Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Coughs of glory

The victories of the weekend have been overshadowed by the dratted virus which is hanging around, rather like a bad smell, or perhaps more like someone unpleasant who cannot take a hint.

Bizarre really; I cannot imagine anyone wanting to share this particular week with me. I am lumbering through a translation which, though not as thankless as some I have done, will remain a major burden until I can get it off my desk. Classes for the second semester began yesterday. I now teach for 7 1/2 hours on a Monday, and I arrived home feeling like a man who'd been run over at high speed by a train carrying extra-large elephants. And every academic book I pick up seems like it should have been central to my thesis and isn't.

There are days, weeks, months like that, but is it supposed to last for years? Reminds me of that scene from Fawlty Towers where Basil is talking to himself:

Basil: 'Zzzzzm'. What was that? 'That was your life mate.' Really? Do I get another? 'No, sorry, mate, that's your lot.'

It will all be over soon, as they said about WWI before Christmas 1914.

Which reminds me - in a "word-association-football' kind of way - that today I learnt where Stanley Kubrick got the name for his film Paths of Glory. The film is a marvellous study based on true events during the First World War. A French general decides to launch his men into a suicidal attack on the German trenches, and when they cannot even get out of their own trenches due to the intensity of the German barrage, the French general orders his own artillery to fire on the French! Covering his tracks with alacrity - I always keep a pot ready for covering mine too - , the general orders large numbers of men to be court martialled for cowardice and shot, though he finally settles for three (all of whom are chosen at random and had fought well during the attack). Kurt Douglas plays their commanding officer, a former barrister, and defends the men, showing up the absurdity of the trial. All to no avail. The whole thing is a stitch up to comfort the pride and blind arrogance of the general, and the three innocent men are taken for execution in what must be one of the most troubling scenes in cinema.

So, whither the title Paths of Glory? It comes, seemingly, from a drawing of the trenches made during the war. Two soliders can be seen face down in the mud, clearly dead. You only see this, however, in the uncensored version. The censored version predictably has 'censored' stamped across it obscuring the two bodies. The drawing is called 'the Paths of Glory'. The irony of Kubrick's title is borrowed, but is no less effective for that.

No paths of glory for me today, and I'm grateful; just a tickly throat, a chesty, weakling cough and dull aches.