G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

H. P. Lovecraft: "What a man does for pay is of little significance. What he is, as a sensitive instrument responsive to the world's beauty, is everything!"

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

विलास सारंग: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Monday, September 10, 2007

Human Story is NOT a March Toward some Culminating Idea

David Brooks has written a beautiful essay-“ Where History Reigns”-for NYT May 8, 2007.

He writes: “…History, in the British public culture, takes precedence over philosophy, psychology, sociology and economics. And with a few obvious exceptions, British historians have not seen history as the unfolding of abstract processes. They have not seen the human story as the march toward some culminating idea.

Instead they’ve seen history as a hodgepodge of activity — as one damn thing after another. As a result, George Orwell generalised, the English "have a horror of abstract thought, they feel no need for any philosophy or systematic ‘worldview’." This isn’t because they are practical — that’s a national myth, Orwell wrote — it’s just that given the stuttering realities of history, they find systems absurd.

Even philosophers in Britain tend to be sceptics, and emphasise how little we know or can know. Edmund Burke distrusted each individual’s stock of reason and put his faith in the accumulated wisdom of tradition. Adam Smith put his faith in the collective judgment of the market. Michael Oakeshott ridiculed rationalism. Berlin celebrated pluralism, arguing there is no single body of truth.

This scepticism permeates national life, for while the British can be socially deferential, they are rarely intellectually deferential…

The Brits’ historical consciousness means that in moments of crisis they can all swing together and act as one. But in normal times, as Orwell also noted, "the gentleness of the English civilisation is perhaps its most marked characteristic." Americans talk of "happiness," but Brits talk, less transcendentally, of "enjoyment."

American journalists, for example, are spiritually descended from Walter Lippmann. We are always earnestly striving toward some future elevated state. British journalists are spiritually descended from Samuel Johnson. They are conversationalists enjoying the inevitable conflicts that, as W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman put it, pit the wrong but romantic against the right but repugnant.”

I wish we Indians became a little more like Brits in this regard.

Next only to fanatic religionists, we must be craziest hero-worshippers. We put our heroes on pedestals, beyond any reproach.

In the process we forget: Every hero-alive or dead-is human, Has a funny side, Is full of innate contradictions.

Maybe this is one reason our humour is not as robust as it used to be.


Artist: George Price The New Yorker August 9, 1947