Table of Contents for "Apples and Oranges"
Apples & Oranges
Title piece, attacking the dismissive attitude to ”lame comparisons” and making a case for comparison as perhaps the highest form of argument. Includes comparisons between Austrian totalitarianism in 1822 and in 1938, and between the 1978 World Cup Football in Argentina and the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
Zandvoort on the Mediterranean
A comparison between the Southern European and the Dutch mentality, starting with a prominent Dutch literary critic and his attack on a wonderful book by Croatian writer Predrag Matvejević on the Mediterranean (published in English in 1999 as Mediterranean. A Cultural Landscape). The North-Atlantic mentality versus the Mediterranean way of life.
The Cleveringa Scale
A comparison between the most prominent Dutch academic who resisted the Nazis during the occupation of the Netherlands, R.P. Cleveringa, and the most infamous German legal functionary in the Nazi era, R. Freisler. Might these two lawyers represent opposite extremes on a scale of morality? And where will you and I stand when the worst comes to the worst?
Hamlet and Telemachus
A piece in which Hamlet is transported to the island of Ithaca and Telemachus finds himself in the castle of Elsinore. A playful exchange in which, surprisingly, Telemachus emerges as the most modern of these two conflicted sons.
The Suspicious Problem
To several of his biographers Primo Levi’s suicide seems to have been so “logical” that they accepted it at face value, but there is no such thing as a logical suicide. Or is there? Perhaps we can learn from the experience of Japanse Kamikaze-pilots in the Pacific War.
Napoleon and I in Alkmaar
The author was born in the Northern Dutch city of Alkmaar, where he spent the first eleven years of his life. In 1811 Napoleon Bonaparte paid a visit to Alkmaar that lasted 15 minutes. So you could say: they both left some traces there. But what is the true value of the “15 minutes of obscurity” that the author spent in this little town? Jorge Luis Borges seems to have an answer.
Three Ways to Become a Jew
A comparison between three novels that concern themselves with people who become Jewish, by design or by accident: Laura Z. Hobson’s Gentleman’s Agreement (made into a wonderful film by Elia Kazan), Bernard Malamud’s The Assistant, and Arthur Miller’s Focus. Jewish identity turns out to be just like any other identity, only more so. People like to believe that they are who they are, but other people alway judge them by what they are.
The Ship and the Cargo
Although in Netherlands it is rarely perceived as such, the modern-classic novel The Frigate Johanna Maria (1930) by the Dutch novelist Arthur van Schendel (so far translated in English, Spanish, German, Russian, Italian, Hungarian, Czech, and Chinese) is a novel of ideas, a literary genre that is generally underestimated by the Dutch. What are the secrets of of this genre, and why is Van Schendel’s novel such a perfect example of it?
A False Dawn
The 20th May 1897 is the hinge on which the life of the Irish writer Oscar Wildeturned. It is the day after he was released from two years’ imprisonment, when he crossed the English Channel to go into exile, never to set foot in England again. A sunny spring day, spent in delightful freedom in the company of three of his best fiends, but with the clouds of his lonely and early death looming just over the horizon. The pre- and post-20th May 1897 Oscar Wilde come together on this unique and perfect day.
Neutrality and Commitment
From 1839 to 1939 the Netherlands maintained a strict national policy of neutrality. This historical tradition, forcibly interrupted by the German occupation during WWII, has become an ingrained attitude in our literature as well. What literary exceptions are there to this national tradition of collaboration and moral laziness?
The Consciousness of Italy
Sigmund Freud’s theory of human consciusness was greatly influenced by Heinrich Schliemann’s archeological image of the past as a multi-layered treasure-trove. A comparison between psychoanalysis and archeology suggests an explanation for the eternal attraction of Italy, as a country where contemporary reality is a historical phenomenon and the past is more alive than the present.
A Father, Dancing
Anatole Broyard, a prominent literary critic at The New York Times from 1971 to 1989, passed for a white man while being black, a fact he kept even from his own children. Some writers such as Henry Louis Gates, Jr. criticized Broyard posthumously, while his daughter, Bliss Broyard, investigated his story with empathy. Ultimately Broyard stands as an almost fictional embodiment of the difference between being black and white in the US.
A box of family photographs, purported to contain pictures of the author’s family, provokes questions about the difference between total strangers, on the one hand, and forefathers that one has never known personally, on the other.
Not the Bars, But the Door
What is the difference between a writer writing in a prison cell and a writer working in his own room at home? Both work in isolation. The case of Marcel Proust is set against the fate of imprisoned writers who have written their works in involuntary solitude. The difference, analysed with the help of Roland Barthes and Stendhal, turns out not to be the bars in the window, but whether the door is locked from the inside or from the outside.
The Village and the World
‘If you want to write about the world,’ Tolstoy famously advised younger writers, ‘write about your own village.’ The Belgian-Dutch writer Lieve Joris wrote books about the Arab world, Africa, and China, so she seems to have neglected Tolstoy’s advice. But in spirit she has invented her very own cosmopolitanism that treats the whole world as her village, as exemplified in her book The Rebel’s Hour (Grove Atlantic, 2008).
Ernest Dowson and Francis Donne
Is it possible to give a perfect description of dying? Many authors have tried, but few have succeeded so well as the English late-nineteenth century minor poet and short story writer Ernest Dowson. But he had the comparative “advantage” of dying himself so slowly of consumption, that he had the ideal inspiration for his story not before, but behind his very eyes.
The Grand and the Particular
What art historians should we prefer? Those who write grand, universal stories of art and civilization or those who immerse themselves in one highly specialized subject? The author makes the case for specialization as the true stuff of which ultimately (and only in some exceptional hands) more general theories about art are developed.
The Marchioness Took the 9 O’Clock Train
The French writer Paul Valéry hated novels, he preferred the pure fruits of language and philosophy, as shown in the 26,000 pages of his daily Cahiers. Nevertheless, a modernist reading of those Cahiers is possible, in which they surpisingly emerge as a sort of anti-novel, based on a “stream of intelligence” process that may be compared with both the Joycean “stream of consciousness” and the Proustian “stream of memory.”
Photography and Autobiography
The 196 autobiographical “photo-essays” by the contemporary Dutch writer Rudy Kousbroek, combining a black & white-photograph with a 1,000-word essay, pose questions about the relationship between memory and narrative. These “photo-syntheses” achieve a fusion between the two, awakening both the historical and the autobiographical past in the mind of a third party: the reader.
To Marry or Not to Marry
One of the best ways to approach the life and work of the American poet Delmore Schwartz is to explore the theme of marriage, which haunts his poems and stories as much as it does his peronal life. All elements come together in his famous story “In Dreams begin Responsibilities,” which contains a riddle that has so far escaped the attention of his biographers and scholars of his work alike.
The Opposite of Art
At first glance a publisher and a civil servant would seem to embody different personalities, but they have a great deal in common. In order to be successful, both need to do the opposite of what a chameleon does, by expressing their professional individuality.
The Dove-Fancier and the Doctor
Which category of book does greater justice to the essential reality of the Holocaust: the factual reports written shortly after the fact, or the memoirs that were written later, when distance could afford a more literary treatment? Two lesser-known cases, Felix Oestreicher and Bernard Gotfryd, are juxtaposed, and an answer to this impossible question is ventured.