Sunday, August 11, 2013

Three Quotes

This isn't really a blog post, but just three quotes that struck me during the last week. They are all far longer than 140 characters, so Tweeting wasn't an option:

1941 - Czechoslovakia

"Some Czech workmen are on the roof of the Opera House in Prague in order to take down a statue of Mendelssohn, the composer, because he's a Jew. The order has come directly from Heydrich, recently named Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, and a connoisseur of classical music. But there's a whole row of statues on the roof, and Heydrich hasn't specified which is Mendelssohn. Now, apart from Heydrich it seems that nobody - even the Germans - is capable of recognising the Jewish composer. But nobody dares disturb Heydrich just for that. So the SS guards decide to point out the statue with the biggest nose. Well, they're looking for a Jew, aren't they? But - disaster! - the statue the workmen start to remove is actually Wagner!"

- Laurent Binet, 'HHhH'

1932 - Russia

"Much blood has been shed, hundreds of atrocities have been committed, and the spirit of destruction has breathed over the country (Russia). But in my heart of hearts, I feel it would be superficial and untrue to dismiss the whole Bolshevik regime in terms of violence and rapine. It strikes me as being all very simple, and yet highly complex in all its aspects, in all its form; I see something profoundly Russian, an ugliness essentially Russian in the mixture of folly and cruelty.

I should be blind and prejudiced if I did not recognise that to Lenin and some of his associates the Bolshevik movement was an attempt to re-create life on a fairer basis. They were definitely not "mere thieves and brigands." The tragedy lay in the fact that our Russian architects were not content to build an ordinary human edifice on a reasonable scale; nothing less than a "tower defying the heavens"  a Tower of Babel would do for them...

They were not satisfied with the steady progress of the man who goes to and fro between his work and his home - they must rush headlong towards the future. "Down with the old world!" was the general outcry, and so the old world needs to be swept away, lock stock and barrel.

Thus it came about that every human quality, like a medal, showed its reverse side. "Liberty" became tyranny; "fraternity" civil war: "equality" ended in the thrusting down of any head that dared to lift itself above the level of the morass."

- Feodor Chaliapin, Man and Mask

2013 - USA

"Aaronson tells me he's shocked by the number of kids he knows who believe the Jews were behind 9/11. "The problem with this demographic is that they do not know the basic narratives of their histories – or really any narratives," he says. "They're blazed on pot and searching the Internet for any 'factoids' that they believe fit their highly de-historicized and decontextualized ideologies. And the adult world totally misunderstands them and dismisses them – and does so at our collective peril," he adds."

The first quote comes from one of the best books I've read this year. The second is from an autobiography that I recently discovered in a box of titles from a house clearance. The final quote sums up my frustration with my son's blind faith in the veracity of YouTube videos (fortunately, he has a healthy cynicism about the lizard people and most 9/11 conspiracy theories). 

You can read Janet Reitman's full article on the Boston bombers by clicking on the link above.


Canadian Chickadee said...

Such thought-provoking and depressing quotes. Right up there with the Iranians' denial that the Holocaust ever took place. Even in today's world, when something bad happens, the Jews are blamed. There's a synagogue on Mercer Island (a very affluent suburb of Seattle) which has been spray-painted and receiving death threats as recently as a couple of months ago. It really does make one despair for the fate of the human race, doesn't it?

Steerforth said...

It does. I grew up with Jewish next-door neighbours (two of whom had escaped from Nazi Germany) and had no idea that anti-Semitism existed until I watched the television drama series 'Holocaust' as a schoolboy. I think I've been a little obsessed by the subject ever since, because I never cease to be shocked by it.

Islamophobia is equally depressing and I worry that it is becoming socially acceptable in some circles. I'm probably prejudiced, as my first exposure to the Muslim world was a very positive experience and when I look at the religious zealots in Iran, Afhanistan and elsewhere, I don't recognise the generous, humane people I met.

JRSM said...

Thank you for this, and for your seven years of entertaining blogging. Going on from the HHhH quote, I think you might enjoy Czech author Jiří Weil's 'Mendelssohn is on the Roof', a novel which spins out from that farcical and true story about the statue.

