aangedra om hom uit sy vermeende verknorsing te red.

Lees mens van John Steinbeck se terugslag, dan is jy dankbaar ons leef in ’n digitale tyd waar skrywers gerugsteunde kopieë van manuskripte kan maak. Diê Nobelpryswenner se klein sethond het die eerste weergawe van Of mice and men opgevreet, met die gevolg dat hy weer van voor af moes begin. Minor tragedy stalked. I don’t know whether I told you. My setter pup, left alone one night, made confetti of about half of my [manuscript] book. Two months work to do over again. It sets me back. There was no other draft. I was pretty mad but the poor little fellow may have been acting critically.

Die macho-man en avonturier, Ernest Hemingway, mag dalk verras met sy voorkeur vir troetelkatte. ’n Skeepskaptein het vir Hemingway ’n kat met ses tone (’n polidaktiel) genaamd Snow White gegee. Die skrywer het uiteindelik 23 katte geherberg en vandag nog is daar ’n paar dosyn sestonige katte te bespeur in Key West, Florida, waar Hemingway se museum-huis is – Snow White se geil nageslag.

 

Maar katte het nie die laaste sê in Hemingway se lewe gehad nie; ’n papegaai het. Skynbaar het die skrywer ’n maat gesoek om hom te vergesel in sy Buick Spider, maar die papegaai, Pedrito, het aan erge bewegingsiekte gely. (Terloops, die frase “as sick as a parrot” is deur Hemingway gemunt ná die voorval). Maar ongelukkig wou hy nie ’n papegaai gehad het wat nie kon reis nie, en arme Pedrito het ’n nuwe tuiste in ’n kroeg, Roma, in Rome gevind. Pedrito het 48 jaar oud geword, 33 jaar ouer as sy voormalige eienaar, en was as swetsende papegaai tussen ’n klomp hardebaard-drinkers vir lank ’n gewilde toeriste-aantreklikheid. Hy is uiteindelik begrawe in die tuin agter die kroeg.

In Suider-Afrikaanse fiksie domineer honde die narratiewe, terwyl katte die voorkeurdier en -onderwerp van digters is. Die kat-mens-verhouding is waarskynlik eerste in Jan F.E. Celliers se vers, “Katjies” beskryf, terwyl die digters Ina Rousseau, Johann de Lange, Marlise Joubert, Lina Spies en Elisabeth Eybers graag oor katte geskryf het. In 1998 het Lina Spies ’n bloemlesing getiteld Majesteit, Die Kat: Verhale En Gedigte Oor Katte die lig laat sien waarin 42 Afrikaanse, Nederlandse, Franse, Spaanse en Engelse skrywers se verhale en gedigte opgeneem is.

Katte speel ook ’n belangrike rol in die lewe en poësie van Marlise Joubert – en was ’n bepalende faktor in die verhouding en latere huwelik met Louis Esterhuizen. In die foto hieronder verskyn Goya, ’n Turkse kat (links) en Tosca (regs).

 

En net ’n digter kan haar katte só liries beskryf:

Goya. Die Vlugsersant van Witgatwortelfontein. Ook kortweg Kaptein Konyn genoem, of Mammie se Wollabol.

En van Tosca sê sy: Ewe statig. Maar sy is ’n vreemde lady. Sy hou nié van vashou nie. Moenie haar optel nie. Skootsit is taboe. Jy kan streel en speel, en borsel, ja. Sy is ’n stalker. Sy loop heeldag agter my aan. Hou my dop, volg my. Sy miaau nooit ooit nie, tensy jy haar per ongeluk raaktrap, dan kla sy met ’n sagte gilletjie. Sy prrr nie. Sy ly aan ’n minderwaardigheidskompleks. Lae selfbeeld, maar sy is lojaal, huisvas, en baie liefdevol.

Die ekstase en onrus van lente word deur die perspektief van ’n kat beskryf in dié besondere gedig, soos dit verskyn in Joubert se jongste bundel, Grondwater (2019):

 

lente

die kat sit op die dak
om die lente op te snuif.
sy loer deur stergroen blare
aan ’n gekromde wingerdstok.

hoog, rankhoog teen die blou. versigtig
tussen takke nou. oor die houtbalke
van die droomprieel. een sprong
tot op vaste grond.

in die geut lê die moeë
skelet van ’n wintervoël.

