life


Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust, etc. If you want to enjoy art, you must be an artistically cultivated person; if you want to exercise influence over other people, you must be a person with a stimulating and encouraging effect on other people. Every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression, corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life. If you love without evoking love in return — that is, if your loving as loving does not produce reciprocal love; if through a living expression of yourself as a loving person, you do not make yourself a loved person, then your love is impotent — a misfortune.

– Karl Marx. “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844″. The Marx and Engels Reader. Robert Tucker (ed.) New York: Norton, 1978. p. 105.

… as individuals they lived by an entirely different calculus. They have household, auto, and health insurance for protection against vastly smaller risks at an infinitesimally smaller scale, and most did not dismiss health warnings from their doctors as a liberal plot. When it is merely the future of the Earth, however, they have been willing to risk irrevocable and irreversible changes.

– David W. Orr. Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 4-5.

America, you have it better
than our continent, the old one,
you have no ruined castles
and no basalts.

Your inner self is not troubled,
when it is time for living,
by pointless memories
and futile strife.

Use the present fortunately!
And if your children write verses,
may a happy fate protect them
from tales of knights, brigades and ghosts.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “To The United States”(1831), Franco Moretti, trans. In Franco Moretti. Modern Epic: The World-System From Goethe to García Márquez. London ; New York: Verso, 1996, 35.

Deep in concentration he suddenly starts to sharpen a pencil stub, trying to turn its tip into a mere point: then silence sets in; afterwards the ohs and ahs rise again on the properties of some sort of world, of another one, not of ours; I observed, how he would pace boomingly back and forth, his shaggy head hung somehow bitterly and tartly, hanging down to the right and staring at the even shelves of brown bookspines from under his brow, as though he were doing an inspection of them; he always pressed to his breast his right hand with a pencil stub, throwing into the air his waving left hand and he stuck out two fingers against the background of chocolate-colored wallpaper; and suddenly he began to shine so gently with goodness, when the contours of a new calculation “ef, ex” arose before him; they had reported on it at the Sorbonne; the French mathematician Darboux had exchanged impressions about it with Papochka, and Chebyshev—had trembled.

I know that scorpions bred here—not malicious ones, but bookish ones; Papa once showed me a scorpion, having grabbed me as I was passing by; he pressed me up against the bookcase;  and opening an enormous and smelly folio: a volume of Lagrange, he placed it up under my nose; he showed me a little scorpion, rather satisfied with this event.

“Hee-hee… Hee-hee-hee!…” he passed sentence upon it, catching it on a page of Lagrange with his big index finger.

“Hee-hee”—and his face began to wrinkle up with wrinkles—humoristically, almost sarcastically, but goodspirited and joyfully:

“Ah you, look here: you know it’s crawling, the rascal is crawling!”

And having winked at me with his little Tatar eyes, he pronounced in a respectful whisper.

“Do you know, Kotenka, he eats microbes: a useful beast.”

“Yes!”

I make out the little scorpion on the page of Lagrange; it is—tiny, it crawls, it destroys microbes; a useful rascal! And Papa, having slammed shut the useful rascal, takes it away to the bookcase; and—there came the smell of antonovka (he used to buy these antonovka apples, and bestow on us gifts of antonovka at dinner).

– Andrei Bely. Excerpt from Chapter 1 of The Christened Chinaman (1921), translation by Tom Beyer.

Dear Blind Man –

You are, I hope, to be an instrument for the accomplishment of an important an much-needed  work in America: namely, the fostering and encouragement of a truly native art. An art which will be at once the result of a highly vitalized age, of a restless artistic spirit, and of a sudden realization — on the part of our artists — of America’s high destiny in the future of the world. Such an art must very closely embody the spirit of our time, however morbid, however hurried, however nerve-racking that time may be….

So, if you can help stimulate and develop an American art which shall truly represent our age, even if the age is one of telephones, submarines, aeroplanes, cabarets, cocktails, taxicabs, divorce courts, wars, tangos, dollar signs; or one of desperate strivings after new sensations and experiences you will have done well. The future dwellers of the earth will then be able to look back with truth and conviction, and, say: “Yes, they had an art, back in New York, in the days following the Great War, an art that was a vitalized part of their life.’”

