24 January 2007

1376) Higher they rise in the community, Nastier they are

If you tell me Armenians are nice people, I believe you on the assumption that you speak from experience. . If someone else tells me Armenians are nasty people, I don't see why I should call him a liar. And if you were to ask me what I think of Armenians, I would say they come in all sizes and shapes and the higher they rise in the community, the nastier they are.

The better the message, the more easily it will be perverted. "A house divided against itself cannot stand," says the Good Book. So what our kings and nakharars, bosses and bishops do? They concentrate their efforts on inventing orthodoxies and ideologies with which to divide and demolish our house.

If a man stands on principle it may be because he has nothing else to stand on. Another way of saying he is a born loser.

If you begin to make a list of all those things you don't know, you will never have time to brag about what you know.

If war is hell, everyone involved in it must have something of the devil in him.

Writing about Armenians for Armenians is a dead end. Writing about Turks, that's different.

If you repeat a thousand times what they want to hear, they will love you. If you repeat twice what they don't want to hear, they will hate you.

"Are you saying we have done nothing right for the nation?" an angry partisan demands to know?
"No, I have at no time said that," I reply. "What I have been saying is that on peripheral things you may have done some good. But on central and important issues, no."

"Such as?"

"Such as solidarity -- developing a mechanism whereby all sides engage in dialogue and reach a consensus; such as the waste of funds for building and maintaining multiple churches, schools, community centers, and weeklies when one will do."

"I don't agree with the notion that one is better than two if only because where are two there will also be competition."

"I too believe in competition, but not competition that begins and ends with us, but competition with standards set by the world at large."

"You mean like AIM and TIME magazine?" "That was less competition and more slavish imitation. Less AIM and more APE. No matter how hard I try I don't see any purpose in having a dozen or more mediocre weeklies with a handful of readers each, instead of a professionally edited publication with many more readers, including odars who are interested in our culture."

"That will never happen."

"If it doesn't it will be because we are incurably tribal - many chiefs and no Indians -and we are tribal because of partisans who are afraid that some day their blunders may be exposed for all to see."

"What blunders?"
"The very same blunders we have been talking about."

"If you mean business, why don't you join us and get involved in changing things? Talk is cheap." "So is censorship. During the last few years that I have been discussing our failings, our publications have been unanimous in treating me as an abominable no man. They say I insult Armenianism. The Turks have a law against insulting Turkishness. We don't have such a law but we behave as though we did. Insulting Turkishness or Armenianism! What utter nonsense. How do we define these terms? Why should honesty and objectivity be an insult? In what way are we better than Turks if we allow our political leadership to define Armenianism? Does Armenianism consist in clinging to ideas that have been dragging us from genocide to alienation and from alienation to assimilation or white massacre? What is the difference between shooting a critic and silencing him.which amounts to cutting out his tongue?"

Notes And Comments
In a fight both sides discover the worth of the other, Shaw says somewhere. But in my view, what a fight exposes more often than not is less worth and more worthlessness.

The art of making dupes consists in simplifying complexities for the simple-minded.

To those who disagree with me I ask: How much of your disagreement is based on hearsay? Do you disagree with me because you think I am wrong or because you heard someone say I am wrong at a time when you were in no position to know and judge for yourself?

Most people think if they hide their defects they will project a better image. They seem to be unaware of the fact that the more we try to hide our defects the louder our body language or style declares them. Have you noticed the way Putin and Kocharian walk? They don't walk so much as they swagger like bullies.

Not all Nazis were racists. When they saw a smart Jew they promoted him. To those who objected, Goering once explained: "It's up to me to decide who is a Jew and who isn't."

I see something fundamentally wrong in being right and dead. I don't believe in being an excellent corpse. "A corpse is without interest," says the Talmud.

Life after death? Who's who in the messiah business? Irrelevant questions. It's more important that we concentrate on the mess we have made of the world, because that's the first subject on which we will be cross-examined by the messiah or whoever is in charge of eternity.

Man values knowledge over ignorance. In theory. In practice, the brainwashed, the dupe, the fanatic, and the man of faith are unteachable.

Whenever we follow our gut or instinct and ignore the voice of reason, we behave like Hrant Dink's killer. In that sense WE ARE ALL ASSASSINS, which happens to be the title of a post-World War II French movie. It is to be noted that the word assassin begins with "ass" and ends in "sin." But that's pure coincidence, like so much else in life. The root word of assassin is hashish, a drug used by a gang of Middle-East fanatics before they went on the warpath. I wouldn't be surprised if Hrant's assassin pleads not guilty by reason of drug-induced insanity.

SHAHAN SHAHNOUR: CORRESPONDENCE, volume 3 -LETTERS TO VAHAN TEKEYAN, ZAHRAD, VRATSIAN, SARAFIAN, ALAJAJIAN, SAROUKHAN & OTHERS. Edited, Annotated and with an Introduction by Krikor Keusseyan. Illustrated. (215 pages, 2007). Privately printed (50 Watertown St., #302, Watertown, MA, 02472).

