Tag Archives | Terror

This Gallant Will Command the Sun

— Let’s see; I think ’tis now some seven o’clock,
And well we may come there by dinner-time.
— I dare assure you, sir, ’tis almost two,
And ’twill be supper-time ere you come there.
— It shall be seven ere I go to horse. …
It shall be what o’clock I say it is. …
Good Lord, how bright and goodly shines the moon!
— The moon? The sun! It is not moonlight now.
— I say it is the moon that shines so bright.
— I know it is the sun that shines so bright.
— Now by my mother’s son, and that’s myself,
It shall be moon, or star, or what I list,
Or ere I journey to your father’s house. …
— Forward, I pray, since we have come so far,
And be it moon, or sun, or what you please;
And if you please to call it a rush-candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.
— I say it is the moon.
— I know it is the moon.
— Nay, then you lie; it is the blessed sun.
— Then, God be bless’d, it is the blessed sun;
But sun it is not, when you say it is not;
And the moon changes even as your mind.
What you will have it nam’d, even that it is,
And so it shall be so for Katherine.
(Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew)

 

— How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?
— Four.
— And if the party says that it is not four but five – then how many?
— Four. …
— How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?
— I don’t know. I don’t know. You will kill me if you do that again. Four, five, six – in all honesty I don’t know.
— Better.
(George Orwell, Nineteen-Eighty-Four)

 

— How many lights do you see there?
— I see four lights.
— No, there are five. Are you quite sure?
— There are four lights. …
— I can produce pain in any part of your body at various levels of severity. Forgive me; I don’t enjoy this, but I must demonstrate. It will make everything clearer. …
— There … are … four … lights!
(“Chain of Command,” Star Trek: The Next Generation)

 

— Would you like some? I know they haven’t fed you since you got here. That’s at least two days. Besides, it’s lunchtime. Isn’t it? Isn’t it lunchtime?
— You just said it was morning.
— Well, you can’t have a corned-beef sandwich for breakfast. It would upset your stomach. Corned-beef sandwiches are for lunch. If it’s morning, you can’t have it. If it’s lunchtime you can. Is it lunchtime?
— I’m sure it’s lunchtime somewhere.
— Excellent answer. … It does prove, though, how everything is a matter of perspective. You think you see daylight, and you assume it’s morning. Take it away, you think it’s night. Offer you a sandwich: if it’s convenient, you’ll think it’s midday. The truth is fluid. The truth is subjective. Out there, it doesn’t matter what time it is. In here, it’s lunchtime if you and I decide that it is. The truth is sometimes what you believe it to be and other times what you decide it to be. My task is to make you decide to believe differently. And when that happens, the world will remake itself before your very eyes.
(“Intersections in Real Time,” Babylon 5)


Conscience of a Conservative

The full original French title of arch-conservative Joseph de Maistre’s 1821 Soirées, often translated as St. Petersburg Dialogues, is Les Soirées de Saint-Pétersbourg; ou, Entretiens sur le Gouvernement Temporel de la Providence.

The full original French title of arch-liberal Gustave de Molinari’s 1849 Soirées, recently translated as Evenings on Saint Lazarus Street, is Les Soirées de la Rue Saint-Lazare: Entretiens sur les Lois Économiques et Défense de la Propriété.

That the similarity in titles is intended as a reply rather than an homage is obvious from the fact that all the hostile references to de Maistre are assigned to the Economist (Molinari’s spokesman in the dialogue), while all the favourable references are assigned to the Conservative (one of the Economist’s two opponents).

The following quotation from de Maistre’s Soirées will give a sense as to why Molinari picked him out as the antithesis of the liberal vision of society that Molinari’s book sets out to defend:

[T]his divine and terrible prerogative of sovereigns: the punishment of the guilty … results in the necessary existence of a man destined to administer the punishments adjudged for crimes by human justice. This man is, in effect, found everywhere, without there being any means of explaining how; for reason cannot discover in human nature any motive capable of explaining this choice of profession. I believe you too accustomed to reflection, gentlemen, not to have thought often about the executioner.

So who is this inexplicable being who, when there are so many pleasant, lucrative, honest and even honourable professions in which he could exercise his strength or dexterity to choose among, has chosen that of torturing and putting to death his own kind? Are this head and this heart made like our own? Do they contain anything that is peculiar and alien to our nature?