 

In die Afrikaanse letterkunde tree honde dikwels op as sosiale kommentators (soos reeds genoem); dink byvoorbeeld aan Jeanne Goosen se werk en uitsprake wat feitlik sinoniem met die honde in haar lewe is. Die verhaalwêreld van ’n Pawpaw vir my darling word bevolk met honde wat fokaliseer. Vir Jeanne se verjaardag (2013) het Isa Steynberg heel gepas ’n skildery van Deloris, Blessing en Poppie gemaak.

 

Menige troeteldiereienaar weet dat ’n mens die een of ander tyd bots met die amptenary oor huisdiere se lisensie, naamplaatjie, permit of gedrag. En dit was ook nie anders die geval met die gevierde jeugverhaalskrywer, E.B. White nie. In 1951 het die New York-ASPCA hom aangekla dat hy kwansuis nie hondebelasting betaal het vir sy geliefde worshond, Minnie nie. Getrou aan sy skerpsinnige aard het hy hulle so geantwoord:

12 April 1951

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
York Avenue and East 92nd Street
New York, 28, NY

Dear Sirs:

I have your letter, undated, saying that I am harboring an unlicensed dog in violation of the law. If by “harboring” you mean getting up two or three times every night to pull Minnie’s blanket up over her, I am harboring a dog all right. The blanket keeps slipping off. I suppose you are wondering by now why I don’t get her a sweater instead. That’s a joke on you. She has a knitted sweater, but she doesn’t like to wear it for sleeping; her legs are so short they work out of a sweater and her toenails get caught in the mesh, and this disturbs her rest. If Minnie doesn’t get her rest, she feels it right away. I do myself, and of course with this night duty of mine, the way the blanket slips and all, I haven’t had any real rest in years. Minnie is twelve.

In spite of what your inspector reported, she has a license. She is licensed in the State of Maine as an unspayed bitch, or what is more commonly called an “unspaded” bitch. She wears her metal license tag but I must say I don’t particularly care for it, as it is in the shape of a hydrant, which seems to me a feeble gag, besides being pointless in the case of a female. It is hard to believe that any state in the Union would circulate a gag like that and make people pay money for it, but Maine is always thinking of something. Maine puts up roadside crosses along the highways to mark the spots where people have lost their lives in motor accidents, so the highways are beginning to take on the appearance of a cemetery, and motoring in Maine has become a solemn experience, when one thinks mostly about death. I was driving along a road near Kittery the other day thinking about death and all of a sudden I heard the spring peepers. That changed me right away and I suddenly thought about life. It was the nicest feeling.

You asked about Minnie’s name, sex, breed, and phone number. She doesn’t answer the phone. She is a dachshund and can’t reach it, but she wouldn’t answer it even if she could, as she has no interest in outside calls. I did have a dachshund once, a male, who was interested in the telephone, and who got a great many calls, but Fred was an exceptional dog (his name was Fred) and I can’t think of anything offhand that he wasn’t interested in. The telephone was only one of a thousand things. He loved life — that is, he loved life if by “life” you mean “trouble,” and of course the phone is almost synonymous with trouble. Minnie loves life, too, but her idea of life is a warm bed, preferably with an electric pad, and a friend in bed with her, and plenty of shut-eye, night and days. She’s almost twelve. I guess I’ve already mentioned that. I got her from Dr. Clarence Little in 1939. He was using dachshunds in his cancer-research experiments (that was before Winchell was running the thing) and he had a couple of extra puppies, so I wheedled Minnie out of him. She later had puppies by her own father, at Dr. Little’s request. What do you think about that for a scandal? I know what Fred thought about it. He was some put out.

Sincerely yours,

E.B. White

My dank en erkenning aan Isa Steynberg vir die grafika van die beeldhouwerk van haar eie twee katte.

 

Verwysings:

 https://poets.org/text/dog-days-poets-pets?fbclid=IwAR0F6mB5vAeQIM1Rmk4mRaqkrmMudVw_Nnn_ug3UJpFH6YmvDWCS7cAHeA8

https://www.brainpickings.org/2019/08/18/lord-byron-epitatph-for-a-dog/?fbclid=IwAR2ZXc8Jf8B74iMFPWiMeLOy3ezzFeDW7EskTsXVdPxoTK8IBy0O93SgaOs

https://www.bustle.com/articles/196658-10-famous-authors-and-the-pets-that-inspired-their-work?fbclid=IwAR2SyZlVJwsv9SrfWjg1PE9K_-eocN_YwWYx9pODprmk3ZnZaBozLJDrtU0

https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/04/29/literary-pets/?fbclid=IwAR3619iEnZu32aRnnAFAGN6wABcldLn_X7BfjHghkWZOnBhZVWL5cbxB4tc

Joubert, M. 2019. Grondwater. Pretoria: Protea Boekhuis.