– Frank Crowninshield. “From a Friend.” April 27, 1917. The Blind Man, No. 2, p. 10.

With all his tools man improves on his own organs, both motor and sensory, or clears away barriers to their functioning. Engines place gigantic forces at his disposal, which he can direct, like his muscles, wherever he chooses; the ship and the aeroplane ensure that neither water nor air can hinder his movements. By means of spectacles he can correct the defect of his ocular lens; with the telescope he can see far into the distance; and with the microscope he can overcome the limits of visibility imposed by the structure of the retina. In the camera he has created an instrument that captures evanescent visual impressions, while the gramaphone record does the same for equally fleeting auditory impressions; both are essentially materializations of his innate faculty of recall, of his memory. With the help of the telephone he can hear sounds from distances that even the fairy tale would respect as inaccessible. Writing is in origin the language of the absent, the house a substitute for the womb — one’s first dwelling place, probably still longed for, where one was safe and felt so comfortable.

What man, through his science and technology has produced in this world, where he first appeared as a frail animal organism and where every individual of his species must still make his entry as a helpless babe — ‘oh inch of nature!’ — all this not only sounds like a fairy tale, but actually fulfils all — no, most — fairy-tale wishes. All these assets he can claim as cultural acquisitions. Long ago he formed an ideal conception of omnipotence and omniscience, which he embodied in his gods, attributing to them whatever seemed beyond the reach of his desires — or what was forbidden him. We may say, then, that these gods were cultural ideals. Man has now come close to reaching these ideals and almost become a god himself. Admittedly only in the way ideals are usually reached, according to the general judgement of humanity — not completely, in some respects not at all, in others only partly. Man has become so to speak, a god with artificial limbs. He is quite impressive when he dons all his auxiliary organs, but they have not become a part of him and still give a great deal of trouble on occasion. However, he is entitled to console himself with the fact that this development will not have come to an end in AD 1930. Distant ages will bring new and probably unimaginable advances in this field of civilization and so enhance his god-like nature. But in the interest of our investigation let us also remember that modern man does not feel happy with his god-like nature.

– Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents [1930]. David McLintock, trans. New York: Penguin, 2002, pp. 35-37.

“… Colouring the world is always a means of denying it (and perhaps one should at this point begin an inquiry into the use of colour in the cinema). Deprived of all substance, driven back into colour, disembodied through the very glamour of the ‘images’, the Orient is ready for the spiriting away which the film [The Lost Continent] has in store for it. … our studio anthropologists will have no trouble postulating an Orient which is exotic in form, while being in reality profoundly similar to the Occident, at least the Occident of spiritualist thought. Orientals have religions of their own? Never mind, these variations matter very little compared to the basic unity of idealism. . . . “It is this same ‘all things are alike’ which is hinted at by our ethnographers: East and West, it is all the same, they are only different in hue, their essential core is identical. . . . If we are concerned with fishermen, it is not at all the type of fishing which I shown; but rather, drowned in a garish sunset and eternalized, a romantic essence of the fisherman, presented not as a workman dependent by his technique and his gains on a definite society, but rather as the theme of an eternal condition, in which man is far away and exposed to the perils of the sea, and woman weeping and praying at home. . . . All told, exoticism here shows well its fundamental justification, which is to deny any identification by History. By appending to Eastern realities a few positive signs which mean ‘native’, one reliably immunizes them against any responsible content. A little ‘situating’, as superficial as possible, supplies the necessary alibi and exempts one from accounting for the situation in depth. Faced with anything foreign, the Established Order knows only two types of behaviour, which are both mutilating: either to acknowledge it as a Punch and Judy show, or to defuse it as a pure reflection of the West. In any case, the main thing is to deprive it of its history. We see therefore that the ‘beautiful pictures’ of The Lost Continent cannot be innocent …. ”

From “The Lost Continent” in Roland Barthes, Mythologies [US ed. 1972], pp. 94-96.

Next Page »