For myself, I have no doubt about this. In outward appearance he is made like us; he is born like us. But he is an extraordinary being, and for him to be brought into existence as a member of the human family a particular decree was required, a FIAT of creative power. He is created as a law unto himself. …

Scarcely have the authorities assigned his dwelling, scarcely has he taken possession of it, when other men move their houses elsewhere so they no longer have to see his. … A dismal signal is given. An abject minister of justice knocks on his door to warn him that he is needed. He sets out. He arrives at a public square packed with a pressing and panting crowd. He is thrown a poisoner, a parricide, a blasphemer. He seizes him, stretches him out, ties him to a horizontal cross, and raises his arms. Then there is a horrible silence; there is no sound but the crack of bones breaking under the crossbar and the howls of the victim. He unties him and carries him to a wheel. The broken limbs are bound to the spokes, the head hangs down, the hair stands on end, and the mouth gaping like a furnace occasionally emits a few bloody words begging for death. He has finished; his heart is pounding, but it is with joy. He congratulates himself. He says in his heart, No one can break men on the wheel better than I. He steps down; he holds out his blood-stained hand, and justice throws him from afar a few gold coins, which he carries away through a double row of men drawing back in horror. He sits down to table and eats; then he goes to bed and sleeps. Awakening on the morrow, he thinks of something quite different from what he did the day before. …

Is this a man? Yes. God receives him in his shrines and allows him to pray. He is not a criminal, and yet no tongue would content to say, for example, that he is virtuous, that he is an honest man, that he is admirable, etc. No moral praise seems appropriate for him, since this supposes relationships with human beings, and he has none.

And yet all greatness, all power, all subordination rests on the executioner; he is both the horror and the bond of human association. Remove this incomprehensible agent from the world, and in a moment order gives way to chaos, thrones fall, and society disappears.


He Would Be Thought to Do Little Less Than Trifle

I said something like this in a facebook comment (in connection with the debate over whether to call concentration camps concentration camps) but I can’t find it now:

The phrase “Never Again” seems to be used with two different meanings.

On the one hand, it’s used to express a determination never to let anything similar to the Holocaust happen again; in that usage, applying it to events other than the Holocaust is the whole point of the phrase.

On the other hand, it’s used to insist that nothing other than the Holocaust is ever allowed to count as being like the Holocaust. In that usage, “Never Again” is essentially true by stipulation, so we are relieved of any duty of vigilance.


On Bad Reasons for War

There are good reasons to be skeptical about the official u.s. story of the Gulf of Oman incident.

But suppose the official u.s. story is 100% true. Would that be a reason to escalate by launching a war involving massive loss of innocent life? Hell no.


Crushing Italian Freedom Fighters and Getting Drunk in a Bat Costume

One of my longstanding New Year’s traditions is watching the annual New Year’s concert from the Vienna Musikverein (where I finally had a chance to attend a concert [though not the New Year’s concert] during my two-day trip to Vienna in 2010). Here in Alabammy my local PBS station doesn’t carry the concert; but that’s what the internet is for:

Clapping along to the Radetzky March (at 1:21:50) is a little less fun when you realise the piece is celebrating the defeat of Italian forces fighting for independence from the Austrian Empire (the bad one, not this blog). But then a lot of great art is devoted to the celebration of bad stuff. (I’m not sure the Radetzky March is great art, but it’s pleasant art.)

Another New Year’s tradition, one I celebrate somewhat more irregularly, is watching Die Fledermaus, an operetta I’ve loved ever since I was very young. I didn’t watch it this year (too busy writing up pieces I owe various publishers – with no daylight in sight as yet!), but I made sure to listen to the overture at least, as it features many of my favourite themes from the larger work:

My history with Die Fledermaus is a bit odd. When I was nine or so, I came across the book Merry Go Round in Oz, which was written by the grandmother of someone who would eventually become a good friend of mine in grad school. One of the characters in the book was a winged mouse (not a bat, he would insist) called a Flittermouse, which is why, in a San Diego used bookstore one day, a dusty libretto of Die Fledermaus caught my eye. I must be one of the few people to have become a fan of Die Fledermaus through the libretto first. But then a few years later I caught the operetta on tv and became, properly, a still greater fan of the music.


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