Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Few Interesting Passages

Three (completely unrelated) passages from things I have been reading lately:

In an interview with Psychology Today, Whit Stillman spoke of the effect on him of having spent his junior year abroad in Mexico: "It turned out to do the opposite of what it was suppose to do. It didn't make me a mushroom-dropping pothead; seeing another culture and the ways the less affluent in that culture coped with life actually made me much more conventional. It made me more respectful of conventional people in the United States." (Doomed Bourgeois in Love, 46)

I called myself a Marxist from the time I became a socialist. But, reading more history at Oxford, I began to feel that Marxism did not work. Consider the famous sentence in the Communist Manifesto: "The history of all hitherto recorded society is the history of class struggles." Very impressive but not true. Perhaps all history ought to have been the history of class struggles, but things did not work out that way. There have been long periods of class collaboration and many struggles that were not about class at all. I suppose my mind is too anarchic to be fitted into any system of thought. Like Johnson's friend Edwards, I, too, have tried to be a Marxist but common sense kept breaking in. (Accident Prone, or What Happened Next, republished in From Napoleon to the Second International, 5)

Calcutta is still my favorite city.... There was something... which if it did not transform the second city of Empire, lifted it at least a little from the depths. Everybody smiled. That may be at the root of Britain's three-century love affair with India. Nowadays it is taught (usually be people who never saw the Raj) that our passion for the sub-continent was mere pride of possession, arrogant satisfaction of conquest, and lust of exploitation, leavened only by a missionary zeal to improve. No doubt those feelings existed, among some, but they don't account for the undying affection that so many of the island race felt for that wonderful country and its people. Nor do all its great marvels: the beauty of the land and its buildings, the endless variety of its customs and cultures, the wonder of its art and philosophy and ancient civilizations, the glory of its matchless regiments. They may inspire awe, even reverence, but they don't quite explain why thousands of soldiers and merchants and administrators and traders left their hearts there, to say nothing of their mortal remains. One can babble about the magic of India, and convey nothing: I can only say that when I look back at it my lasting memory is of smiling faces, laughter in the bazaar, tiny naked children grinning as they clamoured for buckshee - and it wasn't an act, for they still laughed and joked and play-acted if they didn't get it. There was a life, a spirit about India that was irrepressible, and it outweighed all the faults and miseries and cruelties and corruptions. That, I think, is why the British loved it, and some of us will never get it out of our systems, even in an age when Indian and Pakistani immigration is about as welcome in Britain as the British were in India. (Quartered Safe Out Here, 179-80)
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