The Two Speeches

The value of blogging: you get perspectives in the comments that expand your understanding of a given subject. I had drafted my own commentary on the two speeches months ago. But given the fact that I still wanted to understand more about the place of those two orations in the scheme of modern Western civilization’s trade-off on competing values, I decided to forgo my own analysis, and instead give others an opportunity to read Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have A Dream” and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard commencement, both featured under the previous two posts.

I never liked the “I Have a Dream” speech. It was never Blues to me. It sounded like a salesman’s pitch. I grew up in Solzhenitsyn’s world. The things that weighed on adults’ minds when I was a kid ranged from frivolous to profound, but Negro histrionics were no part of that reality, save the occasional levity from a disco record. I knew that Negroes exist; I’ve read a lot as a kid, and every boy of my generation had read “In The Desert And Wilderness.” Everybody knew that Africans in their natural state are cannibals, but as Christians we believed that it’s not their fault, that’s how God made them. I thought of them, in the rare instance when the subject would cross my mind, as something that lacks the privilege of our full humanity, therefore it ought to be treated firmly but humanely. You baptize it so that God has mercy on its puny soul. You command it to not be a cannibal. All of that, of course, being purely hypothetical. But the notion of equality with them, had the proposition come up, would have been taken as absurd.

My encounter with America was a culture shock. Not so much when it came to Baseball and Apple Pie — those things I adapted to enthusiastically. What baffled me, though, was that Joseph McCarthy was excoriated in an instructional film played at our school assembly. The Current Year was 1983; why so much vitriol from National Ministry of Education toward an anti-Communist? And then there was Martin Luther King. I’ve seen, now in my several decades in America, a few black faces that shine with honesty and kindness. MKL’s was not one of them. He looked to me like a fat-lipped charlatan.

And from my adult’s present perspective of re-reading the “I Have A Dream” speech, two passages stand out to me as blatantly evil. First, this invocation of Justice. That word appears ten times in the speech:

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice.

Instantly, I contrasted it with Zbigniew Herbert’s eerily similar addressing of Justice that comes up in his poem about disgust, in translation here:

but what hell they made instead
a wet pit the murderers’ alley the barrack
called the palace of justice

(Aside: If you want your thoughts to lead you closer to sunlight, read Herbert). Secondly, MLK’s speech cribs from the Book of Isaiah:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight

Herbert’s counterpoint about universal equality in his poem about Leftism:

I longed to abolish the difference between what is high and what is low
to humanity disgustingly diverse I longed to give one shape
I ceased not in my efforts to level mankind

Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard address also has a reference to the flattening of humanity:

socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death.

Many historic public addresses are timeless but MLK’s, fifty years later, is an anachronism. Just look around you. How’s that Palace of Justice? All the drama was Deep State’s crafting of a cult of personality to displace America’s founding mythology. You can’t rule out events such as the Birmingham church bombing and the assassination of ML King being false flags to shock the public into complying with the myth of black martyrology for the sake of cracking Whites’ resistance to this AstroTurf redemption-narrative.

And it worked. Somewhat, and solely for one generation because nobody younger than a Boomer cares about “I Have A Dream” or about the actor who delivered that speech. (Much less the millions of newcomers). We comply with its demands under duress. Read the speech now and try to tell yourself that it’s more than cacophony and that liberalism isn’t a hallucination. Then, read Solzhenitsyn’s speech, including this passage:

But as long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we must lead an everyday life. Yet there is a disaster which is already very much with us. I am referring to the calamity of an autonomous, irreligious humanistic consciousness.

It has made man the measure of all things on earth — imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now paying for the mistakes which were not properly appraised at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility.

Below is rhetoric that comes from a place of Truth, and not from MLK’s swinishness. You as an American be the judge: is what you see and hear clean flowing water like Solzhenitsyn’s words, or is the message distorted by the fiction of civic nationalism?

