Respectable people…What bastards!
- Emile Zola, The Belly of Paris (1873)
Indignation and goodwill are not enough to make the world better. Clarity is needed, as well as charity, however difficult this may be to imagine, much less sustain, toward the other side. Perhaps the worst thing that can be said about social indignation is that it so frequently leads to the death of personal humility. Once that has happened, one has ceased to live in that world of men which one is striving so mightily to make over. One has entered into a dialogue with that terrifying deity, sometimes called History, previously, and perhaps again, to be referred to as God, to which no sacrifice in human suffering is too great.
The Americans and the English are bound together at present by the ties of war, and by that sort of cousinly love which expresses itself in private by foaming at the mouth.
I find it good to be out this still, dark, mizzling afternoon; my walk or voyage is more suggestive and profitable than in bright weather. The view is contracted by the misty rain, the water is perfectly smooth, and the stillness is favorable to reflection. I am more open to impressions, more sensitive (not calloused or indurated by sun and wind), as if in a chamber still. My thoughts are concentrated; I am all compact. The solitude is real, too, for the weather keeps other men at home. This mist is like a roof and walls over and around, and I walk with a domestic feeling. The sound of a wagon going over an unseen bridge is louder than ever, and so of other sounds. I am compelled to look at near objects. All things have a soothing effect; the very clouds and mists brood over me. My power of observation and contemplation is much increased. My attention does not wander. The world and my life are simplified. What now of Europe and Asia?
If I could have secured this advantage without the horrid prolonged trials that produced it, I might have gladly become a sailor. I love moving water, I love ships, I love the sharp definition, the concentrated humanity, the sublime solitude of life at sea. The dangers of it only make present to us the peril inherent in all existence, which the stupid, ignorant, untravelled land-worm never discovers; and the art of it, so mathematical, so exact, so rewarding to intelligence appeals to courage and clears the mind of superstition, while filling it with humility and true religion. Our world is a cockleshell in the midst of overwhelming forces and everlasting realities; but those forces are calculable and those realities helpful, if we can manage to understand and obey them.
I’ve often felt that my library explained who I was, gave me a shifting self that transformed itself constantly throughout the years. And yet, in spite of this, my relationship to libraries has always been an odd one. I love the space of a library. I love the public buildings that stand like emblems of the identity a society chooses for itself, imposing or unobtrusive, intimidating or familiar. I love the endless rows of books whose titles I try to make out in the vertical script that has to be read (I’ve never discovered why) from top to bottom in English and Italian, and from bottom to top in German and Spanish. I love the muffled sounds, the pensive silence, the hushed glow of the lamps (especially if they are made of green glass), the desks polished by the elbows of generations of readers, the smell of dust and paper and leather, or the newer ones of plasticized desktops and caramel-scented cleaning products. I love the all-seeing eye of the information desk and the sibylline solicitude of the librarians. I love the catalogues, especially the old card drawers (wherever they survive) with their typed or scribbled offerings. When I’m in a library, any library, I have the sense of being translated into a purely verbal dimension by a conjuring trick I’ve never quite understood. I know that my full, true story is there, somewhere on the shelves, and all I need is time and the chance to find it. I never do.
|Lester Lynch (Photo: Philip Newton)|
|Madison Leonard (Photo: Sunny Martini)|
Here, I thought, stood an American businessman who, when he goes to sleep at night, does not dream of the Knights of Camelot or of Thomas Jefferson or even of Napoleon Bonaparte. The hero of his dreams, in color TV, is the self-made man of America’s pioneering era. Is such a man a conservative? Perish the thought! Conservatism implies the strict rule of law, respect for the existing order to the point of snobbery. The American businessman, on the other hand, admittedly no snob, dreams of the Golden Age of disorder in which a man like H.L. Hunt, the richest man in America...could win his first oil well at a poker game. He dreams of plain lawlessness to which, according to him, America owes her greatness, he dreams of...a form of government without taxes and without central direction. Since we Europeans are accustomed to identify fascism with uniforms, the goose step and discipline of every kind, we find it very difficult to understand the fascism of the American businessman, who would only impose that minimum of discipline required to protect the economic chaos which he favors.
On the morning of the fourth day the dawn light daubed our faces as we came down the skies of Cochin-China*. The passengers were squirming in their seats, not sleeping and not waking, and the air-hostess’s trained smile came stiffly. With engines throttled back the plane dropped from sur-Alpine heights in a tremorless glide, settling in the new, morning air of the plains like a dragonfly on the surface of a calm lake. As the first rays of the sun burst through the magenta mists that lay among the horizon, the empty sketching of the child’s painting book open beneath us received a wash of green. Now lines were ruled lightly across it. A yellow penciling of roads and blue of canals.
A colonel of the Foreign Legion awoke uneasily, struggling with numbed, set facial muscles to regain that easy expression of good-fellowship of a man devoted to the service of violence...
|Charles Leggett and Julie Briskman (Photo: Alan Alabastro)|
Intellectuals are the only group in society who are fundamentally international. Everyone who believes in the intellect takes his place in the great family tree of the human intelligence in which those who have influenced him are his true ancestors, and these ancestors are from every race, every creed, and every condition. I am all for regionalism, for decentralization, for the “goût du terroir” [local flavor] in our artists, but I think that nationalism, though it has proved the soundest and deepest instinct in this war, and is beyond praise as a sentiment when our country is in danger, is not one of the most forward-looking of human creeds. It has won wars, but it has also made them, and it is to that love of truth which unites artists and scientists, that common belief in virtue and reason, that we must look for the perpetuation of peace and the prevention of wars to come.
We drive to the French Embassy in a hired Daimler…The Churchills were the last to arrive and I was surprised to notice that when they enter, the whole room stands up as if they were reigning sovereigns.
Winston pays me lavish compliments on my speeches in the House and deplores my absence from it...He said that he had made friends with de Gaulle at last, whom he had found “much mellowed”. He said that he had liked the Russians. “The disadvantage of them is”, he says, “that one is not sure of their reactions. One strokes the nose of the alligator and the ensuing gurgle may be a purr of affection, a grunt of stimulated appetite, or a snarl of enraged animosity. One cannot tell.”
|Ginger Costa-Jackson and Rodion Pogossov (Photo Credit: Sunny Martini)|
|Ginger Costa-Jackson (Photo Credit: Sunny Martini)|
It is quite apparent that there is an aspect of Darwin’s discoveries which has never penetrated to the mind of the general public. It is the fact that once undirected variation and natural selection are introduced as the mechanism controlling the development of plants and animals, the evolution of every world in space becomes a series of unique historical events. The precise accidental duplication of a complex form of life is extremely unlikely to occur in even the same environment, let alone in the different background and atmosphere of a far-off world.
In the modern literature on space travel I have read about cabbage men and bird men; I have investigated the loves of the lizard men and the tree men, but in each case I have labored under no illusion. I have been reading about a man, Homo sapiens, that common earthling, clapped into an ill-fitting coat of feathers and retaining all his basic human attributes including an eye for the pretty girl who has just emerged from the space ship. His lechery and miscegenating proclivities have an oddly human ring, and if this is all we are going to find on other planets I, for one, am going to be content to stay at home. There is quite enough of that sort of thing down here, without encouraging it throughout the starry system.
|Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir and Margaryta Hilska|
|John Moore and Emily Fons |
(Photo Credit: Philip Newton)
|John Moore and Garrett Sorenson (Photo credit: Philip Newton)|