Monday, May 03, 2010

Ahistorical fiction?

A Quiet Flame, Book 5 in Philip Kerr's Berlin Noir trilogy, has Bernie Gunther sailing to Argentina with two very high-ranking Nazis after World War II.

"Don't mind me," Gunther says. "I'm not quite as rabid as our friend here wearing the bow tie and glasses, that's all. He's still in denial."

I have read that the concept of denial originated with Freud and that 12-step programs started in 1939. The term also may have gained popular currency in Germany before it did elsewhere.

Still, were ordinary people, non-psychiatrists, really saying "in denial" as early as 1950?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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68 Comments:

Anonymous kathy d. said...

I find it hard to believe that a high-ranking Nazi is "in denial." If that is who is said to be "in denial," what does that mean? In denial about the fact that they lost the war? In denial about the Holocaust they committed?

May 03, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Trust me: The sentiment makes sense in context. The only question is whether the choice of words was anachronistic.

May 03, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Oh, okay, guess one had to be there.

May 03, 2010  
OpenID blackwatertown said...

You may be right about the anachronism, but it was probably a joke too good to let slip by. I imagine it falls into the category of guilty pleasure. I hope Philip Kerr smiles to himself if he ever thinks of it, rather than regrets it.
I enjoyed A Quiet Flame - though the character and stories feel as though they're on more certain ground when the action takes place in Germany as in the earlier books in the series. I recommend them all. They're great.
Kerr's book Hitler's Peace is very good too - an excellent and imaginative alternative history.

May 04, 2010  
Anonymous marco said...

I suppose you'd have to take it as a "translation" anyway. Even today a German wouldn't probably the equivalent of "in denial" but some other phrase.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

It is surprising how often a phrase you think of as fairly recent isn't. But I am fairly sure "in denial" was more recent that that. I don't remember people using it until the late sixties or so.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

I think it is anachronistic. I've come across a couple of instances where a particular bit of modern phrasing has crept in where it wasn't supposed to (though I don't have any example ready to offer).

Related to this, I find that psychological self-consciousness bugs me. In my experience people rarely say things like:

"Your not respecting me as a person."

"Your projecting."

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I suspect some Confederates were "in denial" after the surrender at Appomattox Court House in 1865 and the subsequent creation of the literary and cultural movement known as "The Lost Cause". I see nothing anachronistic about its use in 1950 by the wise cracking Bernie Gunther referring to Nazis who were nuts enough to believe they would return to Germany and gain power again.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Rebecca Cantrell said...

I used to live in Northern California and people really did say things like "You're projecting" or "You're not respecting my boundaries" and, sometimes, even "Your aura is very muddy today."

Maybe it's a regional thing.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You may be right about the anachronism, but it was probably a joke too good to let slip by. I imagine it falls into the category of guilty pleasure. I hope Philip Kerr smiles to himself if he ever thinks of it, rather than regrets it.
I enjoyed A Quiet Flame - though the character and stories feel as though they're on more certain ground when the action takes place in Germany as in the earlier books in the series.


Blackwatertown:

Bernie Gunther himself is largely a guilty pleasure, I think. You may be right that the story is on firmer ground in Germany, but Gunther's observations about Buenos Aires feeling like a bit of Europe while the real Europe lies in ruins are a marvelous touch.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, intrusions of anachronistic expressions and, worse, sensibilities are the biggest mine field of historical fiction, I'd say, perhaps even worse than errors of historical fact.

The scene in question might not bother you, though. Bernie Gunther is poking fun at the target of his observation, and he knows the man is guilty of far worse than a bit of indulgent self-consciousness.

The real answer to "You're not respecting me as a person" is likelier to be "What the ---- are you talking about?" than anything to do with projection.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

marco has left a new comment on your post "Ahistorical fiction?":

I suppose you'd have to take it as a "translation" anyway. Even today a German wouldn't probably the equivalent of "in denial" but some other phrase.


