We learn from history that we do not learn from history.
Or, the visionary poet might have said, in a drop of water, suspended in time on its course between underground springs and the great river which is its destiny.
for more Blake
Winter reluctantly relaxes its grip on Michigan in mid March, and then we experience an interlude while waiting expectantly for the renewal of Spring. This stream west of suburban Detroit was swelling with winter’s melt when we were beginning to learn some unpleasant truths. A plague that had been lurking was then just beginning to surface.
Albert Camus, The Rebel
A word for our immoderate times.
Robert Kennedy’s words touched the American spirit, transcending his death 50 years ago, with a truth that speaks to our time, too.
Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.
We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.
Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.
But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.
Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.
For the whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key to be played! And this being so, can one help being tempted to rejoice that it has not yet come off, and that desire still depends on something we don’t know?
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground
An 1864 Russian novel I read and discussed in a book club in nearby Ann Arbor yesterday. The Underground Man asserts a person’s right to be human, with all the “unreasonable” emotions that involves, in the face of reformers’ efforts to conform human behavior to their idea of rationality and “the good.” Also, a revolution in the novel, with the first anti-hero and the emergence of the unreliable narrator. Really quite an amazing achievement in the art of writing. I’m still marveling and will be re-reading after picking up many great insights from the book club members’ discussion.