Read an interview with Lucy Sussex
Two Nazi salutes: The first one occurred in Isenheim, Germany, sometime in the late 1930s. My mother, an art fan, but speaking no German, had somehow doggedly travelled across Nazi Germany in order to experience Grünewald’s Isenheim altarpiece in its paint and canvas actuality. At her destination she encountered a great work of Christian art, but also an officious stationmaster, greatly concerned that this young Fraulein should catch her train back to France. He bustled around her like a clucky hen, opening the carriage door and helping her in, closing the door, but still keeping watch from the platform. Then, as the train chugged out of the station he gave this young woman, this fair, blue-eyed Australian, the ultimate sign of respect, the Nazi salute. Heil Hitler! Second salute: My father was also an Australian in pre-war Europe, but a student at the Sorbonne. He and a group of Anglophone friends were hiking down a French country road, when they found an abandoned teddy bear in their path. Bizarrely, its furry arm was raised high, as if this inoffensive bear was a toy-closet Nazi. The students stood around the bear and saluted back: Heil Teddy! Photographs were taken, preserving a record of my incredibly youthful-looking parent saluting a bear fuhrer. Brunswick, fifty years later: March 1994, and neo-Nazis, National Action, as they call themselves, demonstrated outside Brunswick Town Hall, for freedom of speech. I wasn’t there, but I saw the photos in the local paper, and thus indirectly witnessed them, as I did the salutation to the abandoned bear. As a result I could identify the young man in black, shaven headed, who wandered down Sydney Road. On his head were tattooed words, rendered illegible by distance both from my trampoint and in the photo. Did they read: Love Adolf? White Power? style="mso-spacerun: yes"> At least he had the courage of his vile convictions – another National Action member was masked with a scarf, like a western bandit, or, more relevantly, like the shrouded Islamic women living in Brunswick. Thirty members of National Alliance demonstrated, to be met by a counter-demonstration of several thousand infuriated locals. International Socialists mainly, I was told. Another person said: “But the dykes were there too!” I described these interesting if worrying events in a letter to a friend who lives in the Czech republic, formerly Czechoslovakia, and got this reply: In our country, there is now much more groups like extremely rightist skinheads (doing massacres of Gypsies) or anarchists (attacking participants of expensive balls and other “high society” activities), or defenders of animal rights (disturbing the horse races) – this all was unthinkable in the totalitarian times! Neo-Nazists are not as strong here as in Germany, because Nazism was condemning also the Czechs as an “inferior race”. It is funny that my older son was picked up to play a Nazist child in an American film Vaterland (based on an American sci-fi novel, but I haven’t read it yet) – he had to sing Horst Wessel Lied in a chorus of children and I got also a costume and played a woman in the audience – the whole scene was set in an alternate world, in 1964, where the Nazists had won the war and now they are celebrating Hitler’s 75th birthday. The scene was filmed outside last week and so we spent the whole night in the freezing open air, and my son caught an awful cold, as he wore only a thin uniform, and now he is sick, but happy that he played in a film. Vaterland is not the only fiction concerned with the dystopic (as opposed to utopic) possibility of a second world war won by the Axis powers. In response to the letter quoted I sent to Prague a copy of my story “Kay & Phil”, about two writers who also considered this appalling possibility, via the medium of the novel. “Kay” is Katharine Burdekin (1896-1963), an English feminist writer who published the prodromic Swastika Night with Victor Gollancz in 1937, under the pseudonym “Murray Constantine”. She is considerably less known than “Phil”, Philip K. Dick (1928-82), canonized within the science fiction field, a “cult” writer outside it. Dick’s Nazi dystopia The Man in the High Castle was published in 1962 and won a Hugo award in 1963, the year of Burdekin’s death. It is highly unlikely Burdekin saw a copy of Dick’s novel. On the other hand, there are small details in The Man in the High Castle that indicate he may have read her dystopia. However, they were not the stuff of an academic article. The anxiety of Burdekin’s possible influence on Dick was something better explored in the medium of fictocriticism, or to create a sub-category here, ficto-biography. Midnight, 1961,
