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Month: March 2022

“The modern State begins when a prince secures almost undisputed sway over fairly homogeneous territory and people and strives to fortify his power and maintain the order that will conduce to the safety and influence of his heirs. The State in its inception is pure and undiluted monarchy; it is armed power, culminating in a single head, bent on one primary object, the reducing to subjection, to unconditional and unqualified loyalty of all the people of a certain territory. This is the primary striving of the State, and it is a striving that the State never loses, through all its myriad transformations. When the subjugation was once acquired, the modern State had begun. In the King, the subjects found their protection and their sense of unity. From his side, he was a redoubtable, ambitious, and stiff-necked warrior, getting the supreme mastery which he craved. But from theirs, he was a symbol of the herd, the visible emblem of that security which they needed and for which they drew gregariously together. Serfs and villains, whose safety under their petty lords had been rudely shattered in the constant conflicts for supremacy, now drew a new breath under the supremacy that wiped out this local anarchy. King and people agreed in the thirst for order, and order became the first healing function of the State. But in the maintenance of order, the King needed officers of justice; the old crude group-rules for dispensing justice had to be codified, a system of formal law worked out. The King needed ministers, who would carry out his will, extensions of his own power, as a machine extends the power of a man’s hand. So the State grew as a gradual differentiation of the King’s absolute power, founded on the devotion of his subjects and his control of a military band, swift and sure to smite. Gratitude for protection and fear of the strong arm sufficed to produce the loyalty of the country to the State.” – Randolph Bourne, “The State”

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“The normal relation of States is war. Diplomacy is a disguised war, in which States seek to gain by barter and intrigue, by the cleverness of wits, the objectives which they would have to gain more clumsily by means of war. Diplomacy is used while the States are recuperating from conflicts in which they have exhausted themselves. It is the wheedling and the bargaining of the worn-out bullies as they rise from the ground and slowly restore their strength to begin fighting again. If diplomacy had been a moral equivalent for war, a higher stage in human progress, an inestimable means of making words prevail instead of blows, militarism would have broken down and given place to it. But since it is a mere temporary substitute, a mere appearance of war’s energy under another form, a surrogate effect is almost exactly proportioned to the armed force behind it. When it fails, the recourse is immediate to the military technique whose thinly veiled arm it has been. A diplomacy that was the agency of popular democratic forces in their non-State manifestations would be no diplomacy at all.” – Randolph Bourne, “The State”

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“My family moved from Taiwan to Texas when I was seven. I was in first grade, and I wore a navy-blue uniform that had the three characters of my name embroidered just above the left breast pocket. In America, I wore jeans, t-shirts, and purple shoes to school. In America, the three characters of my name lived in a distant drawer and smelled funny. In America, I learned to dump my leftovers into a big trash can and feel free to go get more.” – Elizabeth T. Chao, Rattle 59

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“A people at war have become in the most literal sense obedient, respectful, trustful children again, full of that naive faith in the all-wisdom and all-power of the adult who takes care of them, imposes his mild but necessary rule upon them and in whom they lose their responsibility and anxieties. In this recrudescence of the child, there is great comfort, and a certain influx of power. On most people the strain of being an independent adult weighs heavily, and upon none more than those members of the significant classes who have bequeathed to them or have assumed the responsibilities of governing. The State provides the convenientest of symbols under which those classes can retain all the actual pragmatic satisfaction of governing, but can rid themselves of the psychic burden of adulthood. They continue to direct industry and government and all the institutions of society pretty much as before, but in their own conscious eyes and in the eyes of the general public, they are turned from their selfish and predatory ways, and have become loyal servants of society, or something greater than they—the State.” – Randolph Bourne, “The State”

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“The situations in which creative writing takes place are often complicated, to put it mildly—anyone even slightly familiar with the writing profession, as we so grandly refer to it, knows that it is one great big entanglement of neuroses, hang-ups, blockages, frailties, idiosyncrasies, alcoholism, narcissism, depression, psychosis, hyperactivity, mania, inflated egos, low self-esteem, compulsion, obligation, impulsive ideas, clutter, and procrastination.” – Karl Ove Knausgaard, “What Writers and Editors Do” (trans. Martin Aitken)

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“Even one war in space will create a battlefield that will last forever, encasing the entire planet in a shell of whizzing debris that will thereafter make space near the earth highly hazardous for peaceful as well as military purposes. With enough orbiting debris, pieces will begin to hit other pieces, whose fragments will in turn hit more pieces, setting off a chain reaction of destruction that will leave a lethal halo around the Earth.” – Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams, “Star Wars Forever?—A Cosmic Perspective”

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“A modern masterpiece is impossible, since the writer is forced by his writing into a cleft stick: either the object of the work is naively attuned to the conventions of its form, Literature remaining deaf to our present History, and not going beyond the literary myth; or else the writer acknowledges the vast novelty of the present world, but finds that in order to express it he has at his disposal only a language which is splendid but lifeless. In front of the virgin sheet of paper, at the moment of choosing the words which must frankly signify his place in History, and testify that he assumes its data, he observes a tragic disparity between what he does and what he sees. Before his eyes, the world of society now exists as a veritable Nature, and this Nature speaks, elaborating living languages from which the writer is excluded: on the contrary, History puts in his hands a decorative and compromising instrument, a writing inherited from a previous and different History, for which he is not responsible and yet which is the only one he can use. Thus is born a tragic element in writing, since the conscious writer must henceforth fight against ancestral and all-powerful signs which, from the depths of a past foreign to him, impose Literature on him like some ritual, not like a reconciliation.” – Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero (trans. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith)

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“The multiplication of modes of writing is a modern phenomenon which forces a choice upon the writer, making form a kind of behaviour and giving rise to an ethic of writing. To all the dimensions which together made up the literary creation is henceforth added a new depth, since form is by itself a kind of parasitical mechanism of the intellectual function. Modern writing is a truly independent organism which grows around the literary act, decorates it with a value which is foreign to its intention, ceaselessly commits it to a double mode of existence, and superimposes upon the content of the words opaque signs which carry with them a history, a second-order meaning which compromises or redeems it, so that with the situation of thought is mingled a supplementary fate, often diverging from the former and always an encumbrance to it—the fate of the form.” – Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero (trans. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith)

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“It is because there is no thought without language, that Form is the first and last arbiter of literary responsibility, and it is because there is no reconciliation within the present society, that language, necessary and necessarily orientated, creates for the writer a situation fraught with conflict.” – Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero (trans. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith)

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“Within a national norm such as French, forms of expression differ in different groups, and every man is a prisoner of his language: outside his class, the first word he speaks is a sign which places him as a whole and proclaims his whole personal history. The man is put on show and delivered up by his language, betrayed by a formal reality which is beyond the reach of his lies, whether they are inspired by self-interest or generosity. The diversity of languages therefore works like Necessity, and it is because of this that it gives rise to a form of the tragic.” – Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero (trans. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith)

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“At very rare, great moments—generally they are moments of death—a reality reveals itself to man in which he suddenly glimpses and grasps the essence that rules over him and works within him, the meaning of his life. His whole previous life vanishes into nothingness in the face of this experience; all its conflicts, all the sufferings, torments and confusions caused by them, appear petty and inessential. Meaning has made its appearance and the paths into living life are open to the soul.” – Georg Lukács, The Theory of the Novel (trans. Anna Bostock)

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