[lit-ideas] Re: "Mad dogs, and Englishmen"

  • From: David Ritchie <ritchierd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 24 Jun 2004 15:25:04 -0700

on 6/19/04 7:39 AM, Stephen Straker at straker@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx wrote:

> _Ninety-Two Days_ (1934), which recounts his journeys through - and
> the very choice of setting bespeaks a certain perversity of
> temperament -
> 
> THIS, I submit, is what Coward is talking about.

> It will be difficult to find a better evocation of mad dogs and
> Englishmen, out in the noonday sun.

Stephen provokes me to quote my own words.  The following excerpt, from a
section about "holding oneself together" is from a lecture on Shell-shock in
the First World War that I gave at UBC's Green College, in Stephen's fair
city:



All over the Empire, there were British soldiers who believed that willpower
and disciplined habits of mind, stoicism rather than machine guns, underlay
their imperial ascendancy over more numerous and many ways "other"
populations.  Holding oneself together was the key to imperial supremacy.  A
military joke from 1897, one Tommy Atkins to another, "You take my advice,
Bill, don't you never stand near no white stone or yet near no horcifer."
Horcifers colon second and other sons, of Lucifer and whores. To understand
madness we must understand sanity and its link with morale.  The year,
again, is 1897. Whitewashed stones are lined up in a row, baking in the sun
outside a military bungalow.  They are a show of character, witnesses to the
powers of order, discipline, showing the flag, walking in the midday sun,
pretending. They are ruses, tactics designed to help vastly outnumbered
imperial armies reassure themselves and their subjects.  Stones comma brown
were tamed by paint comma white; they became icons of matter controlled and
thus of mind controlled, of something victoriously held together with a
shell of white paint.  And remember, people [private soldiers] who subverted
the shells with jokes, also saluted.

David Ritchie
Portland, Oregon
    

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