Der Tor und der Tod

Wie wundervoll sind diese Wesen,
Die, was nicht deutbar, dennoch deuten,
Was nie geschrieben wurde, lesen,
Verworrenes beherrschend binden
Und Wege noch im Ewig-Dunkeln finden.

- Der Tod über die Menschen. Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1893)
Holzschnitt von Frans Masereel, aus der Serie Die Stadt (1925)


Caged Bird

Speaking of golden birds and caged birds... Here is Josephine Baker in 1934 (in the film Zou Zou)

For further reading:
The sad context of the scene.


Hast Du Angst, Erich? Bist du bange Erich?
Klopft dein Herz, Erich? Läufst du weg?
Wolln die Maurer, Erich - und die Jesuiten, Erich
dich erdolchen, - welch ein Schreck!
Diese Juden werden immer rüder.
Alles Unheil ist das Werk der .'..'. Brüder.
Denn diese Jesuiten, Erich - und die Maurer, Erich -
und die Radfahrer - die sind schuld
an der Marne, Erich und am Dolchstoß, Erich -
ohne die gäbe es keinen Welttumult.
Jeden Freitag spielt ein Kapuziner
mit dem Papste Skat - dazu ein Feldrabbiner;
auf dem Tische liegt ein Grand mit Vieren -
dabei tun sie gegen Deutschland konspirieren ...
Hindenburg wird älter und auch müder ...
alles Unheil ist das Werk der .'..'. Brüder.

Kurt Tucholsky an Erich Ludendorff, 1929


"I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings"

Maya Angelou (1969)

A free bird leaps on the back of the wind
and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wing in the orange sun's rays and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
can seldom see through his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.


For the enthusiastic student

(Painting by Laurel Lehman)



Paul Laurence Dunbar (1899)

I know what the caged bird feels.
Ah me, when the sun is bright on the upland slopes,
when the wind blows soft through the springing grass
and the river floats like a sheet of glass,
when the first bird sings and the first bud ops,
and the faint perfume from its chalice steals.
I know what the caged bird feels.

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
till its blood is red on the cruel bars,
for he must fly back to his perch and cling
when he fain would be on the bow aswing.
And the blood still throbs in the old, old scars
and they pulse again with a keener sting.
I know why he beats his wing.

I know why the caged bird sings.
Ah, me, when its wings are bruised and its bosom sore.
It beats its bars and would be free.
It's not a carol of joy or glee,
but a prayer that it sends from its heart's deep core,
a plea that upward to heaven it flings.
I know why the caged bird sings.


For the enthusiastic student

Painting by Iberia Lebel

The Caged Bird

The previous posts have presented poems by Irish Nobelist and esoteric explorer William Butler Yeats, which have influenced me in the choice of my comic's title, Goldenbird. Even though I love his imagery, his philosophy remains alien to me, even though I can appreciate the longing for a perfect Platonic ideal on an intellectual level. Yeats' world-view is a very aristocratic one, however. Even though he supported the Irish revolution, he belonged to those interwar intellectuals in the West who feared the lowly "masses" and envisioned an apocalyptic clash of civilizations - it should not come as a surprise that Yeats appreciated Spengler (he thought that his wife, a medium, channeled Spengler even before Der Untergang des Abendlandes had been published).
It is easier for me to identify with the notions expressed in the "caged bird" tradition of the African-American writers. I have been taught to sympathize with the weak and the oppressed, and to feel joy when they triumph over their obstacles. This teaching is central to my world-view, even though my own childhood and youth was relatively privileged. I can't feel the same sympathy for old intellectuals lamenting the modern world (which Yeats did, but Spengler didn't) or the temptation to lump together individual human beings in sweeping, demeaning categories such as "nations", "races" or "civilizations". Those terms are like gilded cages for singing birds. And yet, how can the individual break free without the help of yet another imagined community? How can we avoid turning our liberation movements into gilded cages?
In the next posts, the "caged bird" poems will be explored. Before that, contemplate this painting by Harry Roseland (1868-1950). It often appears in sales lists of art reproductions, especially of African-American interest, sometimes advertised as genuine depictions of Southern AA life. However, Roseland was a white painter who never left Brooklyn. Are his paintings romanticized cultural appropriations? Does he romanticise African-American history, or are his paintings relatively "harmless" and even encouraging examples from an otherwise viciously racist period in history?
Cultural appropriation is a huge theoretical and practical problem. Some people would say that you cannot claim to say anything about people with other social and cultural background, whether you're an artist or a scholar. Needless to say, I disagree (why should I be confined to writing and drawing stories about myself and the handful of people who share my ethnic mix, when I don't even believe that this mix guarantees that we have anything in common...). On the contrary, I think that we need to increase the amount of people who explore other people's perspectives. But we should never forget the power relations that shape our relationships even now. Roseland's art may be sentimental and even deceitful when it serves to calm white consciences ("oh, the old days weren't so bad after all"), but "feel-good-art" can also serve the identity-building of the minority, and in effect, resistance towards the "superior" culture.
In the end, the artist's original purpose is not necessarily relevant to the interpretation of her or his work, but it is important to study the circumstances that influenced it. Why is it important? Because when we look at a picture or read a poem, we feel different things, depending on where we come from and what we have been taught. Whether we respect our neighbor's opinion or not, we benefit from studying its historical background. This ought to be valued in a society that claims to support freedom of expression, unfortunately it is often seen as a waste of time and "giving in" to the opponent's arguments. Freedom of speech is confused with freedom from listening...