In Point Reyes, California…During the key time of his life when he was writing The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick was living in Point Reyes, with his third wife Anne and their children. I recreated his milieu from the two biographies of Dick already published, a piece of research conducted under singular difficulties, as at the crucial time of writing "Kay & Phil", they were unavailable to me except in Bruce Gillespie’s living room. Gillespie, editor and publisher of The Electric Shepherd, the first volume of Dickian criticism, does not loan books. Therefore the necessary research into "Phil" took place in a room filled with Bruce, books, at least four cats, and a companion brought to chat to Bruce while I frantically took notes. "Kay" was a little easier. The available information on her is limited to several prefaces and articles written by Professor Daphne Patai, responsible for cracking the pseudonym "Murray Constantine" and reprinting Burdekin via the Feminist Press in New York. Thus, as I somewhat nervously confessed by letter to Patai, I had the freedom to make "Kay" up, as I did not, to the same degree, with "Phil". Not a creature was stirring, except in the small cabin, its one lighted window like a wakeful eye. Phil called this place the "hovel", though it was really a haven, the place away from home where he wrote. Tonight, though, he was not seated at the Royal typewriter but lolling in the one armchair, a pile of books at his elbow. He had Goebbels’ Diaries, Alan Bullock on Hitler, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, anthologies of Japanese poetry, and on top, the black-backed twin volumes of the I Ching. You do too much research, his wife Anne had said over dinner. Like heck, he had thought. Now he wondered if she was right. Maybe I should just go ahead with the book. We need the money, don’t we? All those god-damned bills…. Behind him, he heard the sound of a discreet, very low cough. He turned his head to see, standing by the door, what he at first took to be his mother. Dorothy shouldn’t be here, he thought – last I heard she was on vacation. And why is she dressed in her nightclothes? Then he remembered that his mother never wore pajamas, let alone striped flannelette ones such as showed through the slit in the mannish woollen dressing gown, nor plain slippers, without heels. The tall, thin, elderly woman standing in front of the closed door was a stranger. The above is a reasonably accurate description of Dick’s milieu in 1961, even if Bruce Gillespie felt it wasn’t his Philip K. Dick. As regards Burdekin, the problem was that in 1955 she had nearly died of an aneurysm, which left her bedridden until her death in 1963. Clearly the dramatic possibilities of a meeting between Burdekin and Dick could not be explored in the medium of social realism. Metafiction, maybe, an authors’ space, outside the dictates of space and time. "There would be differences in how we would envisage such a world," Kay said, swinging one foot. "You are fortunate to be writing well after the defeat of fascism. In 1936 it seemed an all too possible future. Now it is merely an alternative for you to toy with, fictionally." Phil got to his feet, stung. "Hey!" he said. "I’m not playing with anything. I’m serious!" He gestured wildly, inarticulately, then froze – Because at the tip of his index finger a window had suddenly opened up, as if one of his stepdaughters had snipped an illustration from the National Geographic, leaving a neat hole in the glossy paper, so that in flipping through the magazine he had found the page depicting the home of a Pilgrim father cutting to the following photofeature on Tahiti. There, in his cabin, was a large square of bright blue sky, with a vapor trail across it. "Aargh," he said, and withdrew his hand hurriedly. The window remained, floating in mid-air. Kay had arisen. "My fault, I’m afraid. Things like this happen when I go abroad. I suppose it’s so improbable that a sickly old Englishwoman should wander via the astral plane that attendant improbabilities follow hard upon…." She shuffled up to the square and gazed into it. "The view from an office," she commented. Phil neared, and cautiously peeked over her bony shoulder. He saw a room very high up, dominated by a glass wall, showing San Franciscan sky and at the bottom of this vista the Golden Gate bridge. In the foreground was visible one corner of a shiny hardwood desk and by the window hung a scroll, of beautiful paper, with Oriental characters writ large upon it. He smiled in recognition. "That’s Tagomi’s office." "Tagomi?" "He’s in the book I’m planning." She turned her head, and he saw a glint of excitement in those old eyes. "Shall we take a closer look?" I read a lot of Philip K. Dick in my twenties; now I return to only a handful of his books, leaving the majority un-revisited. He died in 1982, and was soon the subject of two biographies, revealing the utter strangeness of the man, something