Shahnour was an honest man and an objective observer of our contemporary scene; and that was his undoing. Honesty has never been good policy in our environment. If the ubiquitous secret agents of an alien tyrant don't get you, the hirelings of our bosses, bishops, and benefactors will. The occasional grudging support he received from benefactors (which more often than not he rejected) was more akin to charity that probably did more harm than good to his self-esteem and precarious health.

In his introduction, Krikor Keusseyan writes that three of Shahnour's favorite writers were Turgenev, Flaubert, and Hardy, and that like them he was austere in his private life but audacious in his work. Which in our context means, among other things, that he consistently refused to recycle partisan propaganda and chauvinist clichés about the eternal snows of Mount Ararat.

As a result he was treated as an enemy of the people and reduced to the status of abominable no man. Even after he gave up writing in Armenian, assumed a different name (Armen Lubin) and produced several volumes of prose and verse in French, a collected edition of which was issued recently by Gallimard, his critics would unearth things that he wrote thirty years ago and continue their attacks. In one of his letters, Shahnour quotes with obvious approval Mahari's observation, "The curses of a good man are preferable to the flatteries of an idiot." Speaking of our writers under the Red Sultan in Istanbul, he comments: "They had neither universities nor scholarships, and yet they produced many more valuable works than our academics today."

Some of his opinions on contemporaries are worth quoting:

On Nartuni: "He is neither good nor bad. He is elsewhere." (This could be said of so many of our Turcocentric academics today.)

On Vorpuni: "He is not devoid of talent. What he lacks, it seems to me, is individuality. He tends to write under the influence of a book (invariably by a foreign writer) that he has just read and enjoyed."

On Minas Tololyan: "In his CENTURY OF LITERATURE he discusses 56 writers none of whom he tears to shreds as thoroughly as he does me. He seems to be unaware of the view that there is a kind of hostile criticism that might as well be equivalent to praise."

The illustrations consist of photos of the author, alone and with other writers, and samples of his own brilliant caricatures executed in different styles.

There is a great deal more in this excellent volume that is worth rereading and translating; and I promise to do so in future installments.

In his book, HOW TO CURE A FANATIC, Amos Oz writes that the ultimate aim of fanatics is "to get crucified, or to crucify others, or both," thus implying that fanaticism has a millennial history and a very respectable pedigree. But I think fanaticism goes back much further than two millennia. It began with the god of the Old Testament when he punished not only Adam and Eve for eating an apple, or from "the tree of knowledge," (as if knowledge were a capital offense; as if ignorance were a better alternative), but also their offspring, and the offspring of their offspring to the end of time.

On a number of occasions I have called our fanatics "inbred morons." Oz agrees. "Very often the fanatic can only count up to one," he writes, "two is too big a figure for him or her."

How to cure a fanatic? The answer is obvious: it can't be done. Consider their role models.

Fanaticism is as different from moderation as beast is from man. Fanatics are not just a different race, color, and creed, but also a different species.

A fanatic does not reason. Common sense, logic, and dialogue are alien concepts to him. He is out to settle a score. He is out for blood. He defines an enemy as anyone who disagrees with him. Fanaticism and hoodlumism might as well be Siamese twins.

A moderate may be prone to error, but a fanatic is never right. Even when on those extremely rare occasions he is right, the means he employs are sure to be wrong.

Our revolutionaries were right to revolt against tyranny - no doubt about that. And because they were right, we did not survive.

Like all men of faith, a fanatic begins with the certainty that he is right; and where certainty is placed above doubt, fanatics will flourish.

A fanatic's favorite disguise is moderation.

Literature tells us we are not what we pretend to be, and more often than not, what we pretend to be is the exact opposite of who we are.

"If you attack the establishment long enough and hard enough, they will make you a member of it."

"People ask what I am really trying to do with humor. The answer is, I am getting even. For me, being funny is the best revenge."

Propaganda says, "When we are brainwashed, we speak the truth. When our enemies are brainwashed, they lie."

When two religions or ideologies contradict one another on any point of their credo, and neither can prove the other wrong or itself right beyond a shadow of a doubt, or to the satisfaction of an impartial jury, both must be wrong.

Only hoodlums believe hoodlamism to be an ideology. Likewise, only nationalists, tribalists, capitalists, communists.

Between fact and fiction, propaganda will always be a partisan of fiction.

When we say we are right or we are better, we engage in fantasy. When we say, like all human beings, we have our share of failings and blind spots some of which may well be beyond our awareness, we begin to come to grips with reality.

Nothing, provided we keep in mind that fantasies operate in a realm that is beyond common sense and logic.

Amos Oz in HOW TO CURE A FANATIC: "The two nations will have a lot of soul searching to do, about their past and mutual stupidities."

Like most people I was born an idiot. Unlike most people, I was also raised as an idiot because I was told I was smart.

It takes a very bad Armenian to be a good human being.

To disagree with oneself is the beginning of all wisdom.

