Monday, December 31, 2012


Study in Prison

Elizabeth Sears, "The Life and Work of William S. Heckscher: Some Petites Perceptions," Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 53.1 (1990) 107-133 (at 122, on a prison camp in Farnham, Quebec, where Heckscher was an inmate for eighteen months):
Heckscher was coffee maker; he had garbage detail (which meant periodic excursions extra muros); he knit socks in a knitting factory (all but the heels, which were the responsibility of the next man in line). After a time he added to his duties by organizing a school for the younger inmates in which he taught English literature, especially Shakespeare82. In time it was arranged that students in the camps would be allowed to take the McGill University matriculation examinations. The impressive performance of students from the Farnham Camp School was owed to instructions by a small but distinguished faculty83.

82During World War I Heckscher watched his grandfather, Wilhelm Foerster, teach mathematics to French prisoners. Says Heckscher: »If you live long enough much of what happens is repeat performances...I can imagine life goes in convolutions or waves.« (Interview, 1 March 1987). »Things never seem to break off, but reincarnate. That is very important to my way of thinking.« (Interview, 18 February 1987).

83In his account of the prison schools (Deemed Suspect, 146-54) Eric Koch draws upon Heckscher's article »Studies in Concentration: A Released Schoolmaster Speaks,« The Canadian Student 21, 2, 1942, 9. Koch writes: »The academic talent assembled in [Major] Kippen's camp - Farnham - exceeded that of many Canadian universities« (146).
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), The Gulag Archipelago (tr. Thomas P. Whitney):
At the Samarka Camp in 1946 a group of intellectuals had reached the very brink of death: They were worn down by hunger, cold, and work beyond their powers. And they were even deprived of sleep. They had nowhere to lie down. Dugout barracks had not yet been built. Did they go and steal? Or squeal? Or whimper about their ruined lives? No! Foreseeing the approach of death in days rather than weeks, this is how they spent their last sleepless leisure, sitting up against the wall: Timofeyev-Ressovsky gathered them into a "seminar," and they hastened to share with one another what one of them knew and the others did not — they delivered their last lectures to each other.
Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), letter written from from prison to his brother Carlo (December 19, 1929):
Even if I were condemned to die, I think that I might be serene. The night before the execution I might even study a bit of Chinese!

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