In Rick Welland’s new novel, Insult of the Third Degree, a duel is brought to the present. Two men want to duel using every trick in the book, which leads to much confusion and chaos, but above all to great impotence. We talked to the writer about the allure of fencing, the sinking of the Costa Concordia, and the setting of Jurassic Park.
Mr. Wieland, anyone who has read your novel “Insult of the Third Class” may think that you are calling for duels to be reintroduced. Please tell us this is not true.
Well, if you read the novel, you will find that there is a character in it who wants to revive the duel, right. This is a time-lost archaeologist, a bit eccentric, who drifted a bit from reading a lot of swordsmanship books. Essentially, a contemporary of Don Quixote who once set out to defend the rules of chivalry and honor against vulgarity and general ignorance. I would like to attribute a similar motive to archaeologist Alexander Scheele in my book. He just thinks that people will behave better if they know it’s about something, like their own life. It is not a museum as it appears. Nor is it Don Quixote by the way. Fighting against windmills or pinwheels became very topical again.
But how can one imagine that? In the United States, almost anyone can carry a gun in public, but even there, fencing is not uncommon. Duels are forbidden with us.
Duels were almost always forbidden. Frederick II had banned dueling in Prussia and at the same time threatened his officers with dismissal if they complied. Duel is so old these days that it’s getting interesting again. We all live in an endless cycle of largely event-free autobiography, supervised from childhood to death, which can do with a few “terrible events”. Surely no one knew the rules of swordsmanship anymore and risked their life to please themselves. When it comes to satisfaction, people think of the Rolling Stones. But that’s exactly the perfect setting for Jurassic Park. Someone always comes and stumbles upon an egg, and then there is a lot of screaming.
In your book, it’s a psychiatrist for all the people who are challenged to a duel and understandably believe he’s in the wrong movie or century.
Yes, this may sound a bit contrived, but of course the chain breaks in the weakest link. Such a psychiatrist may be immune to the irrational excesses of violence, but he is also very close. Psychology and psychoanalysis became popular when fencing disappeared in Europe – at the beginning of the last century. Previously, when two people were doing a short job, they would sit on the sofa and meditate on internal indignities, mischief and mischief that could no longer be avenged. Very peaceful, very non-violent, very sensitive and not very satisfying.
What’s so unsatisfactory about not threatening yourself with death over every little thing? Is this not called civilization?
Civilization actually means division of labor and specialization, and the individual gives up competencies to other institutions. This is very convenient. Only the price for this is high, the individual becomes increasingly incompetent. Anyone who is offended or offended turns to a lawyer or psychiatrist, who then takes care of them. There is no head-to-head confrontation, no big show, no all-or-nothing moment, risking one’s life for something, even if it’s ridiculous. To put it more dramatically, there is no seriousness at all, because sentences and convictions become infinitely more valuable when it is clear that they can be shot. In Russia the century before last, it was said that there was such a thing as a “duel without a cause”, just because people wanted to experience a fateful moment …
…a fateful moment! In Russia, if we think about the current war against Ukraine, it seems to have fatal continuity. The Germans from Russia and their frivolous dealings with weapons and the arms trade also play a certain role in your novel.
Yes, reality has terribly exceeded imagination. Overall, this war seems to be a repetition of things no one thought possible. Front lines, artillery bombardment, bombing of cities – all this is like the nightmare of the last century. Interestingly enough, this is where the duel almost made a comeback, when American billionaire Elon Musk personally challenged Putin to a duel. Duel literature is contemporary literature again.
Then one would like to know why the duels all over the world ended at the beginning of the last century? If it’s alluring as you describe it, surely there must be a buzz behind a bush every weekend?
I asked myself the same thing. I think there are three main reasons. First, by the end of the First World War, so many people died that there was no need for additional bodies. Second, the development of weapon technology that made duels so pointless. At first people fought with spears and knives, later swords, sabers and pistols were used. With a machine gun, dueling is no longer a duel. Third, there has been a general erosion of the persuasiveness of religions. Those who are no longer sure that they will end up in the afterlife or heaven after their death are understandably reluctant to shoot them.
Isn’t it the abolition of aristocratic privileges that made duels unnecessary?
This certainly plays a role, although in the end dueling was a bourgeois style, even an epidemic. Tens of thousands died to restore their honor. The tragic joke is that hardly anyone knew what honor was. Even Shakespeare did not know it, to honor Falstaff is just a word, just air and at best a shield in the funeral procession. Wikipedia explains the concept of honor as ‘respect’, as ‘deserving of respect’, and it can’t be peculiar. Something like that still exists in crooked little circles or among religious fanatics. The novel takes place in 2012, when the cruise ship “Costa Concordia” sank and the captain was the first to disembark. Too much honor in the era of late capitalism.
The last German duel took place in 1937, two SS men shot each other with pistols, and of course it was about a woman. It is said that Hitler was furious when he found out. Himmler, von Scherach and the infamous SS doctor Gebhardt and Riefenstahl also play a role. Why did you include this story in your novel?
This was a gift, because the history of the last German duel is completely unknown and unexplored. One can explain this by saying that the small episode in the Hohenlichen Forest in 1937 acts as a romantic mirror in which the barbarian horror that will begin two years later is already shown. Such a duel is always the interface between barbarism and civilization. On the one hand, the most polite laws, rules and fair play, on the other hand murder and manslaughter. Almost everyone who was present at the last German duel was subsequently guilty of the most heinous crimes.
Duel seems to me to be a prime example of toxic masculinity: men who make things amongst themselves in a very masculine way, and the thing is mostly a woman. This does not fit with today’s discussions. Are you also driven by the desire to provoke?
Yes, I think the book is more of a women’s novel, there are also feminine seconds here for the first time, and the men inside it are woefully lost. My subject is ephemeral, fanciful to masculinity. One can say that duels are very accurate scenes of world history, extremely dangerous and vulgar at the same time. Great pity – yes. pity pettiness.