Wisdom or the art of living consists in minimizing the guesswork and replacing total ignorance with partial knowledge.

We may learn to limit the number of our blunders but we have no control over the blunders of others. Which may explain the tragic fate of some of the wisest men that ever lived, from Socrates to Gandhi.

And speaking of Christ: if there is a moral in the story of Christianity it is that, not even god can survive human blunders. As for the wisdom of American presidents: in his SHADOW PEOPLE: INSIDE HISTORY'S MOST NOTORIOUS SECRET SOCIETIES, John Lawrence Reynolds writes that the feud between Shiites and Sunnis began in the 7th Century, which means it has lasted for 1,400 years. You may now draw your own conclusions.

The universe is the greatest miracle of all - no doubt about that. I may have mentioned that already. What I may have failed to mention is that the second greatest miracle from where I stand is the fact that I have survived, and I have survived not only World War II, the Greek Civil War that followed, and a number of other natural and man-made disasters, but my own blunders.

It has been said that the only reality we can come to grips with is the future. There isn't much we can do about the past. The present is only a fleeting moment that even as we experience it has become the past. It follows, our struggle is with something that is prey to countless factors most of which remain beyond our perception and control.

To contradict is not the same as to disagree. Some people contradict automatically, unthinkingly, instinctively - that's their way of asserting superior wisdom. To pretend to be wiser than one is: I would call that the most universal of all temptations.

When we think of experiencing life we may delude ourselves into thinking that a man who has climbed Everest, or amassed a vast fortune, or slept with two thousand women has experienced life. But what if in the process of doing these things he has succeeded only in diminishing his capacity to feel, to understand, to love, and ultimately, to experience.

I once heard someone reading to an audience from one of my books. My first reaction was to beg him to stop. I have a horror of boring people. I would have given up writing years ago were it not for the fact that even people who hate me, read me - judging by the number of abuse e-mails I get.

Elfriede Jelinek in THE PIANO TEACHER: "The opposite sex always wants the exact opposite."

It is in life as it is in lottery: for every winner there will be several million losers. An optimist hopes to win; a realist is aware of the odds and does not believe in miracles; and a pessimist knows it's a racket.

I believe in miracles. I believe the universe to be the greatest miracle of all beside which changing water to wine is no better than an abracadabra trick.

Speaking of miracles and abracadabra: I don't believe which is better or worse: believing in a past messiah or in a future one. As for prophets and belief systems: I see nothing wrong with any of them provided their followers don't kill one another or themselves.

I believe any belief system that legitimizes murder and suicide to be an instrument of the devil.

Not all Turks are born killers or denialists. There is no doubt about that anymore. Likewise, not all Armenians bear a racist grudge against all Turks. With one difference. No Armenian of Pamuk's or Akjam's stature has produced a work to point out that fact. If he did, he would be ostracized and silenced as a traitor to the Cause. In that sense, Turks are ahead of us.

To kill and die for one's country fighting an enemy who also kills and dies for his own: does that make any sense to you? I am against capital punishment but I would make an exception of all those guilty of legitimizing and promoting the idea of killing and dying for one's country.

Of the many forms of illusion - I am smarter than you, I understand more than you do, my dick is bigger than yours - surely the most widely entertained and dangerous must be "My god is better than yours."

When it comes to races, nations, and tribes, there are no good guys and bad guys. There are only good and bad human beings, and more of then than not the bad are misguided dupes.

To be human means to be prone to error, especially when one is sure to be right. "I may be right" is closer to "I may be wrong" than to "I am right!"

It takes a lot of hatred to love one's country -hatred of past and present enemies, hatred of those who are or have been on their side, hatred of fellow countrymen who do not share one's love to the same degree, and hatred of those who believe in the brotherhood of all men, which also means hatred of tolerance.

To be a good patriot also means to feel guilty by association whenever a fellow countryman is arrested and makes headlines. But guilt by association is a racist concept. Hitler was a racist. Buddha and Christ were not. You may now draw your own conclusions.

To fall in love means to kill the rest of mankind, said Camus. If you say that's going too far, let's say, passionate love makes us indifferent to the fate of others. But indifference is worse than hatred. In hatred we are connected to those we hate. In indifference this connection is severed.

Our enemies "fail to see us as what we really are - a bunch of traumatized half-hysterical refugees and survivors haunted by dreadful nightmares." I am now quoting from HOW TO CURE A FANATIC (New York, 2006) by Amos Oz. I should like to see one of our Turcocentric pundits produce such a sentence.

