Archive for the ‘Quotations’ Category

From The children of exile

At a time when people are ruled by animals, and perhaps in an effort to ingratiate themselves, band together to form animal protection societies, there is perhaps not a lot of sense in talking about children, much less the children of refugees. But it still seems to me there’s a slight chance that a few people, even if they’d rather hear about parrots and sheepdogs than refugees, can’t quite bring themselves to be indifferent to the plight of children who were driven from their cradles as their elders were from their homes. Perhaps it may not be an entirely futile undertaking to show that not all children have the traditional look of so-called “childish innocence”; their early encounters with the Medusa have given them a different look.

There are many occasions in my life–too many–when I get to meet refugee children. Sometimes I meet them in the waiting room of the police prefecture, where, after having walked so far, they get a chance to wait: wait for instructions, restrictions, objections, rejections, evictions. I have to say I like spending time in waiting rooms. Partly on account of the children, of course, but partly on account of the suffering I encounter here. The accumulation of so much grief makes it, so I’ve found, a little more bearable.

In the beginning, as I was first making myself acquainted with the sufferings brought on by our hospitality, I supposed that children would know little or nothing about the misfortunes visited upon their parents. And it was on account of their ignorance and their unawareness that I felt sorrier for them than for their parents. It’s a fairly easy matter to believe that an ignorant human creature, a child, in fact, with  that fabled expression of “childish innocence” in its eyes, would suffer more than a grownup who sees and who knows. Them imagine my surprise when I came to understand that the children knew more than their parents! And then, imagine what pain I felt on their behalf! Because–is there anything more painful than seeing knowing children? They know more than their parents. They see so clearly and pitilessly, that in fact it’s the parents who seem to have a look of childish innocence about them. That should tell you something about the times we’re living in! The children know–and their elders beside them seem to have no idea. No idea how they fell into the clutches of their terrible destiny, and there beside them are their knowing children, whose disillusioned eyes seem past the point of expressing accusation, and are already offering them forgiveness.

From The white cities: reports from France 1925-39 by Joseph Roth (b. 2nd September 1894, d. 27th May 1939), translated by Michael Hoffman.


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This is beautiful, and well worth reading: Death of a pig, by E.B. White.

The scheme of buying a spring pig in blossom time, feeding it through summer and fall, and butchering it when the solid cold weather arrives, is a familiar scheme to me and follows an antique pattern. It is a tragedy enacted on most farms with perfect fidelity to the original script. The murder, being premeditated, is in the first degree but is quick and skillful, and the smoked bacon and ham provide a ceremonial ending whose fitness is seldom questioned.

Once in a while something slips – one of the actors goes up in his lines and the whole performance stumbles and halts. My pig simply failed to show up for a meal. The alarm spread rapidly. The classic outline of the tragedy was lost. I found myself cast suddenly in the role of pig’s friend and physician – a farcical character with an enema bag for a prop. I had a presentiment, the very first afternoon, that the play would never regain its balance and that my sympathies were now wholly with the pig. This was slapstick – the sort of dramatic treatment which instantly appealed to my old dachshund, Fred, who joined the vigil, held the bag, and, when all was over, presided at the interment. When we slid the body into the grave, we both wore shaken to the core. The loss we felt was not the loss of ham but the loss of pig. He had evidently become precious to me, not that he represented a distant nourishment in a hungry time, but that he had suffered in a suffering world.

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Marxist dog

This is actually quite a sad book about the collapse of the CPGB in the 1950s, Krushchev’s secret speech, Hungary, etc. But this bit made me laugh. It’s by the television critic of the Daily Worker:

Once I found fault with Wilfred Pickles, for inviting on to his programme a man with a performing dog.

I referred to the dog’s look of misery, as it slowly went through its pointless tricks. Little did I know that this was a Marxist dog. ‘Let me tell you the dog Mij is highly respected up here in the north,’ wrote a reader from Durham. ‘You will be surprised to know this same dog has earned some good money for the Daily Worker at socials etc., and its master is a Party member, so I’m afraid you owe some apology.’

