Wednesday, December 22, 2004

That More Lonely Courage

I was reading about the thinker William James in the wonderful book The Metaphysical Club, by Louis Menand, and I came across a most beautiful sentiment that James expressed in a speech dedicating a war memorial on Boston Common. He said

That lonely kind of courage (civic-courage we call it in peace-times) is the kind of valor to which the monuments of nations should most of all be reared, for the survival of the fittest has not bred it into the bone of human beings as it has bred military valor.

James said that a nation is not saved by wars. Rather:

by acts without external picturesqueness; by speaking, writing, voting reasonably; by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them, and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans or empty quacks.

Acts without external picturesqueness. Nevermind the redundancy-- (as "picturesque" by definition refers to the external) it's very beautiful, isn't it?

I hope that in my life I will have the courage and the will to perform many acts without external picturesqueness.

That said, I am very saddened by the attack on the dining hall in Mosul. I think of the soldiers' families, in that cold shock after learning someone you love dearly, desperately, is gone. And how they will experience that awful remembrance of the fact upon waking. I wish I could lessen their pain. I wish I could tell those families that one morning they will wake up, and it will not be the first thing that they think about.

By echoeing James' sentiments, I do not mean to imply that the soldiers in Iraq are not courageous.

Only, it is nice to think of a different sort of courage. And, by James' suggestion, a different sort of monument. Can you imagine a monument in the National Mall or on Pennsylvania Avenue to all the letter-writing, marching, petition-circulating, voices of conscience and dissension that make America great? What would it look like, do you suppose, this monument?

How about some sort of expansive lit sculpture that at night would appear to be a candlelight vigil?

What do you think?


At 5:53 AM, Blogger andrew s.yang said...

I really like the idea of a monument to the acts of democracy and quiet courage that are constant, necessary and don't involve a gun. I suppose in some sense this is what the Thousand Points of Light Campaign that Bush I pushed was about..? (But yes and no. probably mostly no).

That death, tragedy or conquest should be the only thing as a culture we typically memorialize grandly is strange and sad, but maybe it also a natural refletion of sorts. Our idea that monuments must be dominate landscape and be permanent; be stone, or be hard materials with graven names -- maybe this suits the metaphors of warlike acts compared to the civil, small and everpresent ones that lack all glory but are in fact the most important? I think a memorial to such a thing ... it would be maybe humble and emphermeral and substanial somehow. birdsong chorus? 100,000 tulips? cicadas? silent and bright fireworks that flash five times in the sky across the whole of the land? I don't know, but think there must be some suitable way to do this...!


ps. Audra-- and are you enjoying your life back in the Buda and the Pest? It seems like. Has the Paprika Shortage Crisis finally subsided there? I most cedrtainly hope so...

At 2:43 PM, Blogger Irma Vep said...

Caro Andy,

Thank you for commenting with your wonderful ideas. As an art student in undergrad, I often made ephemerality my focus-- and yet it hadn't occured to me here. Let's keep brainstorming, and maybe we should actually make one of our monument ideas happen? What do you think?

Re: paprika shortage. Actually, there never really was a paprika shortage. It's like this: the paprika pepper is stored after it's picked because once it's ground, it loses its flavor fairly quickly-- in about six months. But the whole pepper loses its flavor and color quickly as well-- and this is apparently what happened. Some paprika manufacturers imported paprika from Spain and Brazil (which is a darker purple color) to mix with the Hungarian faded paprika, in order to enliven its color. So instead of a shortage, there was actually a surplus of Hungarian paprika that needed to be processed.

There was a complete paprika ban in late October because the paprika imported from Brazil was found to have high levels of aflatoxin (I think that's what it's called) a known cancer-causing agent. This caused quite an upheaval as you can well imagine if you have visited Hungary and looked at any one of its menus. Stores, restaurants, and markets were all required to remove it from its shelves.

But I was just in the market yesterday, and paprika in every sweet and spicy variant and packaging once again abounds. No worries.

I'm glad to be back in Budapest. Thank you for asking. It's magical here, and I find I still feel a certain disbelief at my good fortune to be living here. I will not live here forever. But for now, Pest is the best.


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