 

 

Andries Bezuidenhout. Reise van Tom Joad

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Dis vreemd hoe ʼn fiktiewe karakter uit ʼn boek, deur ʼn fliek, tot in ʼn aantal lirieke sy verskyning kan maak. Neem nou maar die geval van Tom Joad, die antiheld uit John Steinbeck se boek Grapes of Wrath, wat in 1939 gepubliseer is. Dit gaan oor persoonlike skades en storms, maar ook oor armoede en sosiale ongeregtigheid. Tom Joad en sy familie is van Oklahoma en reis met die Route 66 Kalifornië toe op soek na werk. Die storie illustreer hoe Kaliforniese boere hul trekarbeiders in armoede gehou het, sodat hulle van goedkoop arbeid verseker is.

Die boek was destyds nogal kontroversieel en is deur lede van die Amerikaanse establishment as kommunistiese propaganda afgemaak. Alhoewel Steinbeck deur die FBI dopgehou is en die boek op verkeie plekke verban en verbrand is, is Grapes of Wrath darem met die Pulitzerprys bekroon, en dit het later ʼn belangrike rol gespeel het in die toekenning aan van die Nobelprys vir Letterkunde aan hom.

Onmiddellik na die boek se publikasie, is daar aan ʼn filmweergawe begin werk. Reeds in Januarie 1940 kon gehore dit sien, met Henry Fonda in die rol van Tom Joad. Woody Guthrie is só deur die film aangegryp dat hy dadelik daarna sy “The Ballad of Tom Joad” geskryf het. Die lied is opgeneem en op die plaat Dust Bowl Ballads in Julie 1940 vrygestel.

Hier is een van die weergawes van die Guthrie-liriek wat ek kon opspoor:

The Ballad of Tom Joad
(Woody Guthrie)

Tom Joad got out of the old McAlester Pen
There he got his parole
After four long years on a man killing charge
Tom Joad come a walking down the road, poor boy
Tom Joad come a walking down the road

Tom Joad he met a truck driving man
There he caught him a ride
He said: “I just got loose from McAlester’s Pen
On a charge called Homicide, a charge called Homicide.”

That truck rolled away in a cloud of dust,
Tommy turned his face toward home,
He met Preacher Casey and they had a little drink,
But they found that his family they was gone,
He found that his family they was gone.
He found his mother’s old fashion shoe
Found his daddy’s hat.
And he found little Muley and Muley said:
“They’ve been tractored out by the cats,
They’ve been tractored out by the cats.”

Tom Joad walked down to the neighbours farm
Found his family.
They took Preacher Casey and loaded in a car
And his mother said “We got to get away.”
His mother said “We got to get away”

Now the twelve of the Joads made a mighty heavy load
But Grandpa Joad did cry.
He picked up a handful of land in his hand
Said: “I’m stayin’ with the farm till I die.
Yes, I’m stayin’ with my farm till I die”

They fed him short ribs and coffee and soothing syrup
And Grandpa Joad did die.
They buried Grandpa Joad by the side of the road,
Buried Grandma on the California side,
They buried Grandma on the California side.

They stood on a Mountain and they looked to the West
And it looked like the promised land.
That bright green valley with a river running through,
There was work for every single hand, they thought,
There was work for every single hand.
The Joads rolled away to Jungle Camp, There they cooked a stew.
And the hungry little kids of the Jungle Camp Said:
“We’d like to have some too.” Said: “We’d like to have some too.”

Now a Deputy Sheriff fired loose at a man
Shot a woman in the back.
Before he could take his aim again
Preacher Casey dropped him in his track.
Preacher Casey dropped him in his track.
They handcuffed Casey and they took him to Jail
And then he got away.
And he met Tom Joad on the old river bridge,
And these few words he did say, poor boy,
These few words he did say.

“I preached for the Lord a mighty long time
Preached about the rich and the poor.
Us workin’ folks got to all get together,
Cause we ain’t got a chance anymore.
We ain’t got a chance anymore.”

The Deputies come and Tom and Casey run
To the bridge where the water run down.
But the vigilante they hit Casey with a club,
They laid Preacher Casey on the ground.
They laid Preacher Casey on the ground.