Marco, that's an astute observation. Bernie Gunther himself is a kind of translation, or transplant: a wise-cracking American-style hard-boiled detective in the most unlikely setting imaginable for such a character. Who knows? Perhaps the expression is deliberately anachronistic, Kerr's wry comment on the weirdness of his own enterprise.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It is surprising how often a phrase you think of as fairly recent isn't. But I am fairly sure "in denial" was more recent that that. I don't remember people using it until the late sixties or so.

Patti, I'm familiar with that phenomenon of being surprised by the age of a given word or expression. I'd have guessed very early Seventies for widespread popular use of "in denial," but that's in North America; who knows what Germans were saying and when they were saying it?

In any case, I suspect the phrase is a bit of fun on Kerr's part. Elsewhere in the opening chapters, after all, he has Germans remark on Argentines' seriousness and lack of a sense of humor.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Uriah, I've only just begin reading this novel, so I don't know to what extent it will explore the psyches and political machinations of these appalling characters.

The "Lost Cause" parallel is to the point, though. Bernie Gunther's remark occurs in casual conversation, not probing analysis, but at this early stage, he means that the Nazis in question have yet to accept that they're washed up. There is nothing anachronistic about the sentiment. The only issue was Kerr's choice of words.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Rebecca, I was going to invoke California in my reply to another comment, but I worried that it would be a cheap crack. But you lived there; you're allowed.

You're hiding your light under a bushel, though. You lived in Caifornia, and you write wartime crime fiction set in Berlin. Who is better qualified to comment on the weighty question I raise here?

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

Sorry for being unclear, I meant them as two separate examples.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Peter!

Freud was definitely talking about denial in German in 1900, so it's not at all unlikely that Bernie would know of the concept. "In denial" seems like a more modern American usage, but I'd let him have it. I can believe that he heard somebody say it during his travels.

And Bernie's sarcasm is VERY Berlin. They are better at sarcasm and wisecracking than most. It's actually a German term: "the Berlin mouth."

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, I understood that you were offering two examples, the second perhaps a comment on the first.

I also don't know that real people talk like that outside California or else when they have lots and lots of time on their hands and they're hanging around cafes and are not given to reading a good book or just soaking up the vibes.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Rebecca, I will go to bed smarter tonight than I was when I woke up. Thanks. I had never known about Berliner sarcasm or the Berlin mouth, just about the sharpness with which women of the city explain traffic regulations to nocturnal pedestrians.

May 04, 2010  
Anonymous marco said...

The German word for denial in the Freudian sense, Verdrängung (suppression/removal)is not particularly well suited to figurative uses.
I don't think it ever ventured outside the confines of psychoanalytic literature.


he has Germans remark on Argentines' seriousness and lack of a sense of humor.

Well, Argentines are serious and lacking in humour ; tango and its music are all about love, death and sadness. German culture could boast the likes of Tucholsky, Kraus, Kästner...

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The German word for denial in the Freudian sense, Verdrängung (suppression/removal) is not particularly well suited to figurative uses.
I don't think it ever ventured outside the confines of psychoanalytic literature.


Perhaps Gunther's use of the term would have a needlingly ironic sense, then. That would fir the character.

Well, Argentines are serious and lacking in humour ; tango and its music are all about love, death and sadness. German culture could boast the likes of Tucholsky, Kraus, Kästner...

Not to mention all kinds of guys who wrote about joy and color. Now, flamenco is also about love, death and sadness, but somehow it does not strike me as humorless the way tango does. Of course, I've heard much more flamenco than tango, so I could be missing much.

May 04, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Living in the Big Apple, let me assure you all that, "You are not respecting me," and "You are projecting," as well as "You are being defensive," "You infringed on my personal space/boundaries," "You're not hearing me," etc., etc., are all said all of the time.

Believe me; it's true. I could cite chapter and verse on this.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That reminds me of a funny passage from an article Joe Queenan wrote about the "men's movement" some years ago. He talked about being at some ridiculous retreat and hearing a fellow attendee say something like: "What I'm hearing is that you're not respecting my vision here," and he thinks, "What ever happened to `--- you, ---hole'?"

