Sunday, 13 January 2013

Spike Milligan and History

Possibly the best books on WW2 are Spike Milligan's memoirs Vols1-4, starting with Adolf Hitler My Part In His Downfall. This is a highly contentious statement, some people annoyed Milligan by saying he was unreliable but even then went on to write their own autobiographies as 'Unreliable Memoirs' (Clive James). What a bitchy world. Milligan admits his truth is a bit jazzed up, but he was at least there, and his unflinching attempts to entertain us with the sheer tedium, misery and desperation are revealing not only of the desperation of the war itself, but also in him. At the end of Vol4, he's sectioned.
That is not to say that we should all appreciate history as if watching Night At the Museum II, which I thought was hugely funny, lisping Pharaohs and all, last night. Lisping Pharaohs is jazzing it up a bit, but jazzing it up well to be sure. You can make a lot of the difficulty with history. In his recent book on Reinhard Heydrich, 'HHHH', Laurent Binet begins to annoy you with it. In it his concerns, the authors concerns, while entertainingly post modern, or at least entertaining to Martin Amis, could be said to detract every so slightly from the evil of Heydich himself, and that could be said to be no good thing. It must be a question of balance and intension, because with post modernism, values are apt, ever so slightly, to disappear.
The thing about history is of course that any biographer would give eye teeth to know that 'Jesus raised his left eyebrow just a little when he was interested in something somebody said' but we shouldn't make such a huge song and dance about not knowing that and having to be creative somehow (this is also a hugely contentious statement) we understand that we are stuck, not to get Buddhist about it, in the here and now, in this case stuck in Bethnal Green, 11.24am, Jan 13th. If we weren't, as one of my students very perceptively said last week, and with one eyebrow quisically raised, and we were time travelling as in Back to the Future II, we would all be crashing into each other and it would be very dangerous. In one fell swoop she demolished any possibility of time travel. Time travel doesn't make any mathematical sense, since there cannot be two things in the same place at the same time, and actually, I don't want to be in Milligan's sodden tent or in his sodden boots either.
However time travel does make perfect literary sense.

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