Tom Joad he grabbed that Deputy’s club
Hit him over the head.
Tom Joad took flight in the dark rainy night
A Deputy and a Preacher lying dead, two men,
A Deputy and a Preacher lying dead.

Tom run back where his mother was asleep
He woke her up out of bed.
Then he kissed goodbye to the mother that he loved
Said what Preacher Casey said, Tom Joad,
He said what Preacher Casey said.

“Ever’body might be just one big soul
Well it looks that a way to me.
Everywhere that you look in the day or night
That’s where I’m gonna be, Ma,
That’s where I’m gonna be.”

Wherever little children are hungry and cry
Wherever people ain’t free.
Wherever men are fightin’ for their rights
That’s where I’m gonna be, Ma.
That’s where I’m a gonna be.

Ek vind dit nogal interessant hoe vinnig ʼn karakter reeds toe deur Amerikaanse populêre kultuur kon reis. Van die publikasie van die boek in April 1939, ʼn fliek in Januarie 1940 en ʼn plaat in Julie 1940.

Die 1930s was natuurlik die tyd na die Groot Depressie, wat eers werklik aangespreek is deur ʼn kombinasie van Roosevelt se New Deal en die klaskompromie wat tussen werkers en kapitaliste na die Tweede Wêreldoorlog aangegaan is. Vir ʼn tyd lank het Tom Joad ʼn historiese karakter geword.

Daardie kompromie tussen werkers en hul base, en die Noordelike welsynstaat, is natuurlik deur mense soos Ronald Reagan en Margaret Thatcher ongedaan gemaak. ʼn Nuwe era – die nuwe wêreldorde van globalisering – het aangebreek. Dis nie vreemd dat Tom Joad juis tóé weer uit die vergetelheid opgestaan het nie en weer op die verhoog van populêre kultuur ʼn rol kom speel het.

In 1995 maak Bruce Springsteen ʼn plaat met die titel The Ghost of Tom Joad. Sy liriek tree direk met Guthrie in gesprek. Springsteen is lank reeds die stem van die Amerikaanse werkersklas en reeds in Ronald Reagan se tyd klink sy protes helder (al het Reagan self sy “Born in the USA” verkeerdelik vir ʼn patriotiese lied aangesien).

Tom Joad se spook kom in die 1990s aan en Springsteen se liriek roep hom op om Steinbeck se boek se boodskap vir kontemporêre tye aan te pas. Die liriek gaan só:

Ghost of Tom Joad
(Bruce Springsteen)

Men walkin’ ‘long the railroad tracks
Goin’ someplace there’s no goin’ back
Highway patrol choppers comin’ up over the ridge
Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge
Shelter line stretchin’ round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin’ in their cars in the southwest
No home no job no peace no rest

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody’s kiddin’ nobody about where it goes
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
Searchin’ for the ghost of Tom Joad

He pulls prayer book out of his sleeping bag
Preacher lights up a butt and takes a drag
Waitin’ for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last
In a cardboard box ‘neath the underpass
Got a one-way ticket to the promised land
You got a hole in your belly and gun in your hand
Sleeping on a pillow of solid rock
Bathin’ in the city aqueduct

The highway is alive tonight
But where it’s headed everybody knows
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
Waitin’ on the ghost of Tom Joad

Now Tom said “Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there’s a fight ‘gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I’ll be there
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you’ll see me.”

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody’s kiddin’ nobody about where it goes
I’m sittin’ downhere in the campfire light
With the ghost of old Tom Joad

Gaan luister gerus hoe klink die lied. ʼn Mens kan dit op Youtube kry. Die amptelike video daarvan bevat pragtige fotografie uit middel-Amerika (ek het twee voorbeelde uit die video hier bo tussen die teks geplak). Daar is ook ʼn baie mooi lewendige opname daarvan in ʼn ateljee. Aan die einde van 1998 het Rage Against the Machine dit ook opgeneem, wat verdere gewildheid aan die karakter verleen het. Gaan kyk gerus na ʼn lewendige opname daarvan. Bruce Springsteen en Tom Morello van Rage Against the Machine het die lied in ʼn stadium (in ʼn stadion) saam aangepak en die resultaat is aangrypend.

Springsteen was baie aktief in die pogings om Barack Obama as president verkies te kry. Sy mees onlangse album is liries en musikaal veel vroliker as The Ghost of Tom Joad en Magic, wat oor George Bush se kulkunsiepolitiek gegaan het. Maar dis ʼn onderwerp vir ʼn ander keer.