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Torture

The video below shows a progression of scenes from the 1981 film “Interrogation,” chronicling the breaking down of a Stalin-era political prisoner. What proves Krystyna Janda a great actress is how she makes the extraordinary familiar. Toward the end of the video her character attempts suicide and it looks real. First, her eyes dart sidelong like a schoolboy passing a note behind the teacher’s back, then those wild-animal teeth flash brightly, then her childlike surprise upon finding herself past the point-of-no-return toward death.

Zbigniew Herber’s “The Interrogation of an Angel” is musically interpreted in that video. The poem is typical of Herbert’s pregnant simplicity; in his own words, he does not create images, he just knocks on doors that open freely for anyone who wants to see.

The poem has strange descriptions. “The eons of his hair” is a literal translation, there is no idiomatic meaning. An “angel” is interrogated, referred to as “he” but he is given feminine qualities, with the long hair up in a bun and the blushing. This doesn’t rule out the possibility that subject of the interrogation is a man and the hint of androgyny is a metaphor for innocence. But on another level, Herbert could be talking literally about angels — which are spirits, they don’t reproduce so they don’t have sexual characteristics. They don’t even have material form, though they can assume human shape to accommodate our senses. So with that interpretation: a real angel is locked in human form, is killed, and then something of metaphysical significance happens.

As to depictions of flesh-and-blood human beings, “The Sopranos” features a scene or two in which a hapless wretch sits wide-eyed on a stool as the stony-faced gangsters stand over him. The fellow who ran afoul of Tony’s crew looks like a worm on a hook. There is a reason why people who survive war captivity don’t want to talk about it: torture is not photogenic. The subject doesn’t look like he’s maxing out a rep like they show in heroic movies, he looks like a crying baby. “Dehumanizing” really does mean that.

Can dehumanization be transcended? Yes, if the prisoner’s belief in his rightness is strong. Few people have the constitution to withstand social disapproval, much less torture. Some do, though. So, where physical endurance gives out, there has to be something else because there are many accounts of defiant martyrdom. There was also a Man who was wrongly accused, mocked and spat-on, flogged, a crown of thorns pushed down on his head…

Przesłuchanie Anioła / The Interrogation of an Angel
(Zbigniew Herbert, 1969) 

Kiedy staje przed nimi / Standing before them
w cieniu podejrzenia / in the shadow of suspicion
jest jeszcze cały / he is still wholly
z materii światła / of light’s substance

eony jego włosów / the eons of his hair
spięte są w pukiel / are pulled in a lock
niewinności / of innocence

po pierwszym pytaniu / after the first question
policzki nabiegają krwią / his cheeks flush red

krew rozprowadzają / the blood is distributed
narzędzia i interrogacja / with tools and interrogation

żelazem trzciną / with iron and cane
wolnym ogniem / with open flame
określa się granice / the body’s limits
jego ciała / are defined

uderzenie w plecy / a strike to the back
utrwala kręgosłup / fixes the spine
między kałużą a obłokiem / between a puddle and a cloud

po kilku nocach / after a few nights
dzieło jest skończone / the work is completed
skórzane gardło anioła / the leathery throat of the angel
pełne jest lepkiej ugody / is full of sticky agreeableness

jakże piękna jest chwila / how beautiful is the moment
gdy pada na kolana / when he falls to his knees
wcielony w winę / guilt incarnate
nasycony treścią / saturated with narrative

język waha się / the tongue hesitates
między wybitymi zębami / between the broken teeth
a wyznaniem / and the confession

wieszają go głową w dół / they hang him head-down

z włosów anioła / from the hair of the angel
ściekają krople wosku / drip drops of wax
tworząc na podłodze / forming on the floor
prostą przepowiednię / a simple prophecy

***

A Poem About Leftism (Reprise)

“I ceased not in my efforts to level mankind” — leftism, from a 1983 poem by Zbigniew Herbert. Read along with the musical interpretation below. I posted this a long time ago but this one is worth a revisit from a larger audience and with my improved translation. Theseus was AltRight.

