Books and Footy


At anchor off St Kilda
Wind: North to northeast, F6-7 Strong breeze to near gale
Weather: Overcast, mild

Another windy night, I was glad to be on board, but we are well sheltered here from the northerly winds and experienced no problems. The wind is expected to go more into the west today which will mean Sylph's anchorage will be more exposed but the strong wind and gale warnings are past so we should be OK.

I have been doing a little reading, as always, and feel the need to share some of it – after all I have no one to talk to about one of my favourite pastimes. The last few books I have read: a biography of Queen Elizabeth I by Anne Somerset, “The Jewish War” by Josephus, “Ecce Homo” by Friedrich Nietzsche and now I am almost finished “A Room of One's Own” by Virginia Woolf.

“Elizabeth I”: I find this is an interesting period in English history, arguably a critical time which enabled the country to later be in a position where it could become the major world power. The biography written by Anne Somerset flows well, has a good balance between personal detail and historical events and is relatively easy to read. I did not appreciate just how vain Elizabeth was, and what a great procrastinator. Indeed it seems her ability to stall, for sometimes she procrastinated endlessly as part of a deliberate policy, particularly when it came to the questions of marriage and her successor, a policy she saw as necessary to her survival, at other times it seems a personal weakness, which largely allowed England to stay out of wars and gain some much needed strength in a complex and difficult world. A world in which all the major powers sought to increase their dominion as the natural scheme of things, except it seems Elizabeth, perhaps her feminine disposition. I could go on endlessly about such a book and its contents but will say no more for if you are interested you might read it.

Josephus, “The Jewish War”: Again this period of history interests me (of course, otherwise why else would I read it?), namely because this period was the ground out of which that most profound movement, Christianity, germinated. I like to understand things, and I believe we can only understand ideas more fully by trying to understand the context in which they arose. The book actually makes no mention of Jesus but certainly gives a good feel for the political turmoil and unrest in which he must have grown up. How much of Josephus can be taken at face value is hard to judge, he was a Jew who it seems was a military leader in the Jewish rebellion against Rome who turned traitor, though the way he paints himself is interesting. He writes about himself in the third person, and while he must be glorifying his own achievements he also seems boastful of some of the most deceitful acts. As most people would know the famous Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, what I did not know is that the Roman military leader, Titus, only reluctantly destroyed what he saw as one of the world’s greatest pieces of architecture and a respected sacred site because of the Jews total recalcitrance. At least that is the way Josephus presents it. And certainly Josephus does not paint the Jews in a very glowing light, with infighting and barbarous behaviour occurring amongst the various factions. On the other hand he gives great praise to the courage and determination of the Jews in the face of a highly organised and disciplined army. But then I guess the Jews thought God was on their side and would not allow the Temple to be taken. An interesting footnote to this that I have learned from other reading is that the destruction of the Temple is what has given modern Judaism much of its flavour. Basically the Sadducee sect revolved around the Temple and with the Temple's destruction was itself effectively destroyed, while the Pharisees, a sect much criticised by Jesus in the New Testament, practised their rituals as part and parcel of their daily life, almost to the point of obsession, so when the Temple was destroyed their way of life was not. I think it was this obsessiveness that Jesus was largely criticising, his point being that the Pharisees were too concerned with the outward observance of the rituals and not their underlying meaning. Enough of religion.

Ecce Homo: moving to a strange piece from one of the world's craziest philosophers. Nietzsche actually went insane shortly after writing this short “autobiography”. My interest in Nietzsche was aroused when a fellow traveller quoted him to me back in 2002. I had never heard of him before then. She was French so was translating from French to English thus:

“To live the moment, to save us loving all that exists, denying the existence between happy and unhappy events, to relieve us of this “decherements” that temporality of the free arbiter fatally introduce in us: remorse attached to an indeterminate vision of the past (“If I would do in other way”), hesitations concerning the future (“must I do a different choice?”). Relieving us of the weight of the past and of the future, we’ll get the serenity of the moment, here and now, because there’s nothing more.”
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900), Ecce homo (As translated by Teresa, friend from Le Reunion)

OK, the translation leaves something to be desired, I will not criticise it as Teresa's English is brilliant compared to my French, but since then I have searched for it. In my travels I found a Nietzsche omnibus lying in the ruins under a pile of ash in the remnants of the city of Plymouth on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, a city destroyed by a volcano a few years before my arrival there. It was an impressive sight, boulders the size of houses strewn about the place, and sulphur fumes still strong in the nostrils. But I digress. The omnibus did not contain Ecce Homo but it did have “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, perhaps Nietzsche's best known work, another very strange piece. More recently I found a copy of Ecce Homo and looked for these lines but with no success. I tried to read the book with an open mind but fear Nietzsche defeats me, as does the spelling of his name. Again I could rabbit on endlessly about the man and some of his work, but suffice to say that I believe he is the Emperor with no clothes. He has some challenging ideas but in the end is too shrill for my taste, and no real artist no matter what he claims.

Unlike Virginia Woolf, now she can write and boy is she smart! Here is just one sentence amongst many from “A Room of One's Own” which captivated me:

“For I wanted to see how Mary Carmichael set to work to catch those unrecorded gestures, those unsaid or half-said words, which form themselves, no more palpably than the shadows of moths on the ceiling, when women are alone, unlit by the capricious and coloured light of the other sex.”

What an effective metaphor, is it original I wonder? As I reread this sentence sitting alone on my page it loses something of its power removed from the context of her writing, but I can offer you a glimpse of what I like in her. The only other book I have read of hers is “To The Lighthouse”, a few years back now. I can't say I was totally enamoured with it but after reading this essay and perhaps having a better understanding of her perspective will give something else of hers a go.

So enough of books, this afternoon I am going to get a bit of balance in my life and go to watch a footy match with my brother Mark and one of his mates, maybe even eat a meat pie loaded with tomato sauce to complete the fair dinkum Aussie culture experience.

All is well.