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.”

W H Auden: "But in my arms till break of day / Let the living creature lie. / Mortal, guilty, but to me/ The entirely beautiful."

Will Self: “To attempt to write seriously is always, I feel, to fail – the disjunction between my beautifully sonorous, accurate and painfully affecting mental content, and the leaden, halting sentences on the page always seems a dreadful falling short. It is this failure – a ceaseless threnody keening through the writing mind – that dominates my working life, just as an overweening sense of not having loved with enough depth or recklessness or tenderness dominates my personal one.”

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."

Art Spiegelman: "You know words in a way are hitting you on the left side of your brain, music and visual arts hit on the right side of the brain, so the idea is to pummel you, to send you from left brain to right brain and back until you're as unbalanced as I am."

विलास सारंग: "संदर्भ कुठलेही असोत, संस्कृत, इंग्रजी, बुद्धिवादी, तांत्रिक, इतिहासाचे, खगोलशास्त्राचे, आधुनिक पदार्थविज्ञानाचे, शिवकालीन व पेशवाईतील बखरीचे, अगणित ज्ञानक्षेत्रांचे, अशा वैविध्यपूर्ण ज्ञानावर लेखन- विशेषत: कवितालेखन- उभं राहत."

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