Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo:
…Faust was an actual person. Somewhere between 1510 and 1540 this “wandering conjurer and medical quack” made his travels about the southwest German Empire, telling people his knowledge of “secret things.” I always puzzled over why such a legend was so basic to the Western mind; but I’ve thought about it and now I think I know the answer. Can’t you imagine this man traveling about with his bad herbs, love philters, physicks and potions, charms, overcharging the peasants but dazzling them with his badly constructed Greek and sometimes labeling his “wonder cures” with gibberish titles like “Polyunsaturated 99½% pure.” Hocus-pocus. He makes a living and can always get a free night’s lodging at an inn with his ability to prescribe cures and tell fortunes, that is, predict the future. You see he travels about the Empire and is able to serve as a kind of national radio for people in the locales. Well 1 day while he is leeching people, cutting hair or raising the dead who only have diseases which give the manifestations of death, something really works. He knows that he’s a bokor adept at card tricks, but something really works. He tries it again and it works. He continues to repeat this performance and each time it works. The peasants begin to look upon him as a supernatural being and he encourages the tales about him, that he heals the sick and performs marvels. He becomes wealthy with his ability to do The Work. Royalty visits him. He is a counselor to the king. He lives in a castle. Peasants whisper, a Black man, a very bearded devil himself visits him. That strange coach they saw, the 1 with the eyes as decorations drawn to his castle by wild-looking black horses. They say that he has made a pact with the devil because he invites the Africans who work in various cities throughout the Empire to his castle. There were 1000s in Europe at the time: blackamoors who worked as butlers, coachmen, footmen, pint-sized page boys; and conjurors whom only the depraved consulted. The villagers hear “Arabian” music, drums coming from the place but as soon as the series of meetings begin it all comes to a halt. Rumors circulate that Faust is dead. The village whispers that the Black men have collected. That is the nagging notion of Western man. China had rocketry, Africa iron furnaces, but he didn’t know when to stop with his newly found Work. That’s the basic wound. He will create fancy systems 13 letters long to convince himself he doesn’t have this wound. What is the wound? Someone will even call it guilt. But guilt implies a conscience. Is Faust capable of charity? No it isn’t guilt but the knowledge in his heart that he is a bokor. A charlatan who has sent 1000000s to the churchyard with his charlatan panaceas. Western man doesn’t know the difference between a houngan and a bokor. He once knew this difference but the knowledge was lost when the Atomists crushed the opposition. When they converted a Roman emperor and began rampaging and book-burning. His sorcery, white magic, his bokorism will improve. Soon he will be able to annihilate 1000000s by pushing a button. I do not believe that a Yellow or Black hand will push this button but a robot-like descendant of Faust the quack will. The dreaded bokor, a humbug who doesn’t know when to stop.
h/t to Biblioklept for transcribing this; see also
Bachelard, The Poetics of Space:
If we were to give the imagination its due in the philosophical systems of the universe, we should find, at their very source, an adjective. Indeed, to those who want to find the essence of a world philosophy, one could give the following advice — look for its adjective.
Spinoza (trns Elwes):
Men would never be superstitious if they could govern all their circumstances by set rules, or if they were always favoured by fortune: but being frequently driven into straits where rules are useless, and being kept fluctuating pitiably between hope and fear by the uncertainty of fortune’s greedily coveted favours, they are consequently, for the most part, very prone to credulity. The human mind is readily swayed this way or that in times of doubt, especially when hope and fear are struggling for the mastery, though usually it is boastful, overconfident, and vain.
J.A. Baker, The Peregrine:
Predators overcome their prey by the exploitation of weaknesses rather than by superior power.
Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic:
At the end of the Civil War a Londoner, tired of wishing ‘a pox of God’ on the Parliament, delcared that ‘she would invent a new curse for them’, but the details of her formula do not survive.
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own:
…the beauty of the world which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.
James C Scott, Two Cheers for Anarchism:
An astute colleague of mine once observed that liberal democracies in the West were generally run for the benefit of the top, say, 20 percent of the wealth and income distribution. The trick, he added, to keeping this scheme running smoothly has been to convince, especially at election time, the next 30 or 35 percent of the income distribution to fear the poorest half more than they envy the richest 20 percent.
Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life:
Anyone who speaks of anti-intellectualism as a quality in American life must reckon with one of the signal facts of our national experience — our persistent, intense, and sometimes touching faith in the efficacy of popular education. Few observers, past or present, have doubted the pervasiveness or sincerity of this faith. […]
From the beginning, American statesmen had insisted upon the necessity of education in a republic. George Washington, in his Farewell Address, urged the people to promote “institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge.” To the degree that the form of government gave force to public opinion, Washington argued, “it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.” The aging Jefferson warned in 1816: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” […] “If the time shall ever come,” wrote a small-town Midwestern editor in 1836,
when this mighty fabric shall totter; when the beacon of joy that now rises in pillar of fire…shall wax dim, the cause will be found in the ignorance of the people. If our union is still to continue…; if your fields are to be untrod by the hirelings of despotism; if long days of blessedness are to attend our country in her career of glory; if you would have the sun continue to shed his unclouded rays upon the face of freemen, then EDUCATE ALL THE CHILDREN OF THE LAND. This alone startles the tyrant in his dreams of power, and rouses the slumbering energies of an oppressed people. It was intelligence that reared up majestic columns of national glory; and this and sound morality alone can prevent their crumbling to ashes.
But if we turn from the rhetoric of the past to the realities of the present, we are most struck by the volume of criticism suggesting that something very important is missing from the American passion for education. A host of educational problems has arisen fron indifference — underpaid teachers, overcrowded classrooms, double-schedule schools, broken-down scholl buildings, inadequate facilities and a number of other failings that come from something else — the cult of athleticism, marching bands, high-school drum majorettes, ethnic ghetto schools, de-intellectualized curricula, the faulure to educate in serious subjects, the neglect of academically gifted children. At times the schools of the country seem to be dominated by athletics, commercialism, and the standards of mass media, and these extend upwards to a system of higher education whose worst failings were underlined by the bold president of the University of Oklahoma who hoped to develop a university of which the football team could be proud.
PSA: Yesterday, I republished more old posts from 2003–06. Here are a few:
And here are some others that I republished a while ago, but are now slightly more hidden in the thicket of newly resurrected posts:
One must know that war is universal, and that justice is strife, and that all things happen according to strife and necessity.
He is equating justice and strife in order to suggest that unity is a product of opposites, in the way that a road up and a road down are the same road.