not apparent except in his final, inferior fictions, works of raving bugs religious fanaticism. Moreover, though in our post-modern condition we do not expect the creators of fine artwork to be in themselves fine people, he was profoundly flawed, a misogynist fearing the mother figure, attracted continually to young, unthreatening women. What might have he have made of Murray Constantine’s Swastika Night, a book it was at least possible he could have read since it was, in its second printing, widely distributed by Gollancz? The book is as much strongly feminist as it is anti-Nazi. My mother and I swap interesting books, she having participated in my early Philip K. enthusiasm and then subsequently in my discovery of Burdekin, a book she passed on to my father. Both agreed that, though they had grown up with the depression, and the awareness that a second world war was unavoidable, they had no inkling of such matters as the holocaust, which as Patai notes, Burdekin envisaged six years before the event. She was well-informed, being a friend of Frederick Voigt, the Manchester Guardian’s correspondent in Berlin in the 1920s and 30s. Thus she took particular note of the Nazi’s early suppression of the German feminist organizations. Her fictional society shows a future Nazi world, taken to an extreme that is not illogical, for she had correctly divined the misogyny inherent in the ideology. But to experience her book, though, Phil and Kay again have to enter a fictional world… Revealed was a swastika candelabra illuminating two human backs, stock-still in front of an elaborate keyboard. A church organ, thought Phil, and seated at it were the organist, a woman with mouse-brown hair and a young girl, with the same drab coloring, a page-turner. Kay took a few steps forward; he followed. Now they were gazing over the musicians’ heads, into a vaulted space, very high, but narrow. Though he could barely see the arched roof, against the opposite wall was a kettledrum, and leaning over it, a burly figure, sticks poised to strike. There was a choir too, all in long, flowing robes, like gospel singers, their mouths half open, as if about to sing. At the center of the building, where its four arms met, stood an aged and dignified man, wearing a black cloak, over a tunic as blue as the San Franciscan sky, with silver swastikas on the collar. Around him were the congregation, who had risen from simple wooden chairs, their mouths also agape. "Frozen like that, they do look absurd," mummured Kay. Phil knew ministers, and he did not doubt the clam authority of the man in black and sky-blue. What bothered him, though, was that the swastikas were accompanied by the flowing hair and beard of an old testament prophet. What is the guy, he wondered, a beatnik? The drummer was similarly hirsute, as were the choir and congregation. Bearded like hillbillies, the lot of them. The only exceptions were the children in the congregation, a very pretty blonde girl in the front row of the choir, and the sisters? mother and daughter? at the organ. He looked down at the two mousy heads below him and realized suddenly that he was in error: though the organist had hair as long as Anne’s, he also sported a straggly goatee. Kay goofed, he decided. The Nazis would never let their hair grow like that – they’d think it effeminate. But he could hear, barely above a whisper, her voice again: "The old man is the Knight von Hess, the feudal leader of this district. I suspect that he may be rather like your Samurai Tagomi, a noble man in an ignoble system, although he himself would reject any comparison with the Japanese. It was he who compared them to apes." Phil was looking at the congregation. "Who’s the young man in the second row, with the beard, ruddy face, and the protuberant blue eyes?" Kay turned her head. "Clever you," she said. "That’s Hermann, another main character." "He sticks out because he’s gawping at that chick singer. When the service is over, is he gonna ask Goldilocks for a date?" "Goldilocks is a boy." "The faggot!" "They all are." He stared at her. You may look like a sweet old lady, he thought, but hoo boy! you certainly don’t think like one. "Is that the reason for the long hair?" "No. Even before the war certain sections of the Nazi party were identifying with pagan mythology. I merely extended the concept to their religion and their personal appearance, having them bearded and tressed like Thor and Wotan. And…" A slightly mischievous expression crept across her face. "But perhaps I will let you see for yourself. If we could find a secluded nook in this church, somewhere where we could see without being observed ourselves, I might be able to start the action of the novel. I feel a curious desire to hear the choir, vile though their lyrics are. I should know – I wrote them myself." "Behind the curtain?" said