After all the reading of self help and entrepreneurial help type books see below, I felt a need to read something like a novel again. Too much self help can make you feel helpless, in the sense of: wow, I have a lot to improve. What have I done the past x years – thrown half my life away?
I tripped over Marente de Moor’s De Nederlandse maagd (The Dutch Virgin), and purchased it on my new kindle. The story plays largely in Germany, during the interbellum. The main person, a Dutch adolescent girl, is sent on a training camp for fencing in Germany. The training teacher is an German WW I veteran and the story plays against that background, and the approaching WW II.
Interesting setting that reminded me of Céline, whose work covers the same period. But what intrigued me especially in the book where the dark sides in this story.
One of the days during her stay, the girl attends a Mensur fight. I had never heard of such a ritual in Western civilisations, where opponents quite deliberately wound eachother in the face.
I got interested in this Mensur and it’s code honour. Did some research to find out where this came from. There is an excellent article on this topic that can be found on the internet, written bij the journalist Jonathan Green. It is here in the web archive.
So what is this Mensur. It is a odd kind of sword fight with swords practiced amongst student in a corps as a kind of bonding and building of character. All for self-conquest instead on winning from an opponent other than oneself.
The rules are such that there are limited defense options besides special protectives from eyes and nose and a sort of body armor. Participants typically end up with significant cuts on the face and wounds on the head, which are treated on the spot.
The remaining scars are sign of honor. An honorable practice you could easily argue is a rather brute and horrific initiation ritual.
Further down in the book there is the description of a ghostly appearance, the main characters experience. She sees the head of a wounded person, whose head is half gone.
“Zijn gezicht was maar aan een kant wet weefsel bedekt, de andere kant was een doodskop.” / “His face was only covered with tissue on one side, de other side was a skull.”
The description reminded me of the image in my head I have of the cover of Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Mort a Credit (Death on Credit/Dood op Krediet. (Guess I had unconsciously associated the story with Celine already, as we saw). The cover of the Dutch edition from Meulenhoff had a similar picture on the cover.
Now on my qui vive for disgust, I started noticing more of these horror references.
Description of decaying bodies killed or wounded in battle. Fermentation of animals, which makes meat tender. (Eskimo’s seem to fill seal carcasses with dead birds to enrich the fermentation process. Kiviak, I found. See http://www.odditycentral.com/pics/kiviaq-probably-the-worlds-most-disgusting-meat-dish.html. I understand they eat the bird (not the seal meat) “fresh, right out of the seal-bag after a couple of months of breeding). Referred to as in the book as a decadent rotting. The doctor manufactures a hand from a foot and and nose out of cheek tissue. And there is a link to the Golem mentioned earlier in the book, created through a ‘Procedure (Mulsich Procedure), but here the doctor has taken an almost dead man from the battlefield and resurrected him through physical and mental patch work.
No I have arrived in this space, other linkages with other well known Dutch writers: one of the protagonists has suffered from a dissociative diaorder – he thinks he is doppelgänger of himself. Which of course is the main theme of Hermans’ De donkere kamer van Damocles / The Darkroom of Damocles. And twins (I don’t see a relation to the theme in Tessa de Loo’s De Tweeling), but the notion of a shadow-soul that follows us around, and after death passes on our experience to another body is interesting concept (and again may associates with Hermans, this time Engelbewaarder / Memories of a guardian angel). Not sure whether the writer has made it up or I can’t simply find a reference, but I could not validate it let alone find more information on that.
One last concept to touch on is the “Sippenhaftung”, horror of another kind another. I think this is the main theme for the book. The girl’s father has commited a sin, for which the girl is paying: Sippenhaftung. That’s Sippenhaftung: an honor is blemished, the relatives of the offender are paying for the sins of the offender. A concept Hitler reintroduced after the attack on his life by Von Stauffenberg. (By the way is seems Hitler opposed the practice of Mensur, it seems.) Other great nation states like North Korea and Chechnia are practicing this kind of right.