The link below is to an article reporting on the fall in US book sales as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – which is hardly a surprise.
There’s no question that Michael Jackson changed music history. But how will history remember Michael Jackson?
Since HBO released the new documentary film “Leaving Neverland,” which detailed allegations by two adults who say that they were molested by Jackson as children, the musician’s legacy – already complicated – is up in the air.
But there are other alleged child abusers who have died and whose works, once considered great, have faded into obscurity, in no small part because it is almost impossible to memorialize them without creating the impression of condoning their behavior.
The writer Norman Douglas is a prime example. The subject of a biography I’m working on, Douglas had a reputation for molesting children. After his death, he became an off-limits topic for biographers, and while he had his defenders, he ultimately couldn’t escape historical erasure.
Rumors do little to dim a budding star
During the first half of the 20th century, Norman Douglas was a literary star. Friends with Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley, he was best known for his bestselling 1917 novel “South Wind.”
Virginia Woolf sang its praises in the Times Literary Supplement. Graham Greene recalled how his generation “was brought up on South Wind.” When the hero of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” arrives at Oxford after World War I, he brings with him only two novels, “South Wind” and Compton Mackenzie’s “Sinister Street.”
But today Douglas is entirely forgotten.
The reasons why artists’ works go forgotten vary. In Douglas’ case, it’s fair to say that his erudite writing style went out of fashion.
But there’s more to the story. During his lifetime, Douglas was notorious for his relationships with children. In 1912, he lived with a 14-year-old boy in London while he was working at The English Review. Four years later, he was arrested in London for acts of gross indecency with a 16-year-old. After his release on bail, Douglas fled to Italy, where laws regulating sex between men and boys were more lax. He settled in Florence, where his celebrity only grew.
Visitors to the city, like Huxley and Lawrence, would seek him out in the city’s cafés. The radical journalist and heiress Nancy Cunard, who met Douglas in Florence in 1923 and became a close friend, recalled the “aureole of legend” that surrounded him.
Douglas was always attended to by Italian boys who worked for him as messengers or cooks, and endless rumors circulated about Douglas’ relationships with these boys. A diary entry written by a friend of Douglas’ described how Douglas performed fellatio on a boy named Marcello. Brothers Sacheverell and Osbert Sitwell warned Cunard that Douglas was dangerous. D.H. Lawrence’s widow, Frieda, told her friend Dudley Nichols that Douglas was “the only wicked man I have known, in a medieval sense.”
Britain’s strict libel laws, the norms of politeness and the power of Douglas’ celebrity seemed to prevent people from writing publicly about his sexual relationships with boys while he was alive.
But you can’t libel the dead.
When Douglas died in 1952, debate about his memory erupted in the press. The first signs of the battle to come appeared in the obituaries. British diplomat Harold Nicolson noted Douglas’ shocking “indulgences” in a death notice for The Spectator.
Nicolson’s article prompted 50 or 60 letters of protest from Douglas’ friends, but there was no holding back the tide. In 1954, Douglas’
former friend Richard Aldington published a book of vicious recollections about the writer titled “Pinorman,” a portmanteau of Norman and his friend Pino Orioli. Aldington didn’t mince words. He called Douglas a pederast whose path in life was “strewn with broken boys and empty bottles.”
Douglas’ friends were outraged. Cunard wrote to Aldington’s publisher accusing him of libel and threatening to wage a “collective protest.” She rallied Douglas’ friends to lambaste the book in reviews. Her own review for the periodical Time and Tide was titled “Bonbons of Gall.” Graham Greene wrote to a friend that he intended to “kill” Aldington’s book, and he penned a review for The London Magazine that was so incendiary it could not be published for fear of libel charges from Aldington, who was very much alive.
Greene maliciously sent Aldington the review and asked for permission to publish it. Naturally, Aldington refused and reached out to friends for help putting together a pamphlet attacking Douglas’ defenders. Frieda Lawrence contributed a story about how Douglas once casually offered her a boy of 14, saying that he preferred them younger. But the pamphlet was so intemperate that a lawyer said it would run afoul of the libel laws and could not be published.