Michael Arlen: A Dandysme of the Soul
by Mark Valentine

The Roaring Twenties, the Jazz Age, the Long Weekend, the days of the Bright Young Things: the period just after the First World War and before the Depression of the Thirties has passed into legend as a time of wild abandon and fateful devil-may-care. F. Scott Fitzgerald was the American chronicler of those years, but in Britain it was Michael Arlen who most caught the Twenties mood. In a few dashing and cynical books, which the New Statesman typified as unequalled in evoking the 'dandysme of the soul', Arlen wrote of the fast set of Mayfair and Belgravia, those who were to be termed the Lost Generation. His characters are doomed young war heroes still hungering for excitement; newly emboldened and abandoned heroines; raffish cads and outcasts from convention. Their appeal was so great that he became one of the first million-sellers and revelled in fame and luxury. He became one of the first media celebrities, whose every move was newsworthy. Yet he wanted to be taken seriously as a writer, was proud of his friendships with D. H. Lawrence, Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway and other literary figures, and in his last years despaired at his inability to write something new.

However, Michael Arlen remains little more than a footnote in histories of 20th century fiction. Perhaps this is partly because of his obscure background. He was born on 16 November 1895 in Rustchuck, Bulgaria, to an Armenian merchant family fleeing the Turkish massacres of their race. They came to England in 1901 and settled in Lancashire. Christened as Dikran Kouyoumdjian, Arlen attended an English public school ('So I'm completely self-educated,' he quipped), and, briefly, St Andrews University in Scotland.

Breaking away from his family, who disowned him, he went to London to put into practice his firm belief that writing was his vocation. As an alien, he was not permitted to play any part in the war effort and so lived frugally, scraping a living from newspaper and magazine contributions.

When his writing began to attract attention, he invented the pseudonym Michael Arlen, checking the London telephone directory to make sure he would at least be unique in the world's capital. When he became a naturalized British subject in 1922, he adopted the pen-name as his legal name too. Armenian refugees had been the object of pity in Britain, as a Christian people cruelly persecuted by the Muslim Turks, but Arlen knew that this pity was mixed with liberal doses of condescension which a proud race found hard to bear.

He knew that he would never be fully accepted in his adopted country, and his success certainly bred resentment. Another popular author, Sydney Horler, sneeringly described him as 'the only Armenian who never tried to sell me a carpet'. Arlen set himself to become more English than the most aristocratic of the English. Even when he was struggling in the early years, his tailoring was always impeccable, he perfected the languid air of the born dilettante and beguiled the opposite sex with his studied, immaculate manners. But he also played upon his foreignness, describing himself as 'every other inch a gentleman' and 'a case of pernicious Armenia'.

His first book, The London Venture (1920), was a lightly fictionalized account of his early literary struggles. On its appearance, it was thought by some to be a pseudonymous work by George Moore, whose candid memoirs written in an ornamental, Eighteen Nineties style were highly acclaimed. Full of literary references, the book is notable for its championing of D. H. Lawrence, whom Arlen had befriended when they were both beginning their writing careers. It was Lawrence who advised Arlen that he would be best advised to write fantasy, because of his Romantic notions. Later, much of Arlen is to be seen in Lady Chatterley's first lover, in Lawrence's notorious novel (1928), where he is scarcely disguised as Michaelis, a successful society playwright: 'Connie really wondered at this queer, melancholy specimen of extraordinary success . . .

Sometimes he was handsome: sometimes, as he looked sideways, downwards, and the light fell on him, he had the silent, enduring beauty of a carved ivory Negro mask, with his rather full eyes, and the strong queerly-arched brows, the immobile, compressed mouth . . . Connie felt a sudden, strange leap of sympathy for him, a leap mingled with compassion, and tinged with repulsion . . . The outsider! The outsider! And they called him a bounder!'

Arlen's debut showed promise not so much in the subject matter, which was nothing new, but in the style, which was both refreshingly informal and yet carefully crafted. It received notice and marked him as an author to watch. He followed it with a collection of four short stories, The Romantic Lady (1921), each telling with a wistful air some tale of a tragic love affair: this gained him more of a popular audience and prepared the way for his first major success.

'Piracy' (1922; the title includes the inverted commas) recounts the life of Ivor Pelham Marley in a decade spanning the war years. A writer of romances, from an aristocratic background ('Missed an earldom by an heir's breath' says one character), Marley epitomizes the sense of futility of the war generation. He has a doomed love for provocative and glamorous Virginia Tarlyon, a Soho bohemian as well as a Society figure: 'Virginia has a mind like a cathedral,' proclaims her father. 'Of course every cathedral has its gargoyles,' he adds wistfully.

Her appearance - slim, white-faced like a carnival mask, delicate - and her lifestyle were based on the poet and heiress Nancy Cunard, whom Arlen had met in 1920. They spent an idyllic year together mostly in Montmartre, becoming close confidantes and perhaps lovers, despite Nancy's now token marriage to a young officer when she was 18, but they eventually drifted apart. At one point, Aldous Huxley regarded Arlen as a rival for Nancy's allegiance, and he satirizes him in his novel Those Barren Leaves (1925), where he is travestied as 'the swarthy Syrian with the blue jowl and the silver monocle . . . he never lost an opportunity of telling people he was a poet; he was for ever discussing the inconveniences and compensating advantages of possessing an artistic temperament'. Though Huxley altered Arlen's physical appearance, the urgent insistence on his writing was pure Arlen.

