The Assault: Part 9: Familiar Imagery


This post doesn’t live here anymore. It emigrated to my other blog:

The Big No-No:  An Outsider on American Fascism,

where it resides under the title:

Familiar Imagery from Dutch History, Culture and Politics in The Assault

3 responses to “The Assault: Part 9: Familiar Imagery

  1. I’m reviewing these wonderful posts as I prepare to teach the novel (again) to this year’s Honors World Literature classes. Perhaps I’ve missed it, but I was looking here for a reference to the “Prologue.” Some of the most memorable images are there: the man poling his boat along the canal, and the overlapping herringbone patterns of the wake. I can’t be sure, from the translation, but it seems to me that both are symbols of history: the complexity of the patterns, where the strands are interwoven; and the man moving forward in time and space, but looking backward into the past–if, indeed, Dutch canal boats are propelled in this way?

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    • Yes, they used to be. So the man is facing backwards, starts poling at the front of the boat and walks toward the back with the pole, until he pulls it out of the water, walks back to the front to do it all again. I mention somewhere that Mulisch said in an interview that history lessons should start with yesterday’s newspaper instead of with the Mesopotamians. Starting at the present and going back, in order to understand history’s relevance, in order to move forward as a society.
      I mention the prolog in the third post about The Assault. Yes, the V’s are affected by the next V’s moving in the opposite direction. Everything affects everything else, until it all becomes choppy before it smoothes out. First Anton describes the poled barges, then the occasional sailboat, and then the motorboats, described as almost violent in the way they don’t use nature to move forward, the way they disturb the water for so long afterward. So the motorboats are like the Nazis. Also, he describes the V’s as turning upside down, like a labda (though not in the translation–grrr). A labda has many meanings, but here’s a link to an interesting one. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_constant
      I’m sure Mulisch knew of this meaning, as he talks often about astronomy and universal time.
      The prolog also mentions Beumer sometimes reading from The Three Musketeers to Anton. The Three Musketiers refers to the popular type of historical novel that Mulisch didn’t write: history as merely a backdrop for an adventure story, a stand-alone thing that has no relevance for our modern times. Just entertainment.
      I also mention the prolog briefly at the end of the last post, comparing the water in the canal (which could be compared to the Walter Scott’s river that is never exactly the same) to the demonstration cutting through Amsterdam in 1981.
      I hope this helps. I’m also curious what made you teach The Assault. I always felt that the book was kind of lost to literature in the English-speaking world because of the translation, but these posts are read every single day somewhere. I’m amazed and so glad. I just wish Mulish was alive to know it.

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    • Not to be too pushy about my other posts, but here’s a post I wrote recently that relates to the demonstrations of 1981 and ’83.
      https://residentalien.co/?s=cold+war

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