Tuesday, October 19

"He who rides a tiger cannot dismount. Chinese proverb. Applied to action: what you get is history. Action is capitalism, the armaments industry. Malplaquet--Borodino--Port Arthur--150,000 dead, 200,000 dead, 250,000 dead--no one can now see history as any-thing but the justification of mass murder: rapine and glorification-- there's the mechanism of power. And what history records is not the nations' folk-memory of themselves, but their funny papers. If you look at them twenty years later, you recall the fashions for war- widows, but not a word of that the battles were about. A shrapnel splinter on the watch-chain draped over the belly of the good-time boys, the sharks, the profiteers, while they bait a chippy at the thé-dansant--that's what remains, that is the aere perennius, that outlasts the general staffs, that's the nail that holds history to the flagpole. All that travail brought forth a stone--that's history: a legend, a dream! Think of all that is now growing a beard in some Kyffhäuser: the Manchus and the Hohenstaufens, the Tennos and the Shoguns and the Lancashire woolmongers--the beard growing without hairtonic through all those table-tops, and the ravens have croaked themselves hoarse and are sick and tired of it and have gone flapping off over the hills: history, much too classical for these down-and-out nations, pinchbeck offspring of the Titans, more heroin than heroism, froth on their lips from talking platitudes--counter-jumpers of history! "Anyone who has nothing at all to offer the present day talks history! Rome, the Rubicon. The jaws of Caesar and the brains of troglodytes, that's their type! Wars, knouts, tyrants, plagues to keep the masses in check, there you might see a touch of the grand manner, but history, no, that's nothing for--heroes! À propos, victories and mis-victories, will and power--what labels for these broth-cubes! On the table free groceries and under the table looted Persian carpets: there you have the cold facts of history. What history destroys is usually temples, and what it loots is always art. Everyone gets his turn among the firms and the Pharaohs. The sapphires from Amphitrite's eye-sockets find their way on to the Madonna's mantle of beaten gold, then on to some imperial Colleoni's sword-knob. Malplaquet--Borodino--Port Arthur--in the mollifying light of cultural philosophy: states of levitation, that's all. Yet behind it all there stand, calmly and collectedly, the missionaries of formal reason, the leisurely collectors and artificers of decisions."

--Gottfried Benn written 1937, published 1949
fr. "Wolf's Tavern" tr. Ernst Kaiser and Eithne Wilkins
in Primal Vision: Selected Writings of Gottfried Benn 
[New York: New Directions, 1971]

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