Teja son of Tagila (ostro_goth) wrote,
Teja son of Tagila

OOC post: Teja and the darkest parts of the 20th century

Picking up Teja as a charrie in Milliways, I was very much aware of one problem with the character: not the 19th century canon and its cumbersome language and outdated concepts (prudishness etc.), but the history of the canon's reception in the early 20th century. The wrong people had liked it, and still like it: nazis and neo-nazis. It shares that fate with the operas of Richard Wagner, and much more of the cultural output of 19th and early 20th century Germany. The entire 19th century 'nationalist' movement parallel to that which rediscovered Celtic roots in Ireland, or the Kalevala and suchlike pre-Christian, pre-Swedish tales in Finland, is completely contaminated with 20th century reception in the case of Germany, and the re-discovery of Germanic roots.

And it should be considered contaminated, and touched with utmost caution. You don't just go and 're-claim' an archaeological site within the immediate hot zone of Chernobyl; this is a memetic and historic equivalent. The most barbarous regime that the history of humankind ever saw has burned innumerable bridges that are completely inocuuous in the case of other cultures. There's only one way of handling anything even remotely touched by the taint of nazism. That's acknowledging the taint, then briefly stating why the cultural tradition is valuable nevertheless: - why would one want to listen to Wagner operas?

I did that with Teja from the very beginning, putting a mention of that nazi taint right into his app that I re-used and expanded as user info. In addition, if anybody had protested against a character tarred with that awful brush within the first two weeks or so of my playing him, I would have apologised and dropped him, immediately, no justification attempted. After two weeks, and peaceful threads with certain muns, I decided that from now on, I'd fight to keep him should anybody spontaneously decide to protest against his existence in Milliways after all.

Why did I pick him up at all? Because he was an old favourite of which I'd been reminded by something completely different. But why was he an old favourite? Because I'd been handed his canon as something I might like, at age twelve. Why would my mother or grandmother give me that book to read at all, despite the taint of the Germanic theme, and the fact that the nazis liked it? Because they had liked it first!! 'A Struggle for Rome' is the sort of historical novel that the educated classes (to which my people, being teachers and vicars and the like, firmly belonged) of the late 19th century would hand to their teenage children to wake their interest in history, beyond the dull, dusty numbers you'd learn in school. And their teenage children loved it! It is a great, roaring whale of a story that is told well (for its time), and captivates the young imagination with some very strong images. And I loved it as well, twelve years old, all innocently! And it was fun to be able to talk about it with my grandmother, having her tell me that she'd always liked Gotho best among the characters, and having her teach me the melody to which she and her brothers had always sung Teja's dirge from the very end.

With all that in mind, I picked him up as a charrie in Milliways -- despite the baggage, just because I liked him.

And then I started destruct-reading his canon, and analysing it for the first time with my grown-up mind, a politically thinking mind, a mind that had been schooled to discover subtexts for subjects as wide-ranging as sex and world-views. Taking a fresh look at the canon itself, I discovered a few amazing things. People seem to have done that recently -- 'A Struggle for Rome' is a critically underestimated piece of late 19th century culture, kicked into the wrong corner by literary critics and historians alike, and kicked around that corner for the last forty years. There's one recent study of 19th century historical novels, for example, that views 'A Struggle for Rome' under an aspect of 'being forced to remember or allowed to forget', and how historiography itself is treated within the fiction of the novel -- the main source, Procopius, is also a character that acts, changing the outcome! His counterpart on the side of the Goths, for that critic, is indeed Teja, a 'master of remembrance', who is seen teaching his oral tradition to Adalgoth. All of a sudden, it seems possible to look at the text again, and appreciate completely new things.

Looking at it once more in that way, you realise that the nazis who liked it didn't understand it at all. The nazis liking (the fictional Felix Dahn character of) Teja and praising him as a (historical) example of a virtue they called 'Gotentreue' ('Gothic faithfulness') is completely off the mark. These people were bloody stupid! 'A Struggle for Rome' is about the dreams for a 'Reich' failing, due to hubris, and the stupid conviction of being historically right. It's also about a leader absolutely faithful to his people, not the other way around, as the nazis preached it. There is something infinitely wrong about a dictator and his set hiding in a bunker and expecting their people to sacrifice themselves for them -- praising the virtues of an old-fashioned assembly-elected Germanic king who fought in the first row of battle for eight hours straight before dying, and by that, saved his people!

Patriotism gets a bad name because it's normally extolled by men that hide in ugly monumental architecture and send their people to die for their ideology by the tens of thousands, or more, by telling them lies. Teja, on the other hand, is a king whose only hall is a makeshift lava cave, and who dies for his people in their last battle, after telling them the horrid truth as best he knew -- 'We're all going to die, and all I can offer you is that you can easily kill yourselves, instead of being raped and enslaved by the victorious enemy'. By that, he manages to be gloriously wrong and actually saves them. Dying in the knowledge that they're saved is the one happy, crowning moment of is entire life. So what Teja did, historically or fictionally, can't be 'patriotism' of the sort that the Hitlers or Saddams propagated from their safe bunkers, can it?

While I was playing, analysing and developing Teja, the 'headvoice' started finding the whole connection deeply offensive. How dared these stupid, unreflected nazis co-opt and extol a story that preached the exact opposite to their ideology, if only you bothered to actually read the text? They were too stupid to even read what they had quoted and, by quoting, contaminated forever! If Teja (Dahn's fictional Teja now, and by extension my Milli!Teja) knew about the nazis and the way they had murdered millions and ruined their own people, he'd be deeply shocked. He would once more feel justified in his blackest pessimism and his nihilistic world-view, he'd most likely react very emotionally, maybe even shed tears of horror. If he ever heard about the way these same unspeakable murderers extolled the last battle of the Ostrogoths as a heroic deed after their own hearts, he'd most likely lose it for once, shout, and throw things. I touched on that in passing in a blog post in my German blog which is mostly a political reflection on how out current rulers (not just in Germany!) are turning against their own people under the pretext of keeping them safe from amorphous evil terrorists and child-molesters.

Looking at the canon with adult, mature eyes, I can suddenly appreaciate Teja, independently, as a multi-faceted fictional character who offers many interesting aspects to his readers; not just my favourite from a canon I happened to love when barely a teenager. Teja is worth looking at, and his canon, like Wagner's operas, is worth not being summarily thrown out with the nazi trash. There are reasons enough to avoid cultural goods and traditions tainted by the nazis -- the Externsteine should never be built up to be something of a German Stonehenge, even though they attract the same sort of crowd, and the 'new heathens' in Germany rightly remain a very suspect lunatic fringe group, instead of becoming an accepted movement like the neo-pagans under mostly Celtic influence in the British isles and America.

But Teja's story is still worth telling, and carolinw and I might not remain the only members of the notional party I jokingly call 'Tree-Hugging Liberals For Teja'. We happened on something here -- a lesson that's the polar opposite of what generations have been parroting from each other.-

[[Sorry, some of the links are in German -- they're as much for my own reference as for your edification.-]]
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