Christopher IsherwoodEnglish-American novelist
which in a sense makes you nameless, less individual
rather than more so: Bradshaw-Isherwood, C.W.
in its place on some alphabetical list…
I'll bet Shakespeare
compromised himself a lot; anybody who's in the entertainment industry does to some extent.
I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.
"Berlin Diary" (1930) from Goodbye to Berlin (1939)
If I fear anything, I fear the atmosphere of the war, the power which it gives to all the things I hate — the newspapers, the politicians, the puritans, the scoutmasters, the middle-aged merciless spinsters.
I fear the way I might behave, if I were exposed to this atmosphere. I shrink from the duty of opposition. I am afraid I should be reduced to a chattering enraged monkey, screaming back hate
at their hate.
Diary entry, 20 January 1940, from The Diaries of Christopher Isherwood, vol I: 1939 - 1960, edited by Katherine Bucknell, p. 84
It seems to me that the real clue to your sex orientation lies in your romantic feelings rather than in your sexual feelings. If you are really gay, you are able to fall in love with a man, not just enjoy having sex with him.
As quoted in "Christopher Isherwood Interview" with Winston Leyland (1973), from Conversations with Christopher Isherwood,
ed. James J. Berg and Chris Freeman (2001) ISBN 1-57806-408-2
, p. 106
At one campus where I was lecturing, I asked a friend
, "How many of my colleagues know I'm gay?" He answered, "All of them." I wasn't surprised. But, just the same, it was kind of spooky, because not one of them had ever given me the faintest sign that he or she knew. If I had spoken about it myself, most of them would have felt it was in bad taste.
As quoted in "Christopher Isherwood Interview" with Winston Leyland (1973), from Conversations with Christopher Isherwood, ed. James J. Berg and Chris Freeman (2001), p. 108
The images which remained in the memory are not in themselves terrible or rigorous
: they are of boot-lockers, wooden desks, lists on boards, name-tags in clothes — yes, the name
pre-eminently; the name which in a sense makes you nameless, less individual rather than more so: Bradshaw-Isherwood, C.W. in its place on some alphabetical list; the cold daily, hourly reminder that you are not the unique, the loved, the household’s darling, but just one among many.
I suppose that this loss
is really much of the painfulness
which lies at the bottom of what is called Homesickness; it is not Home
that one cries for but one’s home-self
As quoted in Isherwood : A Life (2004) by Peter Parker, pp. 40-41; this reminiscence is from the first draft of the biographical study Isherwood did of his parents (Huntington CI 1082: 81). The version published in Kathleen and Frank (1971), chapter 15, p. 285 differs slightly.
“’Let's face it, minorities are people who probably look and act and think differently from us and have faults we don't have. We may dislike the way they look and act, and we may hate their faults. And it’s better if we admit to disliking and hating them, than if we try to smear over our feelings with pseudo-liberal sentimentality. If we’re frank about our feelings, we have a safety valve; and if we have a safety-valve, we’re actually less likely to start persecuting. . . . I know that theory is unfashionable nowadays. We all keep trying to believe that, if we ignore something long enough, it’ll just vanish––
‘Where was I? Oh yes. . . Well, now, suppose this minority does get persecuted – never mind why – political, economic, psychological reasons – there always is a reason, no matter how wrong it is – that’s my point. And, of course, persecution itself is always wrong; I’m sure we all agree there. But, the worst of it is, we now run into another liberal heresy. Because the persecuting majority is vile, says the liberal, therefore the persecuted minority must be stainlessly pure. Can’t you see what nonsense that is? What’s to prevent the bad from being persecuted by the worse? Did all the Christian victims in the arena have to be saints?’
‘And I’ll tell you something else. A minority has its own kind of aggression. It absolutely dares the majority to attack it. It hates the majority — not without a cause, I grant you. It even hates the other minorities – because all minorities are in competition: each one proclaims that its sufferings are the worst and its wrongs are the blackest. And the more they all hate, and the more they're all persecuted, the nastier they become! Do you think it makes people nasty to be loved? You know it doesn’t! Then why should it make them nice to be loathed?’”