Phil. "We couldn’t see anything there. I wonder about the steps, though. Might they lead to a vantage point?" Before he could reply she had answered herself. "Of course! How could I forget, not though I made use of it in the book. The Hitler miracle plays!" "What?" "They would have been performed in the church, and the scenes where Hitler and Goebbels are addressed by the Divine Thunderer, from Heaven where the heroes live, require gods. Upstairs!" She darted out of the alcove, nearly smothering him in the voluminous folds of the curtain as she pulled it shut behind her. He extricated himself, and followed Kay up the stairs, until they came to a landing cum props room, with heaped in it horned pâpier-maché helmets, wooden spears, even a breastplate, its gilt beginning to flake and peel. The room was closed on one side by another curtain, blue this time. Kay marched up to the slit in the center of the curtain and drew it aside a smidgen. "Yes," she said. "I was right!" Through the lips of dusty blue cloth he could see below the choir, the congregation and the grizzled head of von Hess. "There’s a platform out there," he said. "Too visible. We will be safer behind the curtain." She sat down on the cold stone, regaining her breath. Phil did likewise, feeling vulnerable and wishing that they could be closer to their exit. After a while Kay said: "You may find this strange, but I am not entirely sure how to get things moving." "Concentrate," he said. "Or maybe snap your fingers." He acted out his words, then regretted it, for the sound was fearfully loud in this quiet place. Kay smiled, cautiously lifted her hand, then repeated his motion. Music. First there was an organ chord, deep and sonorous, then a roll on the drums, as loud as if Kay’s Divine Thunderer were within the church. Phil looked down and saw the Knight had turned towards the west of the building, with the congregation following suit. A massed choir of male voices sang out: "Ich glaube!" "Their Creed!" said Kay, speaking loudly into his ear, for the singing soared towards the gods at awesome volume. They believe, Phil thought, they must really believe, to sing like that. That singer, the blond boy, what a pure soprano! It put him in mind of an angel, a Wagnerian angel. Pity about the tune though. And the arrangement. It sounded like the duller bits of Beethoven and Wagner shook around in a barrel with some Bavarian drinking songs. This is supposed to be 700 years in the future, he thought. Surely German music would have progressed in that time. What about Schoenberg and the other avant-garde composers? Then he recollected that they had mostly been Jewish and the Nazis had abominated their work. What were they singing about now? He caught the word "exploded" and on cue the organ and the drums cut in again, augmenting the sound to a thunderous roar. The figures below lifted their arms stiffly in the Nazi salute and he felt a pang of distaste. "What was that crescendo for?" he said into Kay’s ear. She turned her head, and her lips almost against his earlobe, said: "Adolf Hitler, their Christ. They were saying he was not born of woman, but exploded from the head of the Thunderer." It sounded crazy to Phil. He shut up and listened to the rest of the Creed, which contained some familiar names, with Stalin and Lenin execrated, Goebbels and Goering praised, bizarre in that mass-like setting. At the end the Knight turned back towards the east, and the congregation sat, the sound of their chairs on the stone floor jarring and discordant. There was a long silence, then the Knight, after a cough as polite and soft as Kay’s, began to intone, in beautiful courtly German. Phil mentally translated the words: "As a woman is above a worm So is a man above a woman." What? he thought. That wasn’t in the Nazi ideology. They were keen on Kinder, Küche, Kirchen, but I don’t think they were misogynists. Hitler had Eva Braun. Goebbels was a womanizer. Most of the others were family men. Maybe it’s got something to do with Kay making them homosexual. He turned, intending to ask, but she was intent on the service. He said nothing, listening to that elegant voice, that could make such bloodthirsty sentiments sound poetic. There was stuff now about race defilement – that figured, then something about Hitler and the Thunderer. Apparently they formed a Duality. While he was still trying to work that out the Knight finished, coughed again, and saluted the congregation. The ceremony was over. "Is that it?" he whispered to Kay. Below, the singers were moving out of their seats with military precision. They formed a neat bloc in front of the choirstalls, then marched, in formation, down the aisle. The drummer and the pair at the organ followed, and after a pause, the congregation. He nudged Kay, still wanting an answer. She shook her head. The