May 04, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Tango has often been called “a vertical expression of a horizontal desire.” To experience tango as an art form, it must be seen, not simply listened to. It has an intensely passionate intimacy that in its most sublime expression can make one feel more voyeur than viewer. Flamenco dancers seem to demand an audience; the best tango dancers appear to be doing it for themselves alone. Tango is too often associated with its bastardized form in 1920s tea dances. Bah! But watch Rudolph Valentino dance the tango in “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1921) -- it’s readily available on YouTube -- and see why he became the object of desire for millions of women.

If tango is "humorless", well, then, so is an all-consuming love affair.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Give me credit for acknowleding my ignorance! And thanks for the referral to that great silent movie.

My exposure to tango comes from a brief trip to Buenos Aires (not to terribly tourist spots, though) and my customary post-trip follow-up listening. What can I say, except that the music did not grab me.

Before you accuse me of lacking a heart and a soul, know that in Spain, on the other hand, I was instantly smitten by visits to small, local flamenco clubs and national choreography competitions that I haunted such clubs every night in Madrid and Seville and plunged headfirst into the music upon my return. I listened to older forms and to newer off-shoots and liked much of both.

May 04, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

were ordinary people, non-psychiatrists, really saying "in denial" as early as 1950?

I think you're right to consider it unlikely that they were using that term, especially in casual conversation.

And in the Freudian sense the term doesn't go back quite as far as 1900. Verdrängung is the psychoanalytic idea of repression, Verleugnung is the term for denial and Freud didn't start using it in a psychoanalytic sense until about 1914.

Somehow, I can't see it as a subject Bernie Gunther would take a lot of interest in.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger adrian.mckinty said...

26 comments and no one's made the Its not just a river in Egypt gag?

Did nobody go to summer camp in the Catskills?

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, Bernie Gunther's sarcasm and wisecracking may hold the key to this mystery. He takes no special interest in psychiatry, as far as I know, but he would not be above invoking an odd term to get a rise out of his target.

If I ever meet Philip Kerr, I'll try to remember to ask him about this.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I found in the course of my research for this post that Mark Twain is said to have said: "Denial ain't just a river in Egypt."

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Valentino Tango Dancing at YouTube.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

On behalf of Elisabeth, thank you.

That looks like quite a clip, though right at the beginning Valentino appears to be dancing with a rag practice dummy. I suppose being in Valentino's arms momentarily deprived the woman's sinews of their strength.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

The film itself looks quite interesting. Certainly it's got quite a plot line.

May 04, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"I suppose being in Valentino's arms momentarily deprived the woman's sinews of their strength." Trust me, she's weak with sexual desire. Later in the film, Valentino briefly caresses Alice Terry's breast during an attempted seduction. When I saw this film at a film festival in N Italy (big screen, live orchestra) a collective sigh rose from the female members of the audience (and maybe from some of the men, too). Rudy, Rudy, Rudy...

May 04, 2010  
Anonymous Adrian McKinty said...

Denali aint just a mountain in Alaska. Its also a new truck by GM for 2010.

May 04, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Linkmeister, it's a very fine film. It was a big-budget picture, an epic tale of love and war (WWI), and Valentino, in this film which made him a star, goes from callow. self-indulgent lounge lizard to a more humble, mature man and world-weary soldier. I think the only element that modern audiences might find overly anachronistic is the (too) obvious Christ-figure friend of Julio (Valentino).

This film is readily available on DVD with a specially-commissioned Carl Davis score.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Denali aint just a mountain in Alaska. Its also a new truck by GM for 2010.

My favorite of many possible anagrams for the word in question may be ALE DIN. Have you ever been involved in one of those?

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The film itself looks quite interesting. Certainly it's got quite a plot line.

Linkmeister, you'll have figured out by now that Elisabeth is not just a woman of sensibility (she likes tango, after all), but an eager and knowledgeable student of silent film. Me, I'm more a flamenco guy.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Later in the film, Valentino briefly caresses Alice Terry's breast during an attempted seduction.

I didn't think that sort of thing was invented until the 1960s.

No, no, I know about the Hays Office. But how many Americans from the 1960s and later do you suppose think that their era was the first of on-screen sexual permissiveness?