California is a tragic country — like Palestine, like every Promised Land. Its short history is a fever-chart of migrations
— the land rush, the gold rush, the oil rush, the movie rush, the Okie fruit-picking rush, the wartime rush to the aircraft factories — followed, in each instance, by counter-migrations of the disappointed and unsuccessful, moving sorrowfully homeward.
"Los Angeles", p. 159
The paternalist is a sentimentalist at heart, and the sentimentalist is always potentially cruel.
"Los Angeles", p. 160
To live sanely in Los Angeles
(or, I suppose, in any other large American city) you have to cultivate the art of staying awake. You must learn to resist (firmly but not tensely) the unceasing hypnotic suggestions of the radio, the billboards, the movies and the newspapers; those demon voices which are forever whispering in your ear what you should desire, what you should fear, what you should wear and eat and drink and enjoy, what you should think and do and be. They have planned a life for you – from the cradle to the grave and beyond – which it would be easy, fatally easy, to accept. The least wandering of the attention, the least relaxation of your awareness
, and already the eyelids begin to droop, the eyes grow vacant, the body starts to move in obedience to the hypnotist’s command. Wake up, wake up – before you sign that seven-year contract, buy that house you don’t really want, marry that girl you secretly despise. Don’t reach for the whisky, that won’t help you. You’ve got to think, to discriminate, to exercise your own free will and judgment. And you must do this, I repeat, without tension, quite rationally and calmly. For if you give way to fury against the hypnotists, if you smash the radio and tear the newspapers to shreds, you will only rush to the other extreme and fossilize into defiant eccentricity.
"Los Angeles", p. 161
An afternoon drive from Los Angeles will take you up into the high mountains, where eagles
circle above the forests and the cold blue lakes, or out over the Mojave Desert, with its weird vegetation and immense vistas. Not very far away are Death Valley, and Yosemite, and Sequoia Forest with its giant trees which were growing long before the Parthenon was built; they are the oldest living things in the world. One should visit such places often, and be conscious, in the midst of the city, of their surrounding presence. For this is the real nature of California and the secret of its fascination; this untamed, undomesticated, aloof, prehistoric landscape which relentlessly reminds the traveller of his human condition and the circumstances of his tenure upon the earth. "You are perfectly welcome," it tells him, "during your short visit. Everything is at your disposal. Only, I must warn you, if things go wrong, don't blame me. I accept no responsibility. I am not part of your neurosis. Don't cry to me for safety. There is no home here. There is no security in your mansions or your fortresses, your family vaults or your banks or your double beds. Understand this fact, and you will be free. Accept it, and you will be happy.
"Los Angeles" p. 162
The Paris Review
I often feel that worse than the most fiendish Nazis
were those Germans
who went along with the persecution of the Jews
not because they really disliked them but because it was the thing.
I'll bet Shakespeare compromised himself a lot; anybody who's in the entertainment industry does to some extent.
I'm horrified to find, as I look at these diaries of twenty-five years ago or more, that I don't remember who the people were. "Bill and Tony were constantly in and out. We went to La Jolla" — or something. I haven't the bluest idea who they were!
I feel it's so easy to condemn this country [the United States]; but they don't understand that this is where the mistakes are being made — and made first, so that we're going to get the answers first.
Christopher, like many other writers
, was shockingly ignorant
of the objective world
, except where it touched his own experience
. When he had to hide his ignorance beneath a veneer, he simply consulted someone who could supply him with the information
Throughout this memoir, Isherwood refers to himself in the third person. · ISBN 0-8166-3863-2
The Nazis hated culture itself, because it is essentially international and therefore subversive of nationalism.
What they called Nazi culture was a local, perverted, nationalistic cult, by which a few major artists
and many minor ones were honored for their Germanness, not their talent
Christopher, like many other writers, was shockingly ignorant of the objective world, except where it touched his own experience.
When he had to hide his ignorance beneath a veneer, he simply consulted someone who could supply him with the information
As a homosexual, he had been wavering between embarrassment and defiance.
