In a way, all of the stories emerging from The Golden Archipelago are ancient.
that nothing which has ever happened is to be given as lost to history.
I start with story about Gunther Plüschow and his ship, the Feuerland, because it has a concreteness about it, being solidified in his own narratives.
I have not even been in the fields,
nor lain my fill in the soft foam,
and here you come blowing, cold wind
Plüschow makes his appearance in the Dossier both through his ship, the Feuerland, which, unless I am reading the translation of an interview incorrectly, Meiberg lived on for a time. The Dossier includes images of Plüschow, the Feuerberg, and excerpts from his books.
Der sturm der letzen tage hat endlich nach gelassen mein Heines Schiff das den Stolzen Namen Feuerland
What I like about the Dossier and the album are also that which makes them hard to interpret confidently—they have spaces for one to make his/her own connections but are based on one person’s direct experience.
intervals of reflection.
In a recent interview, Meiberg likened this to being a scientist, because there is no roadmap for research.
I do, however, know there is Meiberg’s back story of which I only have little bits–and as I’m insisting on exploring on my own, some of what I say here will not be true.
a mass of data to fill the homogeneous, empty time.
At the time Gunther Plüschow lived, flew, sailed and made his amazing escapes, and became enamored of Tierra del Fuego, the empires of Europe were violently imploding. This was the beginning of the 20th century. This was when the boundaries and forces that direct our current lives were laid down. Plüschow was born in 1886, a year after my great grandfather. In the written recollections of neither of these German-born-men, do the machinations behind, or the horror of, the Great War, appear. The Great War is referred to, indeed, Plüschow fought in it. But they are concerned with other matters–matters having to do with the sea beneath and the stars.
our image of happiness is indissolubly bound up with the image of redemption
our godhead, history, has ordered for us a grave from which there’s no resurrection
I start with Plüschow, in Tsingtao, in WWI, because The Golden Archipelago is about empire, and the construction of place, and people, out of the relics of our historical memories–memories of empires that crumbled–under the feet of Plüschow, though he was too light on the ground to be affected. He was connected to something other than the fatherland.
There is something in The Golden Archipelago about redemption–or I see it there. Even in all of the sadness the album manifests. As a descendant of empire-builders and a citizen of a nation that, at times, wants to consider herself an empire, I want redemption.
I am the Continual-Thought-Of-Dying
Plüschow died in an airplane accident in Lago, Argentina, in 1931.
Walter Benjamin, born 6 years after Plüschow, in Berlin in 1892, died, by suicide, at the Franco-Spanish border in 1940.
My great-grandfather, born in Germany the year before Plüschow, and also a member of the German navy, died in a rest home, in California–his own memory exiled.
The Kaiser died in exile in the Netherlands in 1941 and Hitler in his bunker in 1945.
During the war, the Great War, millions died in the trenches.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry disappeared in the air over the Mediterranean in 1944. And Charles Lindbergh died in 1974, in a little house in Hana, Maui. A house I stayed in several times as a child.
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea
But I digress.
As I said above, Plüschow fought in the German Marine Corps as the sole German naval aviator over Tsingtao, the German (rented) possession in China against the British and Japanese. He was part of the German’s concentrated force in the area.
as the Kaiser said: it would shame me more to surrender Tsingtao to the Japanese than Berlin to the Russians
Of course, Tsingtao did fall, in November, to the combined British and Japanese forces. Plüschow was called back to Germany with important papers, the rest of Germany’s military in Tsingtao surrended and was moved to Japanese POW camps.
Plüschow himself landed in mainland China and was interred. He escaped, boarded a ship for San Franscisco, traveled overland to New York, boarded a steamer for Italy and, on this steamer, though disguised as a Swiss citizen, he was captured by the British in February 15, 1915.
He became the first and last person ever to escape from Donington Hall.
And he wrote about his escape and his service in China in his first of a handful of books, Escape from Donington Hall.
throw your empire’s
All of this, all the above, is the prelude to his journey to Tierra del Fuego–where, we presume, his heart had flown many years before, when he saw the postcard that would hold him captive to what seemed to many at the time one sort of end of the earth.
quotes are by Walter Benjamin, Charles Reznikoff, Shearwater, Gunther Plüschow, Ingborg Bachman, Charles Lindberg (though not necessarily in that order).