H.D. Blog 8 : of writing and weaponry

H.D.’s project of recovering “old values” involves a recovery of ancient wisdom and history. In section [9] of “The Walls Do Not Fall,” the word “endure” — echoing from section [1] where, within the ruins, “eternity endures” — now encompasses the act of writing:

Thoth, Hermes, the stylus,
the palette, the pen, the quill endure,

though our books are a floor
of smouldering ash under our feet;

though the burning of the books remains
the most perverse gesture

and the meanest
of man’s mean nature […]

Thoth was credited by the Egyptians as being the inventor of writing; he was worshipped by the ancient Egyptian Scribes. Hermes, in Greek mythology, is the god of boundaries and of those who cross boundaries (such as poets) and he is also considered a translator between the gods and man. From the word Hermes, we get “hermeneutics” – the art of interpreting hidden meaning (what words conceal). Hermes was combined / associated with Thoth to create Hermes Trismegistus, also leading to the Greeks naming Thoth’s cult centre as Hermopolis, meaning city of Hermes. H.D. shows us how the idea of writing crosses the boundaries of culture and time, from Egyptian to Greek to London, words turned to ashes by the war.

“Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” (German: “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.”)—Heinrich Heine, from his play Almansor (1821)

May 10, 1933 on the Opernplatz in Berlin, S.A. and Nazi youth groups burned around 20,000 books from the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft and the Humboldt University; including works by Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, Heinrich Heine, Karl Marx and H.G. Wells. Student groups throughout Germany also carried out their own book burnings on that day and in the following weeks. Nazi book burning continued thruout the 30 and 40s.

yet give us, they still cry,
give us books,

folio, manuscript, old parchment
will do for cartridge cases;

irony is bitter truth
wrapped up in a little joke,

and Hatshepsut’s name is still circled
by what they call the cartouche

This echoes the transition from rails to guns; here, even paper is being used for the war effort. The original cartridge for military small arms dates from 1586; it consisted of a charge of powder and a bullet in a paper tube. This is where we get the name “cartridge paper” for thick paper. The irony being that writing (whose impulse endures the fires) may be saved from burning becuase it can be used for guns; writing and war (or what H.D. calls the “sword” later on) are inextricably bound, have a dual-fate.

The last couplet is tricky: Maatkare Hatshepsut or Hatchepsut (late 16th century BC – c. 1482 BC) was the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Ancient Egypt. Hatshepsut is generally regarded by modern Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, ruling longer than any female ruler of an indigenous dynasty. She was one of the most prolific builders of ancient Egypt, commissioning hundreds of construction projects throughout both Upper and Lower Egypt and under her reign Egypt’s trade networks. She is believed to have ruled from 1503 BC to 1482 BC. Hatshepsut is regarded variously as the earliest known queen regnant in history, as the first known female to take the title King of Upper and Lower Egypt, and the first great woman in recorded history.

A cartouche, in Egyptian hieroglyphs, is an oblong enclosure with a vertical line at one end, indicating that the text enclosed is a royal name, The label cartouche (french for gun cartridge) was first applied by Napoleonic soldiers who fancied that the symbol they saw so frequently repeated on the pharaonic ruins resembled a gun cartridge.

Again, H.D. draws interesting parallels between the history of war and writing. Or perhaps more precisely: of writing and weaponry.

A list in the history of book burning:

Following the advice of Li Si, Qin Shi Huang ordered all philosophy books and history books from states other than Qin—except copies in the imperial library for official uses—to be burned 213 BC. This is accompanied by the live burial of a large number of intellectuals, who did not comply with the state dogma

According to the New Testament book of Acts, early converts to Christianity in Ephesus burned books of “curious arts”. “Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.” (Acts 19:19, KJV) The term curious arts refers to magical practices.

Established beliefs of Epicurus was burned in a Paphlagonian marketplace by order of the charlatan Alexander, supposed prophet of Ascapius ca 160

The Egyptian alchemical books of Alexandria were burnt by the emperor Diocletian in 292.

The books of Arius and his followers, after the first Council of Nicaea (325), for heresy.

The Sibylline Books were burnt by Flavius Stilicho (died 408).

In 367 Athanasius called in all non-conformist texts from the monasteries of Egypt.

The library of the Serapeum in Alexandria was trashed, burned and looted, 392, at the decree of Theophilus of Alexandria, who was ordered so by Theodosius I. Around the same time, Hypatia was murdered. One of the largest destruction of books occurred at the Library of Alexandria, traditionally held to be in 640, however the precise years are unknown as are whether the fires were intentional or accidental.