'Piracy' was a great success, for it portrayed both the unconventional, spontaneous, consciously modern life of those artistic circles which gathered in the Café Royal and the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Soho, and certain ageless qualities of gallantry and chivalry which were seen to be bound to fall under the onslaught of mass movements and mass industry. The novel's theme may perhaps be summed up in the defiant toast offered by the last gentleman in England in a fantasy scene conjured by Marley in which the old order is besieged by armies of the nouveau riches: 'For King and Cocktails!' he proclaims.

The novel was followed by Arlen's most successful collection of linked short stories, These Charming People (1923), which with its splendid sub-title, 'Being a Tapestry of The Fortunes, Follies, Adventures, Gallantries and General Activities of Shelmerdene (that lovely lady), Lord Tarlyon, Mr Michael Wagstaffe, Mr Ralph Wyndham Trevor and Some Others of Their Friends of the Lighter Sort'. The fifteen stories are quicker in wit and cleverer in storyline than his earlier work and their twist endings and elegant, sardonic style suggest a strange hybrid of the American short story master O. Henry and the epigrammatic, quintessentially English Saki (H. H. Munro).

For the first time, Arlen introduces fantasy and the macabre to his tales, and the bizarre adventures his characters find in the London streets suggest the influence of Robert Louis Stevenson's New Arabian Nights. The most notable pieces are the ghost stories 'The Ancient Sin' and 'The Loquacious Lady of Lansdowne Passage', where Arlen's flippancy gives a necessary distance to the two tragic scenes of violence: but the book also introduces 'The Cavalier of the Streets', a gentlemanly blackmailer and burglar somewhat in the Raffles style, whose caddish conduct is usually found to mask some higher purpose. All the tales are laced with fine irony and understatement, and a kind of bantering tone with the reader which was becoming Arlen's hallmark.

One of the stories, 'When a Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square', inspired a BBC house composer, struggling to meet a deadline, to write a song with the same title, which has proved of lasting appeal, while the book's title was also turned into a popular song, which has not lasted so well ('These Charming People/Gay and debonair/Full of savoir-faire' went the chorus).

But it was The Green Hat (1924) that precipitated Arlen into a world of unimagined acclaim and prosperity. The novel was quite simply the novel of the year, seized upon as the poetically true testament to a brilliant, daring and doomed generation. The owner of the green hat is Iris Storm, whose wild pursuit of pleasure in the parties, masquerades, night clubs and restaurants of London and Paris has led to her reputation as a 'shameless, shameful' woman: but paradoxically there is some calm reserve in her which seems to imply a secret inner grace.

The melodramatic narrative, written in what one critic called an 'opium dream style', sonorous with exotic and cosmic images, may only draw a wry smile today. The heroine's first husband, clean-cut 'Boy' Fenwick, commits suicide on their wedding night by throwing himself out of their bedroom window. She allows it to be assumed he did this because of something he learned about her, and her reckless career serves to support this view. But an ardent admirer reveals at last the truth to her friends and Fenwick's family: that her husband had syphilis and she has sacrificed her reputation to protect his good name. Furious at this betrayal of the 'one fine thing' in her life, Iris rushes off in her sleek yellow Hispano-Suiza car and is killed in a collision with a great ancient tree, her rakish green hat floating free beyond the flames.

The extraordinary success of the novel, which seemed somehow to symbolize the immolation of a generation, earned Arlen about half a million dollars in the USA alone. It was made into a sanitized silent film version starring Greta Garbo (A Woman of Affairs, 1928) and a West End play with Tallulah Bankhead in the lead role. It spawned numerous imitations and parodies, one of which The Green Mat by Roger Abingdon is a hilarious parody introduced by Arlen himself. Arlen used some of the proceeds from his bestseller to finance Noel Coward's controversial play The Vortex (1924).

Coward was a friend from the old days of literary struggle. The Green Hat put Arlen at once in the same league as Edgar Wallace and E. Phillips Oppenheim, but unlike them he did not need to keep turning out a stream of new thrillers: the one book was sufficient to assure his future. Like them, however, Arlen made his home on the French Riviera where he could indulge his taste for the high life in full. He mingled with minor royalty and international aristocracy, no doubt satisfying to one who chaffed his English friends by telling them he was entitled to the title 'Baron', without revealing that in Armenia Bahr-rohn means no more than Mister. In 1928, indeed, his fondness for titles was gratified by his marriage to the Greek countess Atalanta Mercati. Yet Arlen remained mindful of his origins in a persecuted people: when he saw Goebbels strutting on a hotel balcony below his room, he carefully prepared a Martini and poured it languidly over the Nazi minister's head.

