Thursday, September 11, 2008

Goodbye to Berlin

by Christopher Isherwood

While I was reading the second of The Berlin Novels it several times crossed my mind how contemporary to the present day Isherwood is in his writing. The depiction of human interaction, also with references to roles of for instance gender, seems to be universal. At least for an enlightened clique of people during the past hundred years. Either that, or perhaps more likely, Christopher Isherwood was quite an avant-gardist and also was staying in such circles in the Weimar Republic Berliner underground scene. It is very clear that what Isherwood in this book, and as William Bradshaw in Mr Norris Changes Trains, experiences and is part of has had a continuity to today's liberal and leftist progressive political thought. Rejecting his well off background, he is an anthropologist rather than a novelist, spending time at the very bottom and making "Brilliant sketches of a society in decay" as George Orwell described it.

When I visited David's in Tasmania last year we released a c64 production entitled Digi Demo in which he called me the traveling man. I remember his data garage in the Launceston suburb, an Iraqi cigar, some local beers and a conversation partly reflected in the scroll text of the demo. The talk was on the subject of inexpensive trips on trains, coaches or as a hitchhiker, seeing places, having the journey itself as a goal, surviving on a few dollars and only having responsibility for yourself. Obviously we came to discuss not being able to procrastinate as adults, with careers, family responsibilities and such. However, both having a history of bumming around quite a while it became a session of adventure nostalgia. When in the early parts of Goodbye to Berlin Isherwood describes how Frl Schroeder tells him stories of earlier tenants and "I have been listening to her for some time, I find myself relapsing into a curious trance-like state of depression. I begin to feel profoundly unhappy. Where are all those lodgers now? Where, in another ten years, shall I be, myself? Certainly not here. How many seas and frontiers shall I have to cross to reach that distant day; how far shall I have to travel", I could not help thinking of the escapism of our youth.

At the same time as Christopher Isherwood may have spent time with people of political will with relation and also some coherence to today's counterparts, his journeys took place in a world where the dogmas were different. The taboos on what issues to debate and which truths to follow are what socially creates much of a political movement striving for consensus, at least in some European traditions. In a sad way such unwillingness to differ rationale from mere taste often creates a hinder for the genuine topics that truly ought to be politically debated.