Sunday, May 31, 1936

Book Review

Time Of The Scorn

The Beast Man Is Exalted, The Human Man Spit Upon,
In This Report of German Terrorism Under The Housepainter Who Plays God


Site ed. note: Cash proves here his early, carefully analyzed scorn of the Nazis and Hitler, years ahead of most journalists and writers in the United States, and only two months after Hitler's initial aggression remilitarizing the Rhineland, permanently demilitarized by the Treaty of Versailles. Cash had read Hitler's Mein Kampf in 1933, had made detailed marginal notes as he read, and understood well therefore Hitler's plans under "the thousand year Reich"--and its portent for Jews, intellectuals, and dissidents. In this book review of a novel by André Malraux, Cash finds truth--senses reality--reality which makes him "boiling mad"--reality which later history would prove occurred under SA boots, those of Hitler's secret thug patrol. (Malraux's life itself occurred as a novel, seeing over a decade in Indo-China and China, returning to Europe in the mid-Thirties to become an aviator in the anti-Fascist cause fighting Franco in the Spanish Civil War, then fighting the Nazi tank corps in 1940 at age 39, only to be captured, then escaping to join the French Resistance, being recaptured, and then escaping again, and finally, after the war, becoming minister of culture under Charles De Gaulle--all the while writing several other novels.)

Likely, it was Cash's own ability to analogize the obscurantist mind of the Klansmen cum tacit supporters high and low--even if relatively few in actual numbers--around his native bailiwick in Gaffney-Boiling Springs-Shelby and surrounds to that of the Nazi--identified in The Mind of the South as bedmates originating from the same set of atavist folk impulses (Mind of South, pp. 134-137, 335-344)--in combination with his trip to Europe in 1927, coupled with his intense extra-mental study of the matter, which enabled his understanding beyond his time and place.

On the altogether frivolous, and absurdly tragic, side of reaction to this strictly serious subject and article, a reader complained that the article misspelled the name of Friederich Nietzsche as "Neitzsche" (probably the fault of the typesetter and not Cash as Nietzsche's work had long been the subject of admiration by Cash from the time of his reading in college the irony of the loveless, insensate Übermensch within Thus Spake Zarathustra--übermensch, in other words, being that being which only some being so incredibly dumb and twisted as the Nazi would think could actually fly through the air faster than a speeding bullet, etc.). Nevertheless, the error prompted this: "Do you suppose that distinguished savant, Mr. W. J. Cash, will develop a crop of gray hair just because he inadvertently spelled Nietszche incorrectly?" The editor replied, without Cash's acquiescence, as Cash was not yet a regular staff member: "Mr. Cash complains mournfully that he'd be willing enough to develop a gray thatch if only that were possible, seeing that, alas, he is already bald and steadily growing balder." (Southern Prophet, by Joseph L. Morrison, Knopf, 1967, pp. 81-82) Undoubtedly, such incidents led to Cash sometimes addressing his articles to "my dear little readers". Ah, well, words again . . . Perhaps it bends reality too much to suggest that when people--even educated and well-meaning people--are confronted with an unpleasant realization which they can dodge easily and thereby excuse concern from their conscious mind over its ultimate evil portent by treating it as the imaginary ramblings of a real smart feller--but one who cain't e'en spaell, waell... Silly egg-head feller readin' novels as if they was real. . . Reckon I'll, suh, right Mistuh Ca-ashe a letta on this heya...'cause I looked up the feller's name and found that he misspaelled it. And sense I have betta savoir, not to mention pettigree. . . Well, enough of that--as it is Sunday, after all. Lemme git back to that new, mag-nifi-scent book I was readin' on by that Mitchell lady.

But unfortunately, you see, Mr. Cash was right all along.

IT seems to me that Haskon M. Chevalier, the translator of Andre Malraux's Goncourt Prize novel, "Le Temps du Mepris," has been singularly inept in translating the title as "Days of Wrath."

For one thing, the connotations are exceedingly unfortunate. This phrase he employs is more or less inextricably bound up in most of our minds with associations of the anger of high heaven and the Lord God--with the coming in glory and doom and the last judgment of all the living and the dead. And nobody save Herr Hitler himself and his pet poodle, Dr. Alfred Rosenberg--nobody but a handful of exhibits from the psychopathic ward--has ever yet been fool enough and blasphemous enough to confuse the silly mug of the little house-painter with the majesty of Jehovah, or to take his homosexual minions for the company of the arch-angels. And even the solemn little German boys and girls, I hear, break out into uncontrollable laughter when they are told that Nazi visitation is a final thing like a decree from heaven--a thing come to stay. Even the solemn little German boys and girls know--what Herr Hitler and his pack know all too painfully well, too--that already in the womb of time a genuine Day of Wrath is shaping--can hear already the triumphant coming up of the morning when the firing sqaud shall blast this infamy from the Germany of Goethe and Schiller--from the grave, high and serene Germany of Goethe and Schiller--from the proud Germany of Neitzsche, that hater of swine, whose words they have dared to subvert--from the incomparably beautiful Germany of Heine, the sweet-singing Jew.

But more than this--aside from all its unfortunate connotations, M. Chevalier's title wholly misses the point and is entirely gratuitous. Translate M. Malraux's title literally and you get "The Time of the Scorn"--an excellent title in itself it seems to me--an infinitely better title even as a mere combination of words than the one M. Chevalier employs, if only because it is less banal. And what is more important--one which exactly renders what M. Malraux is about.


For in this very short novel of 175 pages what the author is plainly trying to make clear is--not merely that we stand again in a time of blood and brutal wrong, but that we stand in a time when a great part of the world is given over to, when a greater part of the world is casting eyes toward, a particularly malignant and repulsive sort of scorn. At a time when nineteen hundred odd years after a voice was lifted up on the Hill of the Skull to pronounce that "It is finished!" men are falling back from every value of civilization as we have known it in the West, when the humane is made contemptible and the cruel and the ruthless are glorified, when the human-man is being spit upon and the beast-man exalted.

That precisely, is the theme of the book. And the author makes a capital job of establishing it. Hear him describe the Nazis in action:

"Four SA-men entered, two remained in the corridor. Heads were lowered and arms menacingly advanced--lighted only by a storm-lantern which one of them had put down on the floor . . . .

"The blow of a fist in the stomach doubled him over as though he had suddenly caved in; and the moment his face dropped, another blow to the chin threw him violently backward; his ribs met simultaneously the hard resistance of the cement floor and the boots which began to kick at him . . . . As he rolled over on his belly, the soft parts of his belly seemed the center of a protective cage of ribs and bones on which the boots were savagely hammering. A kick in the jaw: he felt himself spitting blood, and when he heard: 'What, you're spitting your own flag?' a red blotch flashed and crackled before his eyes--it was from a kick in the nape of his neck. Then he fainted . . . He had a confused sense of being flung into another cell, with the cry 'Auf Wiedersehen!' "


Not very pretty. And this is on the whole the prettiest thing laid to the Nazis in this entire story of what happened to Kassner, the Communist, in nine days of detention in the concentration camp. For the animals at the head of the thing are no amateurs in sadism, and they know very well that the best way to break a man's spirit is not so much by the piling of actual violence on actual violence, but by the combination of calculated doses of such violence with a maximum of terror and apprehension.

The book will make you boiling mad. And it has made me boiling mad, and I'm writing this in the incoherence of that anger. But I think you'll do well to read it--and particularly if you are one of those confident souls who, forgetting the history of the last fifteen years, are sure that it couldn't happen here.

It was published by Random House at New York yesterday, and is a Book of the Month Club selection. The price is $1.75.

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