***

   Moje ruchome imperium między Atenami i Megarą
My movable empire between Athens and Megara
   władałem puszczą wąwozem przepaścią sam
I ruled over wilderness canyon abyss alone
   bez rady starców głupich insygniów z prostą maczugą w dłoni
with no advice from stupid old men or insignias but with a primitive club
   odziany tylko w cień wilka i grozę budzący dźwięk słowa Damastes
clad only in the shadow of the wolf and the horrific sound of the word Damastes

   brak mi było poddanych to znaczy miałem ich na krótko
I lacked subjects that is to say I had each one for a short time
   nie dożywali świtu jest jednak oszczerstwem nazwanie mnie zbójcą
they did not live to dawn however it’s slander to call me a murderer
   jak głoszą fałszerze historii
as cry the falsifiers of history

   w istocie byłem uczonym reformatorem społecznym
in essence I was learned social reformer
   moją prawdziwą pasją była antropometria
my true passion was anthropometry

   wymyśliłem łoże na miarę doskonałego człowieka
I devised a crucible for the perfect man
   przyrównywałem złapanych podróżnych do owego łoża
I fit the captured travelers to that bed
   trudno było uniknąć – przyznaję – rozciągania członków obcinania kończyn
it was difficult to avoid – I admit – stretching members cutting limbs

   pacjenci umierali ale im więcej ginęło
patients kept dying but the more perished
   tym bardziej byłem pewny że badania moje są słuszne
the more I was sure that my studies are just
   cel był wzniosły postęp wymaga ofiar
the goal was sublime progress requires sacrifices

   pragnąłem znieść różnicę między tym co wysokie a niskie
I longed to abolish the difference between what is high and what is low
   ludzkości obrzydliwie różnorodnej pragnąłem dać jeden kształt
to humanity disgustingly diverse I longed to give one shape
   nie ustawałem w wysiłkach aby zrównać ludzi
I ceased not in my efforts to level mankind

   pozbawił mnie życia Tezeusz morderca niewinnego Minotaura
Theseus took my life that slayer of the innocent Minotaur
   ten który zgłębiał labirynt z babskim kłębkiem włóczki
he who plumbed the labyrinth with a girl’s bundle of yarn
   pełen forteli oszust bez zasad i wizji przyszłości
so full of trickery without principles or vision of the future
   mam niepłonną nadzieję że inni podejmą mój trud
I have an inextinguishable hope that others will take up my toil
   i dzieło tak śmiało zaczęte doprowadzą do końca
and the masterpiece I started so boldly they’ll lead to its end

***

A Poem About Gods

I’m discovering Zbigniew Herbert’s (1924 – 1998) poems as we speak. In one of his poems, Herbert described himself as a bard who merely knocks on doors behind which truths are revealed. Herbert’s Apollo and Marsyas below (orig. “Apollo i Marsjasz”) describes a torture-execution. In Greek myth, satyr Marsyas challenged Apollo to a music contest. The contest was judged by the Muses, Marsyas lost and was flayed alive for his affrontery in challenging a god.

As always, I recommend reading along with the musical interpretation. It’s not an inviting proposition, given the language barrier, which is why I made the line-by-line translation.

“Apollo and Marsyas” — Zbigniew Herbert

właściwy pojedynek Apollona  / the actual duel between Apollo
z Marsjaszem  / and Marsyas
(słuch absolutny  / (an absolute ear
contra ogromna skala)  / vs. immense scale)
odbywa się pod wieczór /  takes place in the early evening
gdy jak już wiemy  / and as we already know
sędziowie /  the judges
przyznali zwycięstwo bogu  / ruled in favor of the god

mocno przywiązany do drzewa  / tightly bound to a tree
dokładnie odarty ze skóry  / meticulously stripped of his skin
Marsjasz  / Marsyas
krzyczy  / cries
zanim krzyk dojdzie /  before the cry reaches
do jego wysokich uszu /  his mighty ear
wypoczywa w cieniu tego krzyku /  he reposes in the shade of that cry

wstrząsany dreszczem obrzydzenia /  shaken with disgust
Apollo czyści swój instrument /  Apollo cleans his instrument

tylko z pozoru /  only seemingly
głos Marsjasza  / is Marsyas’ voice
jest monotony /  monotonous
i składa się z jednej samogłoski /  and composed of one vowel
A  / A

w istocie Marsjasz opowiada  / in fact Marsyas relates
nieprzebrane bogactwo  / of the inexhaustible richness
swego ciała /  of his body