Also, my condolences about your poor kitten. We had to have our cat put down earlier this year (multiple organ failure for reasons nobody could discover), and it was horrible.

Canadian Chickadee said...

I agree. There's a lovely young woman clerk at one of my favourite department stores who is a muslim -- wears lovely bright coloured long dresses and a head scarf. Her English is excellent, she very pleasant and helpful -- all in all, an ideal employee. Yet I see people look at her furtively every time I'm in the store.

I wish we could quit judging people on what they look like, or wear ....

But maybe that's too much to ask. I hope not.

Liz Rice-Sosne said...

This is an amazing and thoughtful post. Thank you.

Lucy R. Fisher said...

And there's a lot of chaliapin on youtube: (She never loved me!)

zmkc said...

I'm sure you know the story of how Franz Josef asked one of the architects of the Vienna Opera, when he was opening it, why he'd put two riders on the roof and, as a result, the architect went off and killed himself; from then on, whenever he had to open anything or comment on anything, Franz Josef always said the same thing: 'It was very good, I was very pleased' (Es war sehr schön, es hat mich sehr gefreut.).

Steerforth said...

James - I loved 'Life With a Star', so thanks for reminding me about this other novel.

Carol - We all do it, but I continually try to challenge my prejudices. Perhaps that man with a spider's web tattoo on his face is a gentle person who loves kittens. Maybe the girl with the Coldplay t-shirt is actually a very interesting person. The only thing I do draw the line at is 'onesies'.

Liz - Thank you.

Lucy - He has a very distinctive voice, quite different from the Italians. Thanks for the link.

Zoe - No, I haven't heard that wonderful tragi-comic anecdote. I shall add one that to my armoury. Thanks.

Debra said...

I don't know where you're living. I'm in France.
About 15 years ago, I decided to open up "Mein Kampf", mainly because in my circles, the book was taboo, and I believed at the time (I may be wrong...) that such taboos would not help us understand what happened that led up to WW2.
In the first 100, largely autobiographical pages (in French translation, which I suppose is quite good), Adolf Hitler mentions his personal struggle against antisemitism, which was definitely not something he learned at home, and how he was submerged by it upon arriving as an orphan in cosmopolitan Vienna.
Those pages made me very afraid, because I realized that there are no good reasons for or against antisemitism, and who knows who will succumb to it ? No predicting it, in others or in oneself either, maybe. (In the first pages of "Mein Kampf", Hitler sounds like a sensitive social worker, or missionary. Sobering.)
If "we" knew this the way we should, we would be more careful, I believe.
Definitely more humble ?
On nice Muslim store clerks...
My 87 year old French mother in law who is living right next to la Défense in Paris was accosted one night by a bearded man who chided her for not wearing a veil.
The problem is rarely individuals, and their behavior.
It is what happens when a large number of people adopt a particular dress code, or other code.
How many young French born women of Arab origin have freely chosen the veil to assert their difference/identity, and often their faith ? For the time being, their choice is a choice. But... when more young women start wearing the veil, then they may have a hard time eschewing the veil.
Hard to tell.
Then their choice will no longer be a choice...
The Chaliapin quote was lovely. Thank you.

Steerforth said...

Debra - I live in England. I tried to read Mein Kampf after a customer in a bookshop complained that we shouldn't be stocking it, but I found it unreadable. I was looking for an insight into the origins of Nazism, but I think the answers lie in German history. What does interest is how a man who was, in many ways, a failure, came to seduce a nation. Mein Kampf doesn't explain it.

On the subject of Muslim zealots, I don't think that it's a question of 'us' and 'them'. I suspect that most Muslim people feel the same way that we do about the extremists and prefer living in a secular society. The question of how far you tolerate someone else's intolerance is a difficult issue. My tolerance ends at the point where women are treated as second class citizens.

Debra said...

