The Life of Henry Fuckit
24 Polonius crap
My Dear Henry
Greetings from us all here at Ingachini. My turn has come around again and it is with a sense of warm pleasure that I address you once more. The arrival of your letters never fails to create a great stir and seemingly endless conversation about their contents. We follow your progress with interest, amusement and a good deal of concern. As for life here 'on the koppie', it goes on much as usual - no discernible movement but ceaseless intellectual bustle. I am happy to report that your Aunt Lydia's asthmatic condition has improved remarkably in the past few months and Herr Fritz's back is less troublesome of late. I, for one, am sure this can in no way be attributed to your coincidental absence, although I must admit there has been a noticeable lessening of nervous tension in and around the house since your departure. The weather has been very hot but it would appear that finally the rains have arrived: yesterday we had our first good storm of the season with 'cataracts,' 'hurricanes' and 'oak-cleaving thunderbolts' that would have induced in you your customary state on such occasions - wild-eyed exultation.
My use of King Lear's words to describe the elements prompts me to mention a matter that for some time has been on my mind. I have noticed with approval, in your everyday speech and now in your letters, your copious use of literary allusions. This is usually the mark of a confident and cultivated mind and adds flavour and depth to both conversation and the written word. In speech one normally prefaces these quotations and allusions with such phrases as, 'In the words of the bard…,' or, 'As Marcus Aurelius put it…,' or 'To quote from the Old Testament…' And on the page the minimum obligation is the use of inverted commas. I mention this because in one of your letters you describe the colour of your ex-employer's teeth as 'snotgreen'. This was an aptly disgusting figure of speech and enlivened the caricature you were sketching. However, what disturbs me is the way in which you appropriated this metaphor to enhance the effectiveness of your description without alerting the uninitiated to the fact that it was not your own property. Of course I know that you have read much of Joyce's work. Of course I am aware that the original metaphor was used to describe the colour of the Irish Sea. There is no doubt in my mind that you lifted 'snotgreen' straight out of Ulysses. What I am not sure of is whether you are prepared to take the credit for such an unusual figure of speech. If you had put the word in inverted commas all doubt would have been removed. Better still, you should have worded your description something like this: 'The Manager's teeth were stained the same Joycean hue as the Irish Sea - snotgreen.' It's all about honesty and integrity. I looked up some of my correspondence with Auden and found a piece he wrote about his own work. Allow me to quote from his letter dated June 1966.
"A dishonest poem is one which expresses, no matter how well, feelings or beliefs which it's author never felt or entertained. To say something simply because it sounds rhetorically effective is quite inexcusable."
Then I must take you to task over what you had to say about the importance of imagination. (I shall quote you without your permission.)
'My psychological health is determined by my ability to arrange a jumble of transient images, sensations and thoughts into some kind of coherent experience. It is my imagination which does this sorting and arranging, and if I can give it enough freedom, enough latitude, and if I can provide it with a sufficient variety of material with which to work, it can be relied upon to rearrange the passing scene into one which is interesting and sometimes entertaining as well.'
I am afraid there is something terribly amoral about such an approach to the use of imagination. It suggests a gratuitous selfishness and a deliberate denial of any goal higher than "interest" or "entertainment". The proper use of imagination involves a quest for something rarefied and noble. That something consists of self-knowledge and the ability to recognise what Coleridge called "unity" and "principle". All one's life one should be searching for the good and the true in oneself and the world at large. What I detect in your attitude is defeat. It is as if you have made up your mind there is no intrinsic worth to be discovered in yourself or in others, and it would be futile and silly to look for it. How convenient! How easy! My dear Henry, you are made of sterner stuff. You are no jellyfish at the mercy of wind and current. You have a wonderful brain, a brave spirit. Don't fall into the ways of the cynic and waste precious time refusing to take up the challenge. By all means use your imagination to order the world but use it in a determined and creative way. Through introspection and reflection it is possible to achieve meaningful insight. However, introspection should not be confused with daydreaming (of the type indulged in by Walter Mitty). Nor should reflection be subrogated by alcoholic reverie, as in the case of the melancholic barfly. (I note with some consternation the frequency with which you seem to patronise the drinking houses of Cape Town.)
Henry, I can well imagine your anger and irritation on reading this unsolicited advice. Please don't take it as criticism, and bear in mind my own painful history - a hard-won personal vision that met with uncomprehending hostility and derision culminating in condemnation and ostracism. You are aware that I have struggled and suffered and I would hope that I have not become embittered. Please know that my words are well intentioned and that I have the fullest confidence in your ability to become a fine, well-rounded individual - morally sure, intellectually honest, compassionate, humorous, loyal and modest.
Very well, I agree with what I know you must be feeling: enough of this 'Polonius crap'. Now it is my sad duty to conclude this letter with news of our two young friends, Frikkie and Alan. Alan has met with a most humiliating accident. On the very eve of his first taste of combat he suffered a gunshot wound whilst cleaning his rifle. Fortunately it was his left foot and not his right, and no bone damage was sustained. Frikkie's situation is equally embarrassing. He has been listed as 'missing in action', but the Military Police have been here looking for him. Between you and me, I wouldn't be at all surprised if you were to bump into him in Cape Town one of these days.
Well, my boy, I hope you continue to find life 'interesting and entertaining', and maybe even something more than that. Remember that you are often in our conversation and thoughts. Fond good wishes from us all.
Your affectionate uncle,
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