Eugène Marais: The Soul of the White Ant (1937)

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Re: Eugène Marais: The Soul of the White Ant (1937)

Postby Grizzly » Thu Feb 22, 2018 2:53 pm

Coincidance! excellent, thanks Mac! Just watched the great Sir Attenborough's and the Empire of the Ants 2018

The man's kicking 90 and still mesmerises me. Maybe I have him wrong and he partakes in young blood transfusions like the rest of the
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Re: Eugène Marais: The Soul of the White Ant (1937)

Postby MacCruiskeen » Fri Feb 23, 2018 11:10 am

Hiya Grizzly. Thanks for the Attenborough link, which I look forward to watching. Life on Earth made a huge impression on me in my teens, back in the days before the Tories destroyed the BBC the same way they're now endeavouring to destroy the NHS.

Marais's book is a neglected gem, as is his other, The Soul of the Ape. Both are beautifully written and full of surprising details and striking insights and very suggestive ideas. (Rupert Sheldrake quotes him.) He was one of a kind and ahead of his time, a poet and a self-educated naturalist. It is a shame that he died so young and in such a sad way after so many hard blows. His books deserve to be better known and more widely read. (They also have the great virtue of being very short.)
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Re: Eugène Marais: The Soul of the White Ant (1937)

Postby stefano » Mon Feb 26, 2018 3:19 pm

Thanks MacCruiskeen - great book indeed. I'm a huge Marais fan so will allow myself just a bit of pedantry here: The soul of the ape and The soul of the white ant are far from being his only books, but they are the two that he personally wrote the English versions of (the former, I think, he originally wrote in English). Those are the two he wanted the widest readership for because ants and baboons were, for him, two poles of conscious life (apart from humans). Absolutely fascinating, you're right.

His collected works run to about 1,100 pages in Afrikaans, an extremely varied body of work of which my favourite bits are the Dwaalstories (wandertales?), interpretations of old Bushman tales he heard from some of the last San people who had lived the old life. There's a recent English translation of that, no idea what it's like, perhaps comparable to the Bleek & Lloyd collection. Marais has been accused of plagiarising those but I have read both and don't buy it.

He also played an interesting role in Transvaal politics before the Boer War - I'm only superficially informed about it but as a lawyer and journalist in Pretoria at the time, Marais was very opposed to Paul Kruger and the weird fundamentalists and Dutchmen he surrounded himself with, and as I understand it was pressed to leave the country, when he went to London and was admitted to the Bar. War broke out while he was away, of course mainly owing to Cecil Rhodes and his gang, but also to some degree because Rhodes had the measure of Kruger, and had manipulated things in such a way that peace was no longer possible. Perhaps a more internationalist faction in charge in Pretoria might have been able to play a more skilful diplomatic game and avoided it. Marais missed the war, and then his isolation in the Waterberg, when he did most of his nature studies, appears to have been some sort of atonement or something - in his writing he often refers to the fact that he was able to see so many animals and study them because three years of war and the aftermath had depopulated the land.
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