Friday, November 23, 2012

There's a new thing out on Kim (i and ii)

Not Kipling's Kim, mind you
(although there probably is,
I should have checked), but
Mr Philby, the soon-to-be
forgotten but until this
generation dies out, the
everyone's-favourite Kim.
Feastfodder to folioists
of foreignism at its fatal-
est. Forager for facts un-
fortunately pilfered un-
fairly, that sort of Kim.
at Teruel while spying for
Stalin Kim, you know, our
Littell and Furst. Such a
Kim there was, in Kim.

Possibly the new
text is not so
much about Kim as
it is about what
we'd rather never
lose about Kim,
his mystery, his
ambiguous naughti-
ness and the pros-
pect of its having
been OK because in-
herently English.
After all were not 
all the brighter 
(did I say, better?)
ones naturally cur-
ious, if anyone ever

Oh, we can be glad, to be seeing that peculiar diagnostic dyslexia of treacheries die out, the tired and ever-tenuous trope of treason in the blood of turncoat boys or twisted minds, that criminal conspiracy of conservative criticism sometimes romantically enabled by Cocteau's own conception of outlaws. All the more reason, to revisit Kim as Robert Littell has lately done, re-imagined in the fragmented shards of perspective of his closest friends. Is this there go those Littells again, this time the father of the romanceur of the evilest guy of the century, Sebastian Aue of Les Bienveillantes? Am I enjoying it? I'm afraid I am.

Graham Greene, bless his immaculately jaundiced liver, gave us the word for it, the word for this interrogation of what it is that lets us like and even join in shaping narratives drawn from life. He called our con-cords, entertainments.  I think, there is a certain willingness for history to afford us a problem play, for so long as the known facts will sustain it. Think, fossil fuels are good for you.

Did anyone reading this, happen to see the posting immediately preceding it? The occasion recalled at Thanksgiving took place in the same year, for some of the same reasons, in the same conditions of madness and fantasy, and in the same unambiguously terminal terms as Kim's flight to Moscow, escaping arrest for the highest, ineradicable treason. Possibly romantic revisionism is to history what fracking is to fossil fuels, a counter-reformation masking maladjustment. I'm reading the book with not a little of the delight I found in his son's masterpiece, of ironic trial by seduction. I am not going to use this day to argue against reading Othello.

iii        Andrew Westermann
iv         Benjamin Eidem
vi-vii   Jon Paul
viii      Jeremy Young

Robert Littell
Young Philby
Thomas Dunne Books
St Martin's Press, 2012©


NB: On Monday, 26 Nov, this following-up posting, not a customary feature of this page, was published at 7:00am, and ran until 6:00pm Eastern (US) Standard Time, when it was transferred here as a part ii of the posting given above. In consequence, a pleasant exchange in the comment section, with Tassos Paschalis, was lost. The title of this entry had been:

Lintz, whiskey, cubical

The editors at St Martin's Press have not a little to answer for, in allowing the publication of Mr Robert Littell's puckish new volume on Kim Philby with jar-ring, if not entirely misbottled orthographic affronts. The small Austrian city notorious for a style of torte and as the birthplace of the regrettable Chancellor of Germany, although redeemed by lending its name to a symphonic annunciation from the young Mozart, is given the eccentric phonetic treatment shown in the heading. In an interrogation dialogue in the Lubyanka, an NKVD bureaucrat is heard to refer to her carrel of an office, not with the noun of space planning but with an adjective drawn from geometry. 

Given Janet Flanner's novel of New York, The Cubical City (1974), pro-letarians in the publishing field might have been more sensible of our linguistic heritage. Ubiquitously, moreover, the English gentleman's beverage is spelled as if it were bourbon. In the aggregate these distractions do not leave one bilious, strictly speaking, but they do make for a bumpy night at best, in a narrative styled to be breakneck by higher means. What's regrettable is that Philby's virtuosity in risk is treated to a sordid negligence. This first edition may turn out to be an almost philatelic sort of treasure, so I'm not giving mine up; but those of any duty to the young are advised to await the second.

Will one regard the wait as worth it? I think, genuinely so. What is missing in this telling of the Philby tale has really not ever been seized, even in his State-sponsored memoir from Moscow: what was going on with you, boy? But how fair this is, everyone will under-stand. What is dauntingly enormous in Philby's treacheries is as large as Odysseus' seduction of Philoc-tetes, and yet we know countless moments in nearer lives in which a glimpse of consequences could have turned one from the abyss of wit's indulgence. Philby was an unseeing artist of the underworld, and those we love are in our charge to show the tempting space as one we know.

v   Currents at Antiparos
     Tassos Paschalis

Robert Littell
Young Philby
op. cit.

No comments:

Post a Comment