Knight, Phil suddenly noticed, was not among the marchers. "Where is the old man?" he asked, and she replied: "In the Hitler Chapel, resting. He has another service to conduct shortly." At the same time Phil heard, from far below, shouting, of which he caught only the final imprecation not to dawdle. He sat back, watching the church empty, until only two brawny men remained, who were collecting the wooden chairs and stacking them against the walls. Then they too left. What now? wondered Phil. Then he heard sounds below, shuffling and whimpers, and a body of people came slowly into sight, not marching, but straggling. They were all dressed in jacket and trousers of an ugly dun-brown, and their downcast heads were shaved. "Jesus!" thought Phil, appalled at this mass of ugliness. The Knight had reappeared and was walking, shoulders back, white head erect, towards the mass of brown, which as he neared emitted shrill, terrified cries. Another bearded man, carrying a big stick, moved among the crowd; eddying like a sheepdog he brought them to a halt, a disorganized clump halfway up the church. When all stood still he saluted the Knight and marched quickly out of the church. Far below huge doors slammed. "I hadn’t thought of it until now," Kay murmured, "but they could, in theory, while alone in the church with the Knight, tear him to pieces." "You mean the ones with the shaved heads? Are they from a concentration camp?" "They live in a cage, yes." "What are they? Jews? Communists?" "Listen to them!" said Kay. The Knight had stopped, yet the screams continued. Phil traced one of the thin sounds to a short figure, its naked head almost too big for its puny body. Why, that’s a boy! he thought, then almost immediately spotted another, his head half buried in the lap of an elderly adult. It’s kids who are screaming, he realized, indignant. What’s the old man think he’s doing, scaring those little guys like that? The form of what was unmistakably a pregnant woman, despite the shaved head, and the unfeminine, unflattering garb, caught his eye. Shouldn’t she be sitting down? he thought. She doesn’t look too good. He could distinguish other full-bellied figures in the crowd, and had started to make a count before he became distracted by the number of people who were weeping – children, the pregnant females, old folk, young adults, they were snivelling or sobbing or howling unrestrainedly. He glanced at Kay, and saw her eyes were damp. Embarrassed, he looked back down again and suddenly became aware that besides the factor of dress in common, all were narrow-shouldered and slight. Though none wore dresses or makeup, below him was a company of – "Women," said Kay, and below her the Knight shouted: "Frauen!" Phil jumped at the sound of that deep voice, but felt, besides the physical reaction, a more profound shock. Kay was regarding him intensely again. "Phil," she said, "didn’t you remember the Women’s Worship from my book?" He hadn’t, until now, because those shaven heads, that abject misery, had upset him so much that he had put Swastika Night out of his conscious memory. "No," he said truthfully. "You must have had some inkling from what von Hess said. Or from the men-only ceremony." "I thought I saw some girls," he said, recalling the page-turner, and a few beardless faces among the congregation. "Immature boys," she said. "You sat through the service and never noticed the absence of women!" She had an all too familiar look on her face. He had seen it on Dorothy, his mother; on Anne; and on his previous two wives. It said: Men! "That’s right," he said aggressively. "But you confused me with the longhairs. Hey, what have you got, some sorta hair fetish? Why shave the women?" "They can’t be allowed to be beautiful," she said sadly. "Because they are only kept for breeding. They are worms, remember? A beautiful woman has power over men, and in this world women are powerless. The society depends upon it. This service reinforces the message, by telling them it is their sacred duty to be submissive and bear sons." "You got one helluva warped vision!" he said. "I read all about the Nazis for my book, and they never put women in camps, unless they were Communist, or Jewish, or…" "Feminists," she finished. A problem with writing a metafiction deriving from non-canonical works of literature is the degree of familiarity these works have to the reader, as opposed to the writer. Dick is famous enough to have had songs written about him and his dead twin sister, a figure with whom he was obsessed ("Sister" by avant-garde popsters Sonic Youth). Burdekin remains obscure. A biography, like those on Dick, would probably make her accessible, given the increasing interest in literary lives, as opposed to works, though these create the interest in the author in the first place. Peter McNamara, who edited "Kay & Phil" in