He became embarrassed when he felt that he was making a selfish demand for his individual rights at a time when only group action mattered. He became defiant when he made the treatment of the homosexual a test
by which every political party and government must be judged. His challenge to each one of them was: "All right, we've heard your libertyspeech
. Does that include us or doesn't it?"
The Soviet Union
had passed this test with honors when it recognized the private sexual rights of the individual, in 1917. But, in 1934, Stalin
's government had withdrawn this recognition and made all homosexual acts punishable by heavy prison sentences. It had agreed with the Nazis
in denouncing homosexuality as a form of treason
to the state. The only difference was that the Nazis called it "sexual Bolshevism" and the Communists "Fascist perversion."
Christopher — like many of his friends, homosexual and heterosexual — had done his best to minimize the Soviet betrayal
of its own principles
. After all, he had said to himself, anti-homosexual laws exist in most capitalist countries, including England
and the United States
. Yes — but if Communists claim that their system is juster than capitalism, doesn't that make their injustice to homosexuals less excusable and their hypocrisy
even viler? He now realized that he must dissociate himself from the Communists, even as a fellow traveler. He might, in certain situations, accept them as allies but he could never regard them as comrades.
He must never again give way to embarrassment, never deny the rights of his tribe, never apologize
for its existence, never think of sacrificing himself masochistically on the altar of that falsegod of the totalitarians, the Greatest Good of the Greatest Number — whose priests are alone empowered to decide what "good" is.
Suppose, Christopher now said to himself, I have a Nazi Army
at my mercy
. I can blow it up by pressing a button. The men in that Army are notorious for torturing
civilians — all except for one of them, Heinz. Will I press the button? No — wait: Suppose I know that Heinz himself, out of cowardice
or moral infection, has become as bad as they are and takes part in all their crimes
? Will I press that button, even so? Christopher's answer, given without the slightest hesitation, was: Of course not.
That was a purely emotional
reaction. But it helped Christopher think his way through to the next proposition. Suppose that Army goes into action and has just one casualty, Heinz himself. Will I press the button now and destroy his fellow criminals? No emotional reaction this time, but a clear answer, not to be evaded: Once I have refused to press that button because of Heinz, I can never press it.
Because every man in that Army could be someone's Heinz and I have no right to play favorites. Thus Christopher was forced to recognize himself as a pacifist
— although by an argument which he could only admit to with the greatest reluctance.
Quotes about Isherwood
Christopher’s kind are homosexuals, but more importantly, minorities of any sort, either tortured obscenely by the Nazis or rejected more hypocritically by social convention and snobbism.
In his matter-of-fact treatment of his sexual preferences and affairs ("To Christopher, Berlin meant Boys," he announces at the start), Isherwood has made an important contribution to the literature of minority liberation. … Our age, like the Thirties, is given to strident political and artistic positions; while it would be wrong to condemn the more active spokesmen of minority rights, it is all the more significant that the tone
(that most ineffable of all literary qualities) of Isherwood’s autobiography is neither truculent nor confessional, but the still, honest voice of a man looking back on the events of a tumultuous time. He shows how all minorities can be persecuted, by laws (the notorious paragraph 175 of the German penal code which made homosexual acts illegal), in social condescension (even from sympathetic parties, like Christopher’s mother), and most grotesquely, in self-hatred.
The book’s central episode (the midpoint of the book brings us to the mid-point of the decade) deals with Isherwood’s inability to get his German boyfriend out of Germany; at the last moment, victory is snatched away when Heinz is refused entry by a British immigration official at Harwich in 1934. Christopher and Auden
have gone to the pier, and after Heinz is turned back, Auden chillingly notes of the official: "As soon as I saw the bright-eyed little rat, I knew we were done for. He understood the whole situation at a glance — because he’s one of us
." Christopher and His Kind is a proclamation of the rights of "us," all of us, against the demands of "the others," whether fascists, aristocrats, war-makers, or the heterosexual hegemony, to live according to our natures.
Last edited on 2 March 2021, at 21:41
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