W. B. Yeats (1930)

The unpurged images of day recede;
The Emperor's drunken soldiery are abed;
Night resonance recedes, night walkers' song
After great cathedral gong;
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.

Before me floats an image, man or shade,
Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
For Hades' bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
May unwind the winding path;
A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
Breathless mouths may summon;
I hail the superhuman;
I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.

Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
More miracle than bird or handiwork,
Planted on the star-lit golden bough,
Can like the cocks of Hades crow,
Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
In glory of changeless metal
Common bird or petal
And all complexities of mire or blood.

At midnight on the Emperor's pavement flit
Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,
Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame, .
Where blood-begotten spirits come
And all complexities of fury leave,
Dying into a dance,
An agony of trance,
An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.

Astraddle on the dolphin's mire and blood,
Spirit after Spirit! The smithies break the flood.
The golden smithies of the Emperor!
Marbles of the dancing floor
Break bitter furies of complexity,
Those images that yet
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.

Painting by Nicholas Roerich, Corona Mundi (1921)


Sailing to Byzantium

William Butler Yeats (1928)

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

The Second Coming

William Butler Yeats
The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Ando Hiroshige (1797–1858), Ten Thousand-Acre Plain at Suzaki Fukagawa, from the series "One Hundred Famous Views of Edo"

Walter Gramatté (1897-1929), Die Schwarze Sonne [3](1919)

See also: Der Untergang des Abendlandes


Der Goldvogel

Some of my readers know that the Goldenbird is a symbolic object/creature in W.B. Yeats's Byzantine poems, of which I've written an undergraduate paper in English literature. Never mind that now; I have some German discoveries to share.

Let's start with a children's verse from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, by Ludwig Achim von Arnim (published 1805-1808).

Goldvogel, flieg aus,
Flieg auf die Stangen,
Käsebrode langen;
Mir eins, dir eins,
Alle gute G'sellen eins.

The web directory Zeno.org is great for literature and art searches. It contains a lot of hard-to-find, copyright-free German material, and works like an online library for a variety of purposes. Just for fun, I did a quick search for "Goldvogel". And what do I find? Not one, but two quotes from Das Kapital by Karl Marx!

In the children's rhyme, the goldenbird is asked to fly off and bring cheese sandwiches from the "pole" (perhaps like pretzeln, they were hanging from the bakery roof) to "me and you and all the good journeymen" - the goldenbird can satisfy the needs of the hungry (or merely peckish).Onward to Marx, Das Kapital Vol.II (The process of the circulation of capital, pp. 417-418):

"[Lengthy scenario where person I uses 500 pounds sterling to buy consuming goods from person II and could consider selling the goods back for 500, but that depends on whether there's a buyer; even though the goods are the equivalent of 500 pounds, I loses on the deal, while II gains; I'm really bad at economic theory as well as practise - and you should read the original if you must know the details...] – Die 500 in Produktionsmitteln aber, die I auf dem Hals hat, sind nicht in Warenform existierender Mehrwert; sie sind an der Stelle der vorgeschoßnen 500 Pfd. St. Geld da, die I besaß neben seinem Mehrwert von 1000 Pfd. St. in Warenform. Als Geld befinden sie sich in stets realisierbarer Form; als Ware sind sie momentan unverkäuflich. Soviel ist klar, daß einfache Reproduktion – wo jedes Element des produktiven Kapitals in II wie in I ersetzt werden muß – hier nur möglich bleibt, wenn die 500 Goldvögel zurückkehren zu I, das sie zuerst ausfliegen ließ."