the Australian anthology Alien Shores, initially thought Kay was my invention; I responded by sending him the opening pages of Swastika Night, describing the Women’s Worship. He found it "depressing". A. Susan Williams, who reprinted the story in The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women, was better informed, having Swastika Night on her bookshelf. The reactions of readers who have never heard of either writer intrigues me, but as yet I have yet to hear of anyone reading the story as straight fiction, rather than metafiction. "Why?" he said finally. "Why make the Nazis treat women like that? It’s…horrible." "It’s not so far removed from the real situation of women throughout the centuries," she said. "And the germs of it are present in the Nazi writings. I believed when I wrote the book, though not many agreed with me, that the Nazis were capable of exterminating the Jews. And after that, what next? The Nazi system fed upon hate, it needed an enemy. Why not the oldest?" "The oldest?" he repeated, thinking: I don’t hate women, although I don’t get on with Dorothy, and things with Anne aren’t so good now…. She sighed. "I was married once." "I’ve done it three times," he said glumly. "You amaze me. After I left my husband, in Sydney, Australia, I made sure that I never again lived with a person of the opposite sex. It’s too hard, Phil, being with someone who is human, like you, but oh, so different!" Is it ever, thought Phil. "We fear the other, who is not like us, but is necessary for the continuance of the race. If not for that, I suspect men would have exterminated women long ago." "That’s too dark, Kay," he said. "I can’t accept that. I think we’ll hafta agree to differ there." "As we do with our separate visions of the fascist world?" she said. "Yeah!" and they shook on it. In Brunswick, the Asians, chief targets of National Action, are a minority, with the ethnic dominance chiefly Lebanese and Turkish. My parents, returned from living in a very Anglo area of Queensland, tried not to goggle at the headscarved women. Hijab takes a local multitude of forms, from Turkish teenage girls in white scarves, baggy shirts and baggier jeans, to the loose dull-colored mackintoshes and black scarves of their mothers, to the Somali women shrouded as voluminously as medieval nuns, but in brilliant color. Only twice have I seen a woman robed in black, with only eyes visible – both times I felt an obscure and no doubt illogical urge to throw back my head and scream. Like the locks of the Rastafarian men in Jamaica and England, hijab renders ethnicity immediately identifiable. National Action members were alleged in the local paper to have broken the arm of a Somali woman in Northcote – did her dress identify her as an easy victim? In St. Kilda, on the other side of town, women’s bodies are similarly concealed, as part of the Orthodox Jewish faith, though given that they use wigs as head-coverings, they are again, less identifiable. The twain, in any case, never meet. In Sydney Road, the Muslim and Catholic religious shopfronts are almost opposite; it might seem appropriate for the religion that influenced them both to be present here too, but the population levels to support it are simply not present. The posters around Brunswick vilifying National Action used Nazi imagery, which might have been extremely relevant to liberal Anglos, an those recollecting the second world war, but to Lebanese and others displaced by Zionism, had the contrary effect. I saw a woman defacing one of these posters, as I got off the tram. She was familiar – middle-aged, glasses, her dress apparently a compromise between traditional dictums and the Australian secular, for her macintosh was belted, and her hair visible (dark, streaked with grey) under a hat. I can’t recall what she wrote now, but it was anti-Zionist. She looked up and caught me eyeing her. Maybe I raised an eyebrow; because she screamed: "Hundred of Arabs! Killed by fucking Jews!" And in front of my eyes she brandished the Age, a photo spread across the front page like a scar, showing bodies in the mosque at Hebron. Courtesy, or chicken-heartedness, caused me to say, truthfully: "I didn’t know." (I have seldom been good at emotional confrontations.) Maybe this satisfied her, for she snapped the paper shut and strode off. As luck had it we proved to be proximate neighbors, for I followed her, ten footsteps behind her poker-stiff back in its white mac, to Frederick Street before she turned off into an alley, without any further words spoken. (We have seen each other several times since then, and our eyes meet in recognition, but in silence.) But what was I supposed to do? Take her into my house, sit her down at the computer and show her, screen by screen, "Kay & Phil"? Would it have even had the slightest relevance to her. I don’t know.