The Green Hat was clearly going to be difficult to follow, and Arlen bought time by publishing next a further collection of stories featuring the 'charming people' circle, May Fair (1925). This is almost as good as the first volume, with a particularly ruthless ghost story, 'The Gentleman from America', whose humour is so black that Alfred Hitchcock chose it for his TV series of macabre classics. More polished and artificial fantasy is to be found in 'The Prince of the Jews' and in the epilogue, 'Farewell, These Charming People', in which Satan attends a brilliant, world-weary dinner party: ' "Young man," said the Lord Chancellor severely, "are you seriously implying that you are the Prince of Darkness?" "We do not recognize that title," cried Lady Surplice. "It is not in Burke, Debrett, or the Almanach de Gotha - " '

Seven of his supernatural stories from previous collections were gathered in Ghost Stories (1927) and Arlen's publishers frequently repackaged his work in omnibus volumes to milk his success. Babes in the Wood (1930) brought together some uncollected earlier work and newer stories, including the notably autobiographical 'Confessions of a Naturalised Englishman', which is the nearest Arlen got to revealing his own thoughts and feelings.

But it was another Green Hat the public wanted, and Arlen had three attempts to oblige them, with Young Men in Love (1927), Lily Christine (1929) and Men Dislike Women (1931). On the strength of his name, these all sold well, but none received anything like the adulation of The Green Hat. The first, ominously, includes a portrait of a fantastically popular author whose finds he has 'had enough of publicity', is 'tired of making a fool of himself' and wants to be 'a serious man, one of the world's workers'.

The author is taken to task for failing to write about 'lords and champagne and lovely painted ladies': readers find him 'very disappointing', publishers accuse him of ingratitude, and critics say he is 'insincere' and 'affected'. The main theme of the novel, the intrigues of three tainted children, seems too unwieldy for Arlen's powers and one can fairly assume Arlen was predicting what the reaction to the book would be, possibly as a warning or a challenge to himself. The warring urges either to placate his public or to try to find a new voice and message were never to be resolved in the rest of Arlen's work. Lily Christine seems to have been deliberately written as a pale imitation of The Green Hat, with a similar noble and elusive heroine, and a plot which even resorts to a final car crash at the end too. Sure enough, it was duly accepted by the public and sold well: but it is quite without the breathless verve and tragic ecstasy of the earlier novel. Similarly, in Men Dislike Women, the introduction of Americans as significant characters seems to have been designed to pander to his audience across the Atlantic, where he had been acclaimed by Sinclair Lewis, himself highly successful with Main Street (1920) and Babbit (1922), as 'one of the phenomena of our time'.

It is to Arlen's credit that he did not simply resign himself to the comfortable production of formula fiction, perennially fashioning a new form of Iris Storm to gratify the Green Hat fanatics: but his downfall was that he could not quite throw off his creation. Arlen tried to break new ground with a serious futuristic novel, Man's Mortality (1933). This is set in the 1980s, when an international aircraft syndicate has monopolized all forms of global communications and effectively controls the world. There has been peace and a measure of progress for fifty years, but now a generation of younger officers in the service are reviving ideas of freedom and national identity.

Arlen tries to explore the tension between these ideals and the need for stability, while still giving his readers the action and adventure of a thriller, but the result is unconvincing. As a prediction of the power of multinational companies to influence world affairs, often overshadowing the governments of smaller countries, Arlen's book has been proved accurate, but his description of the future is not fully realized and his characters do not come to life. Though he was proud of this attempt to tackle profounder themes, Arlen's novel was indifferently received, most critics comparing it unfavourably to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, which had appeared the year before.

The strikingly-entitled Hell! Said the Duchess (1934) was closer to Arlen's usual territory and did indeed achieve more success. Arlen catches some of the contemporary turmoil of the Thirties, with the unemployment marches, Fascist and Communist demonstrations, social upheaval and a ponderous, stagnant National Government. But this forms the background to a bizarre thriller about a series of 'Jane the Ripper' murders perpetrated by a young, unknown feminine killer on working class men. The beautiful Duchess of Dove is suspected, but Scotland Yard cannot bring themselves to believe that an aristocrat could be responsible, especially in view of the sexual nature of the crimes. As agitation to arrest the irreproachable Duchess increases, a private detective begins to find discrepancies in the case against her. In a strong and rather daring climax to the novel, we learn that the Duchess's semblance is seized and misused at intervals by an evil spirit of sin incarnate whose real form is closer to that of the serpent or dark slime. There are echoes of Jekyll and Hyde or Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan.

Arlen returned even more closely to his original formula with his next book, a collection of short stories (or 'legends' as he called them) entitled The Crooked Coronet (1937), dedicated to a princess of the deposed royal house of Serbia, whom Arlen knew from his South of France circle. The eleven stories include two new adventures of the Cavalier of the Streets and a return for some of the 'charming people' of his earlier volumes. But there are signs of repetition in the plots and the witticisms of these stories and the preposterousness of incident is more forced, as if even Arlen is tiring of his own inventiveness. The one unusual tale is the legend of 'The Black Archangel', in which a winged West African messiah leads an uprising against colonial rule. Despite the typically outré theme, the lead character is portrayed with some sympathy.

