The following article appeared in The Age, Saturday, 3rd November, 2012. Opening night of Wild Surmise is Thursday 15th November at The Malthouse in Melbourne.
WILD SURMISE AT THE MALTHOUSE
Dorothy Porter was fascinated by space. In the latter part of her life, stars, planets, our universe and the fabulous intrigue of deep space came to capture her imagination like nothing else.
In 1995 a new comet was discovered. It was called Hale-Bopp after its founders. Two years later it passed over Australian skies. Dorothy – Dot – was ecstatic. But then her excitement was always red hot.
In his Berlin Diary (Hamish Hamilton, 1941) the American foreign correspondent, William L. Shirer, observed that ‘for the last three or four years the Nazi regime has expressed something very deep in the German nature and in that respect has been representative of the people it rules.’ That is, the rise of Hitler and Nazism was not due to the charisma of the leader or an unusually astute political machine, in fact, nothing unique about the movement or its leader could account for the widespread support from the German people. Rather what Hitler stood for and what he pandered to was already there, in the German people: beliefs about German superiority, German purity, an essence of ‘Germanness’ which set Germans apart and above other people. Hitler identified these traits (and, of course, he shared them) and fed them back to the people in a form that both enhanced the values themselves and the people who subscribed to them.
There’s nothing new in what follows, nothing mysterious or intriguing. It’s that old old stab in the heart of wisdom that comes too late.
I’m reading Irving Howe’s magisterial THE WORLD OF OUR FATHERS. In this book bursting with detail, Howe documents the immigration of Eastern European Jews to the US – to the Lower East side of NYC in particular – from the 1880’s to the 1920s. He writes about long hours in factories, appalling housing, illness, loneliness, dislocation. He writes about hopes and dreams, the night classes and lectures, the workers’ groups. And he writes about the children of these Yiddish speaking parents, children who became Americanised, who, like so many children of immigrants, born out of the hardship of their parents go through a stage of resentment of those parents, even shame. It is not that they don’t love their parents, or are not grateful. But the parents are tethered to a past that simply has no relevance to these children impatient to plunge into the new world.