Among the other letters was one enclosing a picture of the dog about to do the trick which always brought the house down at Daily Worker bazaars. It was presented with an array of newspapers, and unerringly put its paw on the Daily Worker. ‘A trick which, I think you will agree, has some point.’

from The death of Uncle Joe by Alison Macleod

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Women's lib demonstration

“… for the disproportionate fear that the statistically and historically minimal group of women who were both angry and had hairy legs have inculcated both in their detractors and in their wannabe-successors, we should salute them as often as possible” — Nina Power, One Dimensional Woman

“[Baumgardner and Richards’] Manifesta authors offer a more confident vision of feminism than that of their immediate predecessors—less brittle, more welcoming of dissent and secure in its ability to integrate popular culture. But for all that, it’s a remarkably cloistered, orderly vision, totally lacking in imaginative scope. There is no anarchy here; each cry of rebellion is quickly quieted by the need for consensus. We keep hearing that feminists don’t hate men. Shouldn’t some of them hate men? Doesn’t the world have room for a man-hating feminist faction?” Kerry Howley

As my other half would put it: quite so.

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From Tarabas: a guest on earth

The war became his home. The war became his wide and bloody home. He moved from one sector to another. He came to peaceful territory, set villages on fire, left the debris of smaller and larger towns behind him, and mourning women, orphaned children, beaten, hanged, and murdered men. He turned about, learnt the suspense of flight before the enemy, took last-minute revenge on supposed traitors, destroyed bridges, roads, railways, obeyed and commanded, and all with equal relish. He was the bravest officer in his regiment. He led patrols with the caution and cunning of a beast of prey out for booty, and with the confident daring of a foolish man to whom his life means nothing. He drove his timorous peasants to the attack with pistol and whip, but fired the brave ones with his own example. -He was first into everything. In the art of invisible motion, when, masked by trees, shrubs, or undergrowth, covered by darkness or wrapped in the mists of dawn, he would steal upon barbed-wire barricades to the undoing of the enemy, he was unequalled. He never needed to look at any map; his whetted senses divined the secrets of every territory. Muffled and distant sounds came clearly to his ears. His watchful eye caught every suspicious movement. His certain hand went out, shot, and never missed its mark, held what it grasped, came down without mercy upon backs and faces, shut to a fist with cruel knuckles, but opened readily to the pressure of comradeship, answering it with warmth and steel.

Joseph Roth, trans. Winifred Katzin

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I was always on good terms with my father and went along with his socialism. I am told that this is an abnormal relationship psychologically, making one uncombative and lacking in self-confidence. I cannot say that it had any such effect in my case. On the contrary it made me more confident to have a secure family background. It is a curious thing to be a hereditary dissenter. On the one hand, you reject established views – religious in earlier times, political and social in our own. On the other, you have no inner conflict in doing so. Indeed you would have a conflict only if you accepted them. On a committee I usually put forward subversive ideas and at the same time insist that the existing rules must be rigorously observed until they are changed.

AJP Taylor, from Accident prone, or what happened next, in From Napoleon to the second International: essays on nineteenth-century Europe.

When writers close themselves off to the documents of scholarship, and rely only on seeing or asking, they become conduits and sieves rather than thinkers. When, on the other hand, you study the great works of predecessors engaged in the same struggle, you enter a dialogue with human history and the rich variety of our intellectual traditions. You insert yourself, and your own organizing powers, into this history – and you become and active agent, not merely a “reporter.” Then, and only then, can you become an original contributor, even a discoverer, and not only a mouthpiece.

Stephen Jay Gould, from the preface to Leonardo’s mountain of clams and the Diet of Worms.

How is it possible that something that can teach you so much about the world, about nature and the universe, and, for more religious people, about God – that something that is so clearly able to teach you so many things can serve as a means of escape from precisely those things? And this is a fascinating thought, for me, about the effect of music. Whenever we talk about music, we talk about how we are affected by it, not about it itself. In this respect, it is like God. We can’t talk about God, or whatever you want to call it, but we can only talk about our reaction to a thing – some people know God exists and others refuse to admit God exists – but we cannot speak about it. We can only seak about our reaction to it. In the same way, I don’t think you can speak about music. You can only speak about a subjective reaction to it.

Daniel Barenboim in Parallels and paradoxes:explorations in music and society.

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