The goldenbird is capital!

A few decades earlier, Marx wrote the following in a manuscript on "need, production and division of labour", pp. 547-548:

"... das Privateigentum weiß das rohe Bedürfnis nicht zum menschlichen Bedürfnis zu machen; sein Idealismus ist die Einbildung, die Willkür, die Laune, und ein Eunuche schmeichelt nicht niederträchtiger seinem Despoten und sucht durch keine infameren Mittelseine abgestumpfte Genußfähigkeit zu irritieren, um sich selbst eine Gunst zu erschleichen, wie der Industrieeunuche, der Produzent, um sich Silberpfennige zu erschleichen, aus der Tasche des christlich geliebten Nachbarn die Goldvögel herauszulocken – (jedes Produkt ist ein Köder, womit man das Wesen des andern, sein Geld, an sich locken will. Jedes wirkliche oder mögliche Bedürfnis ist eine Schwachheit, die die Fliege an die Leimstange heranführen wird – allgemeine Ausbeutung des gemeinschaftlichen menschlichen Wesens, wie jede Unvollkommenheit des Menschen ein Band mit dem Himmel ist, eine Seite, wo sein Herz dem Priester zugänglich; jede Not ist eine Gelegenheit, um unter dem liebenswürdigsten Schein zum Nachbarn zu treten und ihm zu sagen: Lieber Freund, ich gebe dir, was dir nötig ist; aber du kennst die conditio sine qua non; du weißt, mit welcher Tinte du dich mir zu verschreiben hast; ich prelle dich, indem ich dir einen Genuß verschaffe) –, sich seinen verworfensten Einfällen fügt, den Kuppler zwischen ihm und seinem Bedürfnis spielt, krankhafte Gelüste in ihm erregt, jede Schwachheit ihm ablauert, um dann das Handgeld für diesen Liebesdienst zu verlangen."

Juicy! Again, the goldenbird is money, capital that can be converted to a variety of goods. This text deals with the ideology behind the process - the first quote was part of the answer on HOW capitalism works, and this quote tells us WHY it works.

But what is my own goldenbird?...


More Fiume News

These are all from Finnish newspapers 1919-1921 - the conservative, Swedish-language Hufvudstadsbladet, and the social-democrat, Finnish-language Suomen Sosiali-Demokraatti. As witnesses of their time, they are as much mirrors of opinion and ideology as reports of actual events...

Hufvudstadsbladet (1919.05.03)
The Fiume Conflict.
Reflections on Compromise.
London, May 3rd. (Reuter to STT)
To the Reuter telegraphs from Paris: In well informed circles in Paris this morning, it is proposed that the Fiume Question will be solved in a way that will satisfy Italy, accordingly: The port will become a free commercial port with complete freedom of trade for all nations. The city itself will be transferred to Italy. It is reported that Italy would be willing to offer Yugoslavia certain territorial concessions in the Dalmatian hinterland, including the city of Knin at the railway line from Sebenico.

Suomen Sosialidemokraatti (1920.12.29 p.4)
Fiume conquered.
(See previous post for full text)

Suomen Sosiali-Demokraatti (1921.01.10 p.3)
D'Annunzio still in Fiume.
Paris, Jan. 10th. (STT)
The latest reports from Fiume confirm that d'Annunzio does not intend to leave the city until the elections of the foundational council of the Free State. Certain sources judge it likely that the council will elect d'Annunzio as regent.

Suomen Sosiali-Demokraatti (1921.02.23 p.5)
Reaction in Trieste.
[first paragraph is illegible in my copy]
The Rome correspondent of the Kristiania ”Social-Democrat” has sent his paper a special telegram, wherein he describes the actions of the reactionary forces in Trieste, actions that are aimed against the working class. He mentions, among other things, that the history of the city in question has never before known such activity of forces of darkness as can be observed currently. The official Italy has not given liberty to the workers of Trieste, it has oppressed them and continues the oppression most shamelessly. The militias of Italy systematically and daily persecute the leaders of the working class and rob them of their property. House searches have become daily phenomena, and armed police rummage and sniff through every corner of workers' apartments. Mass arrests, too, are now everyday occurrences. The workers' halls of Trieste, Pola, Fiume and other cities in Italy have been leveled to the ground. Communist and socialist newspapers are being persecuted not only by legal means, but also with illegal methods, such as destroying and burning their offices. The consequence of this reactionary policy has been that Italy within one year has become more hated than Austria after 60 years. After the Italian annexation, the local population has not been able to voice its opinion in elections. Several political and administrative elections have been prescribed, but the Italian government does not dare to organize them. And meanwhile Italy sustains an oppressive regime, that any country of the slightest level of civilization would be ashamed of.