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, the movie was previously just a name to me, but Linkmeister's link and your assessment of Valentino's character have added to my stock of knowledge. Many thanks.

May 04, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Although the Hays Code was adopted in 1930, it wasn't enforced until mid-1934. Many silent and early talking "Pre-Code" films are filled with nudity, sex, violence, and all kinds of content that, you're right, Peter, most people think was invented in the 1960s.

There are some clearly homosexual characters in a Parisian cafe scene in "Four Horsemen," too.

May 04, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I remember being surprised by the nude bath in the 1931 Maltese Falcon.

May 04, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Pre-Code Warner Bros. in particular was always keen to insert scenes of women undressing and bathing, even when the script had to be contorted to accommodate such risque scenes.

May 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, and I see that's who made The Maltese Falcon. Hmm, was that script contorted, or just added to? The latter, I'd say.

May 05, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I imagine WB was peeved they couldn't film the bathroom scene where Spade, sitting on the edge of the tub, makes Bridget undress to the skin to see if she's hiding money in her clothing.

May 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I remember that action happening off-screen in the 1941 movie. I'd have to check the novel to see what Hammett did with it.

May 05, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Search on "Maltese Falcon" at Google Books > search word = bathtub. Pages 195, 196.

May 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My first experience with Google Books! And my first reaction is that it's confusing, piss-poor and counter-intuitive!

It could be that I don't have access to full previews, but I wouldn't know. The database plays it very close to the vest when it comes to revealing information to customers. I'll have to look in my copy of the novel.

May 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I found it -- on Google Books!

Yep, Hammett's version was a lot rawer than John Huston's movie. That's one harsh scene,

May 05, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Mark Twain is said to have said: "Denial ain't just a river in Egypt

Peter, any half-funny comment that can't be ascribed elsewhere is usually attributed to Twain. But given that he died in 1910 and denial wasn't used in a psychological sense until 1914, I think we can lay the blame for that one somewhere else.

I liked that tango stuff, though. My two left feet are tempted to have a go at tango. That is,if I can find a woman with two right feet. And, of course, a pair of trousers like Valentino was wearing. The woman is optional but the trousers, I think, are essential.

May 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I have ranked Mark Twain with Churchill, Shakespeare and Yogi Berra as a quote magnet of precisely the sort you describe. I wasn't suggesting that he had used denial in the psychological sense, only that he may have originated the hoary Nile/denial joke.

My perception of tango may have been poisoned by the countless spoofs I've seen. I must free my mind of this.

I suspect some men would take the woman and forgo the trousers, though, whatever the cost to their dignity.

May 05, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"...a pair of trousers like Valentino was wearing."

solo, Valentino is credited with all kinds of sociocultural fads. Gaucho trousers was one. Valentino also prompted the widespread adoption of the wearing of wrist watches by American men, many of whom were deeply suspicious of this handsome, if gauche, Sicilian "Latin Lover." But what was a poor guy to do when all the dames were oohing and ahhing over "The Sheik"?

May 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Valentino wears trousers, and a woman pants.

May 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I actually have learned something about Valentino's influence on fashion thanks to this string. The discussion may elevate him from a mere name for me.

May 05, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Valentino's a very interesting figure in film history and a good focus for exploring how a person's on-screen "persona" can be so at odds with his/her off-screen personality, character. He was actually rather awkward and shy with women, perhaps even a bit sexually confused (but, frankly, too much has been made of the latter) and was usually more comfortable in the company of his men friends doing typical "guy stuff." (The same might be said of Clark Gable, who most people think of as a "manly, masculine man.") We tend to forget that Rodolfo Alfonzo Raffaelo Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla came from early 20th c. Apulia, (not Sicily, as I think I wrote earlier--too much Montalbano!) which was very much behind-the-times so far as the Jazz Age manners and mores in the US was concerned.

May 05, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

The discussion may elevate him from a mere name for me.

What do you mean 'a mere name?' The guy was born Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Piero Filiberto Guglielmi. Beat that, you mere Canadian you.