Funny you should mention the "women as second class citizens" idea.
I used to be an American style feminist.
No more.
Ironically enough, I think that feminism, American style boomerangs against women.
The more the mother country heats up on equality between the sexes, the worse things get, and will get, for women, in my opinion. Statistics on domestic violence tend to bear me out, too. "We" react by passing laws, and setting up hotlines, and encouraging women to prosecute, etc etc. Legalist solutions to problems that concern intimacy and the private sphere.
This summer I was in Corsica for a week of theater with Aria, an association dedicated to popular education, among other goals.
I watched a play called "At my age, I hide to smoke" by Rhianna ? (name may be wrong)
It was set in a hammam in Algeria, and its central characters, all women, spoke about their daily lives in a "Muslim" country.
Many spectators got very starry eyed and passionate about how women in "Muslim" countries needed the SAME FREEDOM that women in Western countries enjoy. They seemed incapable of seeing the variety of situations the women were in, and how said women, in the play, WERE NOT VICTIMS, even if their lives were not easy.
But a few people noticed what I have noticed : the freedom to HAVE TO WORK to put meat and potatoes on the table for EVERYBODY is a curious kind of freedom.
My mama didn't have to work to put meat and potatoes on the table, and she managed to remain married, and slept in the same bed with the same man for a long number of years, and bear his children, too. He did his best to take care of her, and, as a man, was very proud to be able to do so.
Her children (and other people's children) are SO FREE now, that they can't manage to remain married, or sleep in the same bed with the same woman/man. Not the way my mama did.
Freedom is fickle. What you manage to grapple with one hand goes out of the other at the same time, most of the time while you're not looking.
Somebody once said "God preserve me from my friends, I can take care of my enemies".
"We" are so busy evangelizing in this area that we have no time to step back and think about the consequences of our good intentions...
The evil that comes into this world with the best intentions is mind-boggling, in my opinion.

Steerforth said...

I agree with some of what you say. It's awful that two people now have to work to maintain a household. Sadly, the housing market has absorbed the increase in disposable income that occured when the number of working housewives increased.

But I wouldn't want to turn back the clock. I think the answer lies in creating a society where people in a relationship can negotiate who the main wage earner should be, reagrdless of their gender; or they can decide to both work part-time.

I hate being the 'breadwinner'. I'd happily share the domestic chores with my wife and I think she'd benefit from being liberated from having a life beyond the home.

Debra said...

I have had a life long love affair with words.
One of my most beloved mentors still is William S. who also had a life long love affair with words.
His greatest plays all deal with how we get trapped in the unforseen consequences of our words which speak us more than we speak them.
Just when did we go from the sobering realization that we are pawns of our words to the thought that they are "tools" that we handle like blow torches, submitting them to our all powerful desires ? (like.. desire for women's equality, etc etc.)
So... a little equivocating with your last comment is in order.
There have always been women who have fulfilled themselves outside of the sphere of the home. During any age, these women have existed.
There are light years of difference between this state of affairs, and a SOCIAL PROJECT of liberating EVERY WOMAN from the constraints of the home...
Our attitudes on this one are the result of the hidden (to us...) origins of our words, once again, and of our tragic failure to recognize that absolute freedom does not exist. We can only displace our constraints from one area to another.
This morning I read the Village Voices' article about the suicide of Le Anne Leutner (spelling ? sorry for being so lazy.)
Le Ann, like Marilyn Monroe, had, and was everything. She was bright, beautiful, kind, and she was... A SUCCESS. A brilliant well paid corporate lawyer, who zipped all over the planet when not working herself to death.
She was a success... in a world where no home exists anymore, in a world which is hostile to the home (from my perspective, at least). In a world that doesn't have any time for the home (but this pronouncement may be a little pessimistic. Maybe all the unemployment is designed to reintroduce TIME into our lives ? Free time. Lol...).
And she was so successful that she saw 40 coming up, and couldn't get pregnant doing it the way men and women have been doing it for thousands of years now, and got inseminated, and ended up "mentally ill" (that's a way we have of saying that someone is not a "success" these days, very often) and killing herself.
I say... every advantage has its accompanying disadvantage. That's why I am hostile to utopia which after all, is not.. eutopia, or it wouldn't be spelled the way it is.
"Utopia" means "noplace"...
And the tragic irony still is that even with the best intentions, women are the hardest hit.