Etrusca Disciplina, the Etruscan books of cult and divination, collected and burned in the 5th century.

The books of Nestorius, after an edict of Theodosius II, for heresy (435).

In 1233 Maimonides’ “Guide for the Perplexed” was burnt at Montpellier, Southern France.

In the 1480s Tomas Torquemada promoted the burning of non-Catholic literature, especially Jewish Talmuds and, after the final defeat of the Moors at Granada in 1492, Arabic books also

In 1410 John Wycliffe’s books were burnt by the illiterate Prague archbishop Zbyněk Zajic z Házmburka in the court of his palace in Lesser Town of Prague to hinder the spread of Jan Hus’ teaching

In 1497 the Bonfire of the Vanities, preached by Girolamo Savonarola, consumed pornography, lewd pictures, pagan books, gaming tables, cosmetics, copies of Boccaccio’s Decameron, and all the works of Ovid which could be found in Florence.

In 1499 or 1500, in Andalucia, Spain, over a million Arabic and Hebrew books from one of the richest collections in history were burned on the orders of Cisneros, Archbishop of Granada Many of the poetic works were allegedly destroyed on account of their symbolized homoeroticism.

In 1525 & 1526 William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament were burned

In 1553, Servetius was burned for a heretic at the order of John Calvin, on a remark in his translation of Ptolemy’s Geography.

1562 Fray Diego de Landa, acting bishop of the Yucatan, threw into the fires the sacred books of the Maya

In 1814 the original Library of Congress was burned when the British and Canadians torched the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., in retaliation for the sacking of York.

In 1842, officials at the school for the blind in Paris France, were ordered by its new director, Armand Dufau, to burn books written in the new braille code. After every braille book at the institute that could be found was burned, supporters of the code’s inventor, Louis Braille, rebelled against Dufau by continuing to use the code, and braille was eventually restored at the school.

In 1918 the Valley of the Squinting Windows in Delvin, Ireland. The book criticised the village’s inhabitants for being overly concerned with their image towards neighbours.

in 1935 the library trustees of Warsaw, Indiana ordered the burning of all the library’s works by Theodore Dreiser [4].

In 1948, at Binghamton, New York children – overseen by priests, teachers, and parents – publicly burned around 2000 comic books.

The novel The Satanic Verses has been the subject of bookburnings, for instance at Bolton and Bradford.

In 1954–55 by order of the Justice Department, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) burned several tons of Wilhelm Reich’s publications that mentioned “orgone energy”

In May 1981 Sinhalese police officers on rampage burned the public library of Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka; a huge library collection, which was the second largest library in Asia, was destroyed: 97,000 books and very rare collection of ancient palm leaf volumes were among them

In February 1987 the Chilean Interior Ministry admitted that 15,000 copies of the Spanish edition of Clandestine in Chile:The Adventures of Miguel Littin were impounded and burned on November 28, 1986, in Valparaiso following direct orders from Augusto Pinochet.

In 1992 the Oriental Institute (Orijentalni institut) in Sarajevo was attacked by Serb nationalist forces with incendiary grenades and the whole collection was burned, the largest single act of book-burning in modern history. [6].

In the 1990s congregants of the Full Gospel Assembly in Grande Cache, Alberta, Canada burned books with ideas in them that they did not agree with, or that they deemed to contain ideas contrary to the teachings of God.

In September 2000, students at the University of California, Berkeley seized copies of Cop Killer: How Mumia-Abu Jamal Conned Millions Into Believing He Was Framed by Dan Flynn during a protest of his speaking engagement promoting the book.

In January 2001 the Egyptian Ministry of Culture burned 6,000 books of homoerotic poetry by Abu Nuwas, after pressure from Islamic fundamentalists.

There have been several incidents of Harry Potter books being burned, including those directed by churches at Alamogordo, New Mexico, Charleston, South Carolina, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


3 thoughts on “H.D. Blog 8 : of writing and weaponry

  1. csp – just like to quote from the book that im looking at on reading revival: geraldine mckenzies ‘duty’:

    burnt the fathers/
    black in the synagogue/
    make it holy, for Christ’s/
    sake–make it/
    holy total power/
    now as they rake over/
    the language/
    who writes the book/
    won’t need to burn

    (from ‘adenfrorde–fragments’)slashes are mine in case linebreak formatting doesnt come through.. my post on this is on may 30

    interested esp to hear about abu nuwas.. all yr posts have been very interesting

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