Notes: In the original article, the "militias" are referred to as "suojeluskuntalaiset" - the Finnish term for the white Civil Guard that functioned as a paramilitary force in Finland from 1917 to 1944, in support of the bourgeois government and often in conflict with the various socialist movements. No doubt, the social democrat newspapers wanted to reinforce the idea that the forces of reaction were similar in every state.
Italy is compared to Austria as a reminder of the fact that Italy's territorial claims around the Adriatic sea were not founded on primeval right, but historical circumstances. The "irredenta" had belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire before the war, and Italy's late alliance with the Entente was triggered by hopes that the areas with sizable Italian populations could be won. However, they had never been part of a political entity called "Italy" before. One could see the claims on Istria and Dalmatia as the final steps on the road of Italian national unification.
The mention of destruction of workers' halls is interesting. The Wikipedia article on Trieste mentions a Slovene community hall (Narodni Dom) burnt down by Italian nationalists in 1920. This could be interpreted as a conflict between nationalities (around 25% of the Trieste population were Slovenes). I wonder if other factors played a role, for example, were Slovenes more often of working-class background, and were socialist ideas more widespread among them? Which was more important, ethnic, ideological or social solidarity?

The Fiume Incident

The beginnings of Goldenbird the comic can be traced to a dark and rainy autumn in 2005, when I was working on my Ph.D. thesis in Helsinki, collecting source material at the cosy, neo-classicist National Library. As I was scrolling microfilmed newspapers from the fateful years of 1920 and 1921, some small notices caught my eye.

Fiume conquered.
D'Annunzio wounded.
Rome, Dec. 28th (Havas to S.T.T.) According to received information, general Caviglia with his troops has marched into Fiume.
Rome, Dec. 28th (Havas to S.T.T.) Quarnero's government confirms the report on D'Annunzio's injury. In the hall, where the war council was holding its meetings, a projectile exploded, a splitter of which dealt a head wound to D'Annunzio.
Suomen Sosialidemokraatti 29.12.1920 (p. 4)

Havas is a French press agency, STT is the leading Finnish equivalent. "Quarnero", also known as Carnaro or Kvarner, refers to the bay in the Adriatic where Fiume (today Rijeka) is located. After taking charge of the city, il comandante Gabriele d'Annunzio and his collaborators declared the "regency of Carnaro" - that means, they would stay in charge until the King of Italy would assume his "rightful" role as the city's ruler. The regency's most notable product was its constitution, the Carta del Carnaro, which mixed influences from Plato's ideal state, futurist aesthetics, anarcho-syndicalism, proto-fascist corporativism, and aristocratic romanticism...

To the left, the banner of the regency of Carnaro. Pretty, isn't it? The worm Ouroboros, the Great Bear, and the motto: QVIS CONTRA NOS? "Who is against us?" - something for semioticians to mull on. The snake that devours its own tail could mean the cycle of life. In alchemy, it signifies that All is One - or
a mystical treasure that has to be destroyed to be known. It reminds me of an early quote by Bakunin: "the passion for destruction is also a creative passion". Or the dark side of 1789, 1848 and 1917: the revolution devours its own children, in effect, devours itself.

This little renegade state, which lived on piracy and high spirits from Sept. 19, 1919 to Dec. 24-30, 1920, sounded like the perfect setting for some light-hearted Jazz age adventure-mystery-comedy story, I thought. However - I did NOT want to be historically correct. As a Ph.D. candidate, I'm already a slave to the sources - as a cartoonist, I want to create a story that won't educate the reader about Fiume or d'Annunzio, but that will be cute and a little bit nerdy entertainment. But if you want to know more about the murky depths of Goldenbird's historical background, you're welcome to this blog!

I've written more about d'Annunzio on the Goldenbird blog, the biographical essay Per Non Dormire and the bibliographical overview Dannunziana.