Elisabeth, I was being a little facetious about the trousers but my reaction to that clip was similiar to Peter's. His partner in that dance sequence is pathetic. Women in tango often have as much oomph as the male and sometimes even more. And when the women look strong, tango is at its sexiest.

May 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Curses, done in by semantic ambiguity again!

To be fair, I have only watched the opening of the clip (I was at work at the time, and it would not have done to get carried away, grab my nearest female colleague by the waist, and go tangoing across the newsroom), and Valentino's partner may have woken up after the first few seconds.

One thing about flamenco: I have see or heard it, in person or on film, being sung, danced or played with great verve and emotion by everyone from 12-year-old boys to old men and women.

May 05, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, he sounds like a good subject for a biography -- a real one, not a piece of salacious, celebrity trash.

May 05, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Watching a man and woman dance the tango where both are totally in sync with movements and expressions is great, where the woman is as fully engaged and as strong as her male partner, is the best, where both look in the same or opposite directions with deliberate precision. Agree with that.

May 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder to what extent tango is a vital part of culture in Argentina.

My point of comparison is flamenco again. In Seville, all sorts of ordinary folks would go to flamenco clubs with their friends, looking as if they had stopped in after work or an aerobics class or something. I wonder if people do the same with tango in Buenos Aires.

May 06, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

There are Argentinian composers of tango music, cd's of tango music.

A friend played a cd of Argentinian tango music which was superb.

May 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I know Astor Piazzolla made a great splash with his "New Tango" music, incorporating jazz, among other things. What I'm curious about is whether ordinary Argentines will go out for an evening of tango on weekends or after work, the way people seem to do with flamenco in Madrid and Seville. From what I could tell in a brief visit, flamenco is a living popular form in Spain, something that people listen to and take part in every day. I wonder if tango is the same, or whether it was a kind of museum piece, in need of revival as art music by a guy like Piazzolla.

May 06, 2010  
Blogger Lauren said...

I love Piazolla's music, but it's worth noting that his influences were a lot more international than is often assumed. (Radio 3 did a Composer of the Week programme on him last zear that was wonderful.)

As far as the denial question goes, I have a historical linguist two doors down from me at work, so I'll ask when I get a chance.

I've never quite worked out how I feel about the Berlin Noir novels. I feel like I should love them, but historical novels with a German setting are a really tough sell with me - I think I simply know too much about the topic.

May 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The bits of Piazzolla running through my head are highly suggestive of jazz, though jazz that makes clever use of tango's stop-and-start tempos.

It shoud not be hard to track the use of "in denial" given the right reference tools. And one can't help but regard the Berlin Noir novels given the subject matter. I will see that his protagonist seem to regard Nazis with nothing but contempt.

May 06, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

P.S. I have a cousin frmo Argentina who loves Astor Piazzolla's music.

May 06, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Yes, Astor Piazzola was whom I was thinking of when mentioning that a friend played a cd of his tango music. And it was wonderful.

I have to agree with Lauren about reading historical novels with a German setting; for me, pre- or during WWII. I know too much about this and it is too painful; we all know what happens.

For me, the only thing I could read is about the Resistance but only if they're fighting back and not caught! Or else about people who survived, hiding out, being helped to do that. This is my criteria.

I'm trying to get into this period enough so that I can read "The Postmistress," which has gotten good reviews.

Anyway, back to Piazzolla, much happier and lots of fun. Wish I had a cd of his right now.

May 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Flamenco has had movements and performers analogous to Astor Piazzola, musicians who brought jazz and other influences to the music. All sorts of younger players incorporate rock music, and listening to Paco de Lucia can be like listening to a jazz record.

You could look for Astor Piazzola on YouTube!

May 09, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Love, love jazz so that's fine with me.

Will look on You Tube for Piazzola.

In midst of the new Commissario Brunetti novel, so that will have to wait.

Maxine Clarke's Petrona has some good reviews and books posted now. And so does Sarah Weinman's Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.

May 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the heads-up on the reviews. I may cross paths with Maxine next week.

May 09, 2010  

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