The danger of choosing to forget?
Aldington was forced to retreat. With “Pinorman” disparaged by its reviewers, Aldington was discredited. It seemed that Douglas’ friends had won the battle.
But Aldington won the war. The truth was out there, and Douglas’ reputation was permanently injured.
In the decades that followed many would-be biographers tried their hand at writing Douglas’ story; time and again they failed. Douglas simply could not be remembered as a great writer in the face of the allegations against him. Only one comprehensive biography, titled “Norman Douglas,” has ever been published about him. It came out in 1976, during a rare moment of sexual openness; even so, the publisher almost nixed the manuscript after 10 years of work by its author, Mark Holloway.
Today Douglas is a forgotten writer. When the truth about his sexual relations with children was fully exposed after his death he became an impossible figure to memorialize.
Over time, it’s likely that Michael Jackson’s memory will be similarly eroded. The television show “The Simpsons” has already pulled its 1991 episode featuring Jackson. His name will likely be taken down from public monuments. People will be hesitant to produce new versions of his music. His influence will live on, but it will be difficult to commemorate his work.
Perhaps that is for the best. But maybe it isn’t.
Reluctance to preserve the memory of the extensive history of sex between adults and children leaves society ill-equipped to recognize and handle child sexual abuse today. A culture that is caught up in narratives that identify pedophiles as monsters has a hard time recognizing when beloved figures, like Michael Jackson, are molesting children right before its eyes.
There is need for history to remember abusers and to remember them in all their complexity. If Jackson’s memory is preserved, maybe it will be easier to see the present more clearly.
Penguin Books has released two books by Zimbabwean journalists in time to celebrate the first anniversary of the coup that finally put Robert Mugabe’s ruinous reign to an end. These are Ray Ndlovu’s In the Jaws of the Crocodile: Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Rise to Power in Zimbabwe and The Graceless Fall of Robert Mugabe: The End of a Dictator’s Reign by Geoffrey Nyarota.
The books, about the end of Mugabe’s nearly four decades of ruling Zimbabwe, arrive at a time when journalists have to constantly rush to beat tweets and Facebook posts. This haste can work against their claim to be offering something closer to truth’s complexities than can be rendered in 280 characters.
At the time of the coup the international community, the long-suffering urban unemployed and rural peasants, and the business players itching to embrace the graces of a régime “open for business”, hoped that a long-delayed nirvana was just over the horizon.
That vista remains distant: if there was a rainbow – President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised Zimbabwean whites their place back in Zanu-PF’s good books – the pot of gold keeps receding. The long lines of fuel-starved vehicles indicated more about the first birthday of Zimbabwe’s “Second Republic” than Zanu-PF’s comparatively muted celebrations.
‘Queuing after the coup’ seemed an alliteration appropriate to this review of the two books, neither of which does justice to the enormity both of events in Zimbabwe as well as the sheer scale of what’s required to rebuild the country.
‘Romancing the coup’ could also characterise such tales. Ndlovu’s chronicle of Mnangagwa’s adventures bears the hallmarks of a roller-coaster thriller. In the Jaws excurses excitedly through “The Crocodile’s” firing from the vice-presidency, forced exile and escape, his Pretoria-based saviour, corrupt police (contrasted with brave soldier-saints), and his triumphant return to the treasures surely to follow his presidential inauguration.
Nyarota’s more sober historical take characterises former First Lady Grace Mugabe as someone whose treasure map bore little relation to the route she and her fellow plotters in “Generation-40” – the faction conniving to rid their party and country of “Lacoste” (a play on Mnangagwa’s nickname) group – took when they persuaded then President Mugabe to fire his longtime lackey.
Could military commander Constantino Chiwenga save the day and grab the treasure? Now a Vice-President, many credit Chiwenga with organising the “militarily assisted transition” allowing Mnangagwa to cross the river. In The Jaws celebrates the bromance between Chiwenga and Mnangagwa. But circumspection regarding such claims is cautioned.
