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Archive for September 2004

“in its genes”

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Stirring post from over on Ken Macleod’s site, Early Days of a Better Nation. Some of the finest writing on-line is found on this site, and these two paragraphs speak to that. Check out the last line especially:

‘Finally, it is 1st September, and the first day of studies … For the past week … [p]arents and children … have been crowding the shops for exercise books and satchels. […] This is a day you cannot fail to notice. The street is crowded with children in school uniform. […] Each child is preceded and partially obscured by the bunch of flowers that will be given to the teachers.’
This is not the opening of an article on the Beslan massacre, though it could be, in every detail. It’s from a 1985 BBC book based on a BBC television series on everyday life in the Soviet Union. That celebration of the first day of the school year was a surviving ceremony of the civilization that thirteen years ago was swept away. That custom tells us, in a sense, all we need to know about the Soviet Union. (And yes, I know the rest.) This was a civilization that with all its callouses, scar tissue and war wounds, with all its congenital deformities, with all its inherited savageries, had Enlightenment inscribed in its genes.

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September 7, 2004 at 11:43 pm

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Nicholson Baker, Checkpoint

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Interesting stuff in Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint, toward the end. Make of it what you will.
JAY: There will be no veering. We’ve lost every war we’ve fought. Winning is losing. We lost the Second World War.
BEN: I think it’s widely agreed that we won World War II.
JAY: Well, we didn’t. It was the beginning of the end.
BEN: In what way?
JAY: We bombed all those places – we bombed Japan, right down to the islands, cities turned into grave sites. The crime of it began to work on us afterward, it began chewing on our spleens and rotting us out inside.
BEN: Ugh.
JAY: The guilt of it squeezed us and it twisted us and made us need to keep more and more things secret that shouldn’t have been kept secret. We tried to pretend that we were good midwestern folks, eating our church suppers – that we’d done the right thing over there. But it was so completely, shittingly false.
BEN: Yes, in a sense, but –
JAY: And so we lost that war. We didn’t win it. We were corrupted by it, and we became more and more warlike and secretive, and we spent all our money building weaponry and subverting little governments, poking here and there and propping up loathsome people, United Fruit. And the gangrene spread through the whole loaf of cheese.
BEN: Oh, please.
JAY: And Japan couldn’t do that. Their best people spent their days and nights thinking about how to make beautiful things, tools, machines that just felt good to hold. Which they did with such artistry. They couldn’t make fighter planes, we didn’t let them. And so they won the war. We lost (61-2).
More on Checkpoint when I get a chance….

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September 2, 2004 at 12:11 am

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