Crisis at Gnarled Tree Press. To pulp or not to pulp. We have a very exciting spring list, but one of our titles has been caught in the crossfire of two opposing world views. The tome in question? A Learned Disquisition on the Theory and Practice of Comedy by Professor Dudley Gray of City of Dublin University. We’re absolutely thrilled to have snapped up world rights in a fierce bidding war with several major publishing houses, although Ladybird won the lucrative pop-up rights for the under-fives version. With a foreword, we need hardly add, by standup sensation Foetus O’Flaherty.
So what’s the problem? Well, no sooner had we got the manuscript to proof copy stage than CDU declared itself a safe space for all oppressed minorities. Laudable aim, you’d be forgiven for thinking, but it’s put Professor Gray, and all his works, on the wrong side of history. And I’m afraid one of our longest-serving proof readers has, in plain terms, grassed the poor man up. The offending passage? Comedy and Misrule. It forms part of a lecture to be given by Professor Gray at CDU in the coming term, and it quotes from the diary of a low-ranking clerical officer on Adolph Hitler’s private staff. May 2nd 1941:
I am called before the Führer to give an account of yesterday’s exhilarating activities.
‘So, young man,’ he begins. ‘It has come to my Führeristic attention that on Mayday it is deemed permissible to cock a snook at authority – to wit myself – after which the natural order is, in time honoured fashion, restored.’
‘That,’ I reply cockasnookily, ‘is substantially the case.’
The Führer moves forward.
‘So. I believe it was you who painted the left side of my moustache pink as I took my mid afternoon schnooze.’
‘Indeed,’ I chuckle reminiscently, ‘it was.’
‘You who chose the moment I took my seat at the Reichstag to simulate a herd of rhinocerosi breaking wind?’
‘I cannot,’ I chortle, ‘deny it.’
‘Plied my personal chauffeur with drink and had him replaced by a flamboyant transvestite from Rio de Janeiro with no driving licence?’
I concur with undisguised glee.
‘Had ‘Freude Durch Arbeit’ replaced as the motto of the glorious Third Reich with – I can hardly bring myself to say it – ‘Blondes Have More Fun’?’
‘Yes,’ I splutter. ‘Yes yes yes.’
‘And finally, inform the Press Association that I am 50% short on the testicle front?’
I positively hoot the affirmative.
‘In that case, my young friend, I think you may have made a slight error of judgment.’
He fixes me with his twinkling Führer’s eyes.
‘Welcome to May the 2nd,’ he chuckles pleasantly. ‘So tell me. Is this your first time to face the firing squad?’
The diary, I need hardly add, was written posthumously.
So what, I repeat, is the problem? Well, the proof-reader in question is an elderly gentleman living in semi-retirement in Clontarf’s bustling Irish quarter. He wrote the following to the Vice Chancellor at CDU.
I am currently a mature student at your venerable establishment, studying mid-twentieth century history under the revisionist historian Prof. Eoin O’Duffy. It has come to my notice that the attached – see above – is to form the basis of a lecture to be delivered by your professor of so-called Comedic Arts. Perhaps I may be permitted to explain my problem with this.
After the war I relocated from the fatherland, first to Argentina, thence to Clontarf, where I changed my name as a gesture of solidarity with my new home. But the fact is, you can never totally wipe out the past. Nor, in the present case, would you want to. My attic is living testament to this. Regalia from the Third Glorious Reich. Mein Kampf as Gaeilge. A luminous, life-size Führer from Woolworths – testicles intacta. This is my past. You may not agree with it, but the attached piece, which ridicules the Führer before reaching its triumphant conclusion, has caused me emotional upset and hurt feelings in what I was informed was a safe space.
I look forward to the author being exterminated at the very least.
M O’Catháin, né Mengele
So. To publish or not to publish. Tough one, but I think the emotional upset/hurt feelings bit swings it for the safe space brigade. You have your way this time, Herr Mengele, but don’t push it. We at Gnarled Tree Press are passionately devoted to free speech. Passionately. But, well, emotional upset and hurt feelings. We can’t have that, now can we?
Ian Macpherson is an author, artist of the spoken word, and maverick publisher of Gnarled Tree Press. An in-depth Parish Review interview/profile will be published on Headstuff shortly. Website: www.ianmacpherson.net