Discover more from Imperfect notes on an imperfect world
Heinrich Heine, The Romantic School (1833):
Every age is a sphinx, which casts itself into the abyss when man has guessed its riddle.
Ken Jowitt, ‘After Leninism: The New World Disorder’ (1991):
We now inhabit a world which, while not ‘without form and void’ like the primordial chaos in Genesis, is nonetheless a great deal more fluid than it was just a very short while ago. The major imperatives of this world, moreover, will be the same as those facing Yahweh in Genesis: ‘naming and bounding.’
Paul Valery, ‘Historical Fact’ (1932):
An interesting period is always an enigmatic one, promising little repose, prosperity, continuity, or security. We live in a critical age, that is to say an age in which a number of incompatible things are found together, none of which can either vanish or prevail. This state of things is so complex and so new that no one today can boast of understanding it - which does not mean that no one does so boast. All the notions we thought solid, all the values of civilized life, all that made for stability in international relations, all that made for regularity in the economy ... in a word, all that tended happily to limit the uncertainty of the morrow, all that gave to nations and individuals some confidence in the morrow ... all this seems badly compromised.
Vaclav Havel, ‘Speech to US Congress’ (1990):
Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better in the sphere of our being as humans, and the catastrophe toward which this world is headed, whether it be ecological, social, demographic or a general breakdown of civilization, will be unavoidable. If we are no longer threatened by world war or by the danger that the absurd mountains of accumulated nuclear weapons might blow up the world, this does not mean that we have definitively won. We are in fact far from definite victory.
We are still a long way from that “family of man;” in fact, we seem to be receding from the ideal rather than drawing closer to it. Interests of all kinds: personal, selfish, state, national, group and, if you like, company interests still considerably outweigh genuinely common and global interests. We are still under the sway of the destructive and thoroughly vain belief that man is the pinnacle of creation, and not just a part of it, and that therefore everything is permitted. There are still many who say they are concerned not for themselves but for the cause, while they are demonstrably out for themselves and not for the cause at all. We are still destroying the planet that was entrusted to us, and its environment. We still close our eyes to the growing social, ethnic and cultural conflicts in the world. From time to time we say that the anonymous megamachinery we have created for ourselves no longer serves us but rather has enslaved us, yet we still fail to do anything about it.
JP Stern, ‘Havel’s Castle’ (1990):
What is original about his [Vaclav Havel] plays is the single-mindedness with which he places all human relations within socio-political brackets: outside these brackets there is a sign saying ‘Beware farce!’ and around that sign there is another set of brackets and another sign that says ‘This is serious, because, though it shouldn’t be, this is how life passes.’
Bertolt Brecht, Me-ti: Book of Interventions in the Flow of Things (1965):
A student said to Me-ti: What you’re teaching isn’t new. Ka-meh and Mi-en-leh and countless others have taught this too. Me-ti replied: I’m teaching it, because it’s old, that means because it can be forgotten and only considered suitable for past times. Are there not huge numbers for whom it is completely new?