Sunday, 19 September 2010

What had become of his soul? From Warnie Lewis's diary

Excerpt from Friday 1 June 1951:

"I sat between Gervase and Nevill Coghill, talking mainly to the latter who was, as always, very interesting. (...)

"We then got on to the Russian torturers, and their claim to be able to remake a man and turn him out as [an] obedient and totally different person.

"What, in that case, said Nevill, had become of his soul? Where was it?

"He was thinking, he told me, of writing a play about a man who had been thus tortured; he would always be on stage with a double, one the real or original man, the other manufactured by the NVDK pr whatever it is.

"The other players would of course see only one man.

"A most remarkable fellow is Nevill, I wish I saw more of him."

From Brothers and Friends - The diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis. Edited by CS Kilby and ML Mead. 1982.

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Comment - where *was* the soul?

Still inside him, I guess, only cut off from all communication with others - hence withered and apparently helpless - or, more exactly, unable to help itself.

I think I have known a lot of people who seemed like this - not due to torture, but simply that there seemed to be nothing visible to them except a superficial and unconvincing social personal.

This was not necessarily an horrific social persona - indeed often enough it was a pleasant polite, generous social persona. But one that seemed wholly artificial, rootless, ungrounded.

In fact, I think that *most* people, especially most intelligent people, that I have met in my life seem pretty much like this: such that one wonders where their soul is.

Concealed, in a shell, not perceptible to me, at any rate.

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But I would guess that the (apparently) soul-less-human (actually the soul-dissociated human) was less commonly found in Warnie Lewis's era and environment, when there were more 'whole' men - and that the SDH is substantially a product of late, terminal-stage modernity.

5 comments:

dearieme said...

Coghill got the oddest book recommendation at my school: "We will read Chaucer in the original, but I have no means of denying your parents the opportunity of their buying you the Penguin edition of Coghill's translation".

Chaucer turned out to be readable in the original so the main use of Coghill was as a quick way to scan for naughty bits.

bgc said...

@dearime - I studied the Nun's Priests' Tale at O-level - using the scholarly, annotated edition by Coghill and Christopher Tolkien (youngest son of) - which revealed how approximate was Coghill's Penguin translation.

So (using Coghill/ Tolkien to critique Coghill) I rather looked-down upon the Penguin (in typically sophomoric adolescent fashion); and even prepared some pages of my own more-accurate rhyming version (now lost).

Yet Coghill's translation has probably done more to keep interest in Chaucer alive than any other single book in the last 600 years...

dearieme said...

"I studied the Nun's Priests' Tale at O-level": just one? Clearly standards were already sliding towards the abyss by your time.

bgc said...

@dearieme - Well, we studied three things: Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer and just the one Canterbury Tale - plus related contemporary works to provide context.

However standards were indeed sliding, because the alternative to Chaucer was an anthology called something like 'poems of the sixties'.

We only did the Chaucer because our teacher had been properly educated in Old and Middle English (at Durham) - and because a small but vociferous minority of two or three of the keenest pupils agitated for the Chaucer (one of whom was yours truly) - which gave the teacher as much excuse as he needed, to do what he wanted to do/ thought was best for us.

We were very thoroughly taught - and saw all the works on stage at least once - done professionally by the Bristol Old Vic theatre company, which always staged the current O-level plays.

Although, admittedly, the Chaucer was (merely) part of a rather ribald musical based on the good-old Coghill translation.

I can recall from this some piece of typical 'seventies smut, involving a chap in garish medieval dress strutting around the stage singing 'I have a noble cock' or something of that kind...

dearieme said...

Just one Shakespeare? It gets worse.