The real gold lies under Zimbabwe’s putrid piles of economic ruin. Thus hopes are pinned on Mthuli Ncube, Zimbabwe’s new finance minister. These hopes are tied tightly to Zanu-PF’s factional fights for pieces of a Zimbabwean pie as ethereal as the electronic “money” used in the absence of real currency.
Ncube’s fantastical neo-liberal solutions are eerily reminiscent of the economic structural adjustment policies that during the 1990s’ precipitated Zimbabwe’s nosedive. Even the International Monetary Fund had to restrain Ncube’s exuberant “Austerity for Prosperity” plans. Matched with the ruling party’s scrambles and the poor’s impatience, roiling ensues.
Keynesians and neo-liberals alike have little to which they can look forward, although the Confederation of Zimbabwean Industry proclaims that industrial capacity rose by 5% in early 2018. Yet just after mid-year, the little electoral legitimacy on which the global citadels of finance and investment banked slid away. The military killed at least six demonstrators while, as many say, its intelligence corps took over counting the election’s votes.
Neither of the two books portend much of the coup’s consequences. They improve on an unhappy catalogue of books on Zimbabwean politics. But the bar is low. The best that can be said of them is that they are good in parts.
Map still missing
Nyarota’s enthusiasm for the new régime is muted, but he’s very happy to see the back of Mugabe and his unruly wife.
Graceless is more about their drawn-out fall than the coup per se. The elder Nyarota’s world-weary schadenfreude contrasts vividly with Ndlovu’s youthful exuberance. Nyarota’s historical depth, if meandering, gives necessary context to last year’s events. His insight into the near-coups in the 1970s that Ndlovu misses completely – when not misconstruing history – are valuable indeed.
Graceless has no interviews: Mugabe’s minders refused Nyarota’s requests. Yet Ndlovu’s one-on-ones are mostly with the victors.
Of course, purported “Generation-40” leader and former cabinet minister Jonathan Moyo’s unstoppable stream of tweets and interviews from wherever resides his physical self, features prominently. But since they are accessible to anyone with internet they need deconstruction, not replication.
One would expect journalists to criticise Moyo’s nefarious role in his information portfolio (and many others). The elder and the younger don’t disappoint. Unsurprisingly, when the born-again constitutionalist Moyo was interviewed recently he judged Ndlovu’s work as a hagiography for Mnangagwa. Unfortunately, Nyarota’s unpacking of Moyo’s past looks too much like Wikipedia to satisfy.
Moyo’s criticism of In the Jaws goes too far. But both books suggest more questions than answers. Even given publishers’ and the media rushes to keep up with insubstantial and fake news circulating via billions of clicks, this is not enough. Zimbabwe’s treasures haven’t been dug up yet, and these journalists-cum-authors haven’t drawn the map.
The link below is to an article that looks at falling book sales in the United Kingdom – no surprise there I wouldn’t have thought.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the decline and fall of book reviewing.
The link below is to an article that looks at the decline and fall of the book cover.
‘Collapse’ by Richard Stephenson is book one in the ‘New America’ series and I believe Stephenson’s first novel. The novel is set in the year 2027, with the USA falling apart. It is in the grip of the 2nd Great Depression and is at war with the Great Empire of Iran. The state of Florida has been devastated by a hurricane that has left over 1 million people dead and Texas is about to face the same fate. The government is about to fall. The people are descending into anarchy. What will become of the USA?
Though a first novel, the suspense and action of the novel is first rate. It is very easy to read and carries you along quite easily. However, there are serious issues with the grammar and spelling, as well as some fairly obvious errors in the actual text of the story. A good proof reader should have picked up on these mistakes and that would have resulted in a far more polished and professional product.
There is also a short sex scene tacked onto the end of the story which I thought was somewhat tacky and unnecessary. It did nothing for the story as a whole and was completely out of place in the overall development of the novel.
If you can see past these obvious flaws without too much prejudice, the novel is a very good read and I do look forward to picking up the story when the next book in the series is released in 2013.
Buy this book at Amazon:
What are going to be the next big offerings in books/ebooks? Well, Amazon have compiled a list of books/ebooks, which can be found on the Amazon site.
For more visit:
Amazon.com: The Big Fall Books Preview 2012.