Friday, September 15, 2006

On brotherhood, duty, and death

From Georg Christoph Lichtenberg’s The Waste Books (1800-06)
When he goes to church and reads his Bible the ordinary man confuses the means with the end. N.B. a very common error.

From Plato’s Socrates’ Defense (Apology)
You, too, gentlemen of the jury, must look forward to death with confidence, and fix your minds on this one belief, which is certain—that nothing can harm a good man either in life or after death, and his fortunes are not a matter of indifference to the gods. This present experience of mine has not come about mechanically. I am quite clear that the time had come when it was better for me to die and be released from my distractions. That is why my sign never turned me back. For my own part I bear no grudge at all against those who condemned me and accused me, although it was not with this kind intention that they did so, but because they thought that they were hurting me; and that is culpable of them. However, I ask them to grant me one favor. When my sons grow up, gentlemen, if you think that they are putting money or anything else before goodness, take your revenge by plaguing them as I plagued you; and if they fancy themselves for no reason, you must scold them just as I scolded you, for neglecting the important things and thinking that they are good for something when they are good for nothing. If you do this, I shall have had justice at your hands, both I myself and my children.

Now it is time that we were going, I to die and you to live, but which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but God.

From James Jones’s From Here to Eternity (1951)
And now, being invulnerable since there was nothing left for them to hurt, he had been quite sure that these men meant nothing to him. What he had forgotten, of course, was that these men were men and, being men, could not help but mean something to him, who was also a man. . . . What he had forgotten entirely was that though he had matched them for his faith in comradeship and understanding and had lost, he still had his faith in men kicking around somewhere, and that this was where they could still reach him. It did not take the hurt long in getting started.

From Mesa Selimovic’s Death and the Dervish (1966)
I am forty years old, an ugly age: one is still young enough to have dreams, but already too old to fulfill them. This is the age when the restlessness in everyone subsides so he can become strong by habit and by the certainty he has acquired of the infirmity to come. But I am merely doing what should have been done long ago, during the stormy flowering of my youth, when all the countless paths seemed good, all errors as useful as the truth. What a pity that I am not ten years older, then old age would protect me from rebellion; or ten years younger, since then nothing would matter. For thirty is youth that fears nothing, not even itself. At least that is what I think now that thirty has moved irretrievably into the past.

From James Jones’s From Here to Eternity (1951)
Here is your Army, America, he sleepily wanted to tell Them, here is your strength, that You have made strong by trying to break, and that You will have to depend on in the times that are coming, whether You like it or not, or want to or not, and no matter how much it may hurt Your pride. . . . Thank your various Gods for your prisons, You America. Pray to Them hard, to not teach you how to get along without them—until They have first taught you how to get along without your wars.

From Halldor Laxness’s Independent People (1946)
They stood with bowed heads, all except Bjartur, who would never dream of bowing his head for an unrhymed prayer. Then they lifted the coffin out. They lifted it on to the horse and tied it across the saddle, then laid a hand on each end to steady it.

“Has the horse been spoken to?” asked the old man; and as it had not yet been done, he took an ear in each hand and whispered to it, according to ancient custom, for horses understand these things:

“You carry a coffin today. You carry a coffin today.”

Then the funeral procession moved off.

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