The Flying Dutchman (1939) was Arlen's last book, and it was another attempt to find a new direction. A political thriller, it is interesting today as a record of the troubled atmosphere of the years immediately before the Second World War. Ranging widely across the world, it links together revolutions, assassinations, riots and civil wars in a biting portrayal of humanity going out of control and moving remorselessly towards all-out war. After much intrigue and mystery, the novel unveils a nihilistic conspiracy, the Societié de C, whose members are all outcasts from other extreme organizations, and whose sole aim is to act as agents provocateurs in every volatile situation they can find. We learn at the end that this strange cabal started as the sardonic hoax of a wealthy newspaper proprietor, but rapidly ran out of control. The novel is sombre and pessimistic, and there are few flashes of Arlen's usual style. It is somewhat over-extended, and there is a rather weak love-interest theme which never catches fire, but it should probably be better-known, if only for its historic interest. Once again, however, Arlen was to be disappointed by the response to his search for more challenging writing. The book was even less well received than Man's Mortality.

After he had ceased writing, Arlen was reluctant to allow reprints of his books, but they sold so well originally that they are not difficult to find. Signed editions are not that uncommon: as a celebrity, Arlen was often asked for his autograph. His later books are the least readily found, but they are also the least read. Arlen's last years were tragic and wasted. He returned to England to serve as an air raid warden during the Second World War, but found the old suspicions of his foreign ancestry were stirred up again and in 1944 left for America.

He co-wrote a screenplay for a mild romantic comedy, The Heavenly Body, starring Hedy Lamar, and found other Hollywood work. He was used to introduce a TV series of strange tales, and he recycled some old ideas to sell stories to American magazines. But his inspiration had gone, his flair for clever turns of phrase and unusual plots had faded. His son, Michael J. Arlen, has written a moving memoir of this time (Exiles, 1971) which portrays the aimlessness of his father's life, leisured but barren, a constant round of socializing with people who hardly knew him but were attracted by the old cachet of his name. He recalls too Arlen's long, lonely night-time pacings in their library, which would end as they began: with the white writing-paper on the desk still neatly stacked and unmarked. Michael Arlen died of cancer in New York on 23 June 1956.

Since then, Arlen's work has remained largely unregarded. The Green Hat has had periodic revivals as a touchstone novel for the Twenties, read perhaps as a piece of high camp fun in the same vein as the novels of Ronald Firbank, or E. F. Benson's 'Mapp and Lucia'. His macabre stories, especially 'The Gentleman from America' and 'The Smell in the Library', have been widely anthologized and he retains a minor place in the field of horror fiction because of these. But it seems to me that the fantastical and romantic characters of his best short stories - those in These Charming People and May Fair - may yet find a following. Lord Tarlyon, Ralph Wyndham Trevor, the Cavalier of the Streets, Shelmerdene and the others have too much insouciance and bravado to lie undiscovered for long.

The London Venture (Heinemann, 1920)
The Romantic Lady (Collins, 1921)
'Piracy' (Collins, 1922)
These Charming People (Collins, 1923)
The Green Hat (Collins, 1924)
May Fair (Collins, 1925)
Ghost Stories (Collins, 1927)
Young Men in Love (Hutchinson, 1927)
Lily Christine (Doubleday, Doran, 1929)
Babes in the Wood (Hutchinson, 1930)
Men Dislike Women (Heinemann, 1931)
Man's Mortality (Heinemann, 1933)
Hell! Said the Duchess (Heinemann, 1934)
The Crooked Coronet (Heinemann, 1937)
The Flying Dutchman (Heinemann, 1939)

The Ancient Sin and Other Stories (Collins, 1930)
The Short Stories of Michael Arlen (Collins,

"The smaller the country," I remember to have read somewhere, "the longer its national anthem." Also, I would add, the more long-winded its sermonizers and speechifiers. As a child I was exposed to countless speeches and sermons delivered by individuals infatuated with the sound of their own voice and the platitude of their clichés. I remember only one Armenian whose speech made sense to me and he committed suicide. Some say it wasn't suicide but a political assassination. Others are convinced it was an accident - he was drunk, lost his balance and fell from his balcony. Which sounds to me like six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. At the root of these theories is the fact that he was misunderstood (or understood too well) and rejected by his fellow Armenians. All this to explain why I write in short paragraphs, I don't drink, and I don't live in a high-rise.

MORAL: If you make sense, the will hate you.

The headline of a front-page story in our paper today reads, "Top earners widen 'stunning' wage gap," where we read that some chief executives make more money in an hour than the average working stiff in a year. I suspect one of our bishops today makes more money in a year than all our writers combined in their lifetime. I once heard of an Armenian writer who survives by pimping his wife. Others may earn minimum wage by pimping their integrity. To those who say, they can't be good writers, I say, "Name a good one." And if you were to ask me to define a good writer, I would say, "one who can afford to stand on his own two feet and speak his mind." "I cannot afford to speak my mind now," the hireling of one of our national benefactors once told me. "But on the day I retire and start collecting my pension, I will expose these bastards for what they are." That was thirty years ago when he was in his fifties.

The things that we remember are not always things that we would like to remember. And when we remind things to others, we usually remind them of things that they may not care to remember. When Proust wrote REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST he was producing literature. Had he been under psychiatric care, his analyst would have been in a position to publish an entirely different book. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if, even as I write these lines, an ambitious novelist is working on a book about Proust titled REJECTED MEMORIES.

Will the new one be an improvement over the old? I have no reason to think so; neither do I have any desire to engage in wishful thinking, which happens to be a perennial source of disappointment to individuals and of ruin to nations.

If our political parties survive it will be because they can always rely on a new generation of dupes, and wheeler-dealers willing to say and do anything for an empty title and minimum wages. Political parties, ideologies, and belief systems should be judged not by their longevity but by the mediocrity of their performance and the magnitude of their lies. If we were to judge a belief system by its longevity, we would have to admit that astrology is the most universal, reliable, and flawless system.

Perhaps my least popular and most anti-political idea is trying to close the gap between victim and victimizer by refusing to dehumanize the enemy. We have wasted so much verbiage in our efforts to prove that losers are winners on a higher plane; and they (our enemies) have done the same in their efforts to prove that victory may be achieved without victimizing anyone.

It is easy to hate. I want to understand the enemy not because I want to love him but for a far more selfish reason: namely, to enhance my understanding of the "other" in my fellow men, including myself.

I cannot in all good conscience look down on readers whose judgment exceeds their understanding. Once upon a time I too dehumanized those I neither understood nor wanted to understand.

To impose a belief system on life is the surest way of misunderstanding reality. Reality cannot be shaped like dough, it can only be understood on its own terms; and since only god can understand everything, we can only hope to understand it with the minimum degree of distortion or misinterpretation.

Ara Baliozian

Readers Comments

Dear Ara the Sledge hammer,

Over the weekend, I tried to catch up with what I missed during my three week vacation, but the news of Dink, caught me even there. Anyway:

1- I finished reading both “Voices of Fear” and “The Horrible Silence”, and learned more about you. I do not know if you ever married in the meantime, but you certainly differ from the Armenian prototype rug dealer, with your philosophy. Incidentally, none of my friends are the “rug dealer type”, although the ones in Turkey are friendly chatting type and almost all of them play “good tavla”. I also play for pleasure, well enough to know that the dice is made from the “bone of whore” (because it smiles both sides). I was born in Roumania, you in Greece, you had some education in Venice, moreover you are not even a Gregorian, or Protestant, but a Catholic! That gives enough reason for your being different, and being unwelcome.

Hope my liking, will not augment other antipathies because I enjoy reading your way of thinking and evaluation. (Incidentally Seda badly needs some one to translate from French into English, tell her if you can help…)

2- I read this weekend Armenians 1376, with your article again, and wish to touch just a few points:

Assasin:: I read about Hasan Sabbah and his ALAMUT fortress (somewhere south of Iran – not found) in a book of Omar Khayyam. He was showing the paradise in advance to his followers. He was taking the candidates in his fortress, give wine with hashih, some women in company and that was the heaven. The follower knew, that if he dies, he will return to the wine and women ! Well, this may be one of the reasons why Muslim martyrs are promised 40 virgins, and twice as many widowers (but not telling whose widowers they are !)

3- More on the “F” word: You are so right, but these increase in numbers instead of decreasing…

4- Art of living: It seems that one of the good reasons of your survival is that you could keep your head or tail up all the time… I do not know whether you blundered or have been cheated as many times like me… I was married for 45 years, I am widower for the past 7 years, but I have an affair which I call my oxygen and eyes…

5- Belief systems: Ostracized and Silenced. The Dashnaks have a well deserved reputation and reference for more than a century. They invented the first “time bomb” against Abdulhamid…

6- Money talk: I fully endorse your conclusion, “Cash Gold is more important than Trash God”.

7- Happy New Year: Even though you are kind of too deep and too large for me, I nevertheless enjoy wetting myself in your thoughts and sharp but warm and sincere observations. I am not in the habit or need to butter any one… Just to let you know, that you have no reason to feel lonely…

And finally, referring to your two messages of Feb.2nd, I am pleased to confess that I much enjoy reading your realistic observations, but may be not too well. Since you too use the term “genocide”, it will be my pleasure to prove the impossibility or that Turks could be never so clever or organized to think or be able to implement such an intricate plan. There will be plenty evidence in my book.

Just looking to our present disorganized and incapable status against the attacks of a handful of Dashnaks, is evidence enough. Regarding your two messages of Feb.2nd, I have seen too many Panchoonies in San Francisco and you can find them in every community. Regarding “odian” never heard of it and my Turkish Armenian friends haven’t heard either. You are welcome to teach me.

I just sent out an open letter in Turkish yesterday, about our “pitiful status”. Since you speak no Turkish I am not sending it to you but I sent it to Armenians-1915, Turkish site.

Keep on the hammering on the stupid heads… Kind regards

Sukru Server Aya


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