łyse góry wątroby  / the bald hills of the liver
pokarmów białe wąwozy  / the white digestive gorges
szumiące lasy płuc  / the murmuring forests of lungs
słodkie pagórki mięśni /  the sweet mounds of muscle
stawy żółć krew i dreszcze /  the joints bile blood and shudders
zimowy wiatr kości  / the bones’ winter wind
nad solą pamięci  / over the salt-flats of memory

wstrząsany dreszczem obrzydzenia  / shaken with disgust
Apollo czyści swój instrument  / Apollo cleans his instrument

teraz do chóru  / now the choir
przyłącza się stos pacierzowy Marsjasza  / is joined by the spinal stack of Marsyas
w zasadzie to samo A  / in principle the same A
tylko głębsze z dodatkiem rdzy /  only deeper and with a touch of rust

to już jest ponad wytrzymałość  / this is now beyond the endurance
boga o nerwach z tworzyw sztucznych /  of a god with nerves of synthetic fiber

żwirową aleją / down the gravel alley
wysadzaną bukszpanem  /  lined with boxwood
odchodzi zwycięzca /  departs the victor
zastanawiając się  / wondering if
czy z wycia Marsjasza  / Marsyas’ howls
nie powstanie z czasem /  aren’t the birth of
nowa gałąź /  a new branch
sztuki – powiedzmy – konkretnej /  of – shall we say – concrete art

nagle /  suddenly
upada mu  / at his feet falls
skamieniały słowik  / a petrified nightingale

odwraca głowę /  he turns his head
i widzi  / and sees
że drzewo do którego przywiązany był Marsjasz /  that the tree to which Marsyas is tied
jest siwe  / has turned white

zupełnie /  completely

Elegy Of Fortinbras

Translation of Zbigniew Herbert’s “Elegy of Fortinbras” (1961). Fortinbras is William Shakespeare’s fictional Norwegian prince and conqueror of Denmark. He appears in the final scene of “Hamlet.” The original poem “Tren Fortynbrasa” is under the YouTube video below. 

***

Now that we’re alone we can talk Prince man to man
though you lie on the stairs and see no more than a dead ant
nothing but a black sun with broken rays
I could never think of your hands without smiling
and now that they lie on the stone like fallen nests
they are as defenseless as before The end is exactly this
The hands lie apart The sword lies separate The head separate
and the knight’s feet in soft slippers

You will have a soldier’s funeral though you weren’t a soldier
it is the only ritual I am somewhat acquainted with
There will be no candles no singing only cannon fuses and salvos
Crape dragged on the cobblestones helmets studded boots artillery horses
drums drums I know it’s nothing exquisite
those will be my maneuvers as I assume control
one has to take the city by the throat and shake it a bit

Anyhow you had to perish Hamlet you were not for life
you believed in crystal notions not in human clay
always twitching as if asleep you hunted chimeras
wolfishly you bit at the air only to vomit
you knew no human thing you did not even know how to breathe

Now you have peace Hamlet you accomplished what you had to
and you have peace The rest is not silence but it belongs to me
you chose the easier part an elegant thrust
but what is heroic death compared to eternal vigilance
with a cold apple in one’s hand on a raised chair
with a view on the anthill and on the clock’s dial

Adieu Prince I have tasks a sewer project
and a decree on prostitutes and beggars
I must also elaborate a better system of prisons
since as you justly said Denmark is a prison
I go to my affairs This night is born
a star named Hamlet We shall never meet
what I shall leave will not be worth a tragedy

It is not for us to greet each other or bid farewell we live on archipelagos
and that water these words what can they do what can they do Prince

***

This musical interpretation is perfect:

“Caligula”

This one goes out to various Western leaders.

Reading the old chronicles, poems and biographies, Mr. Cogito sometimes experiences the physical presence of long-dead persons

Caligula speaks:

of all the citizens of Rome
I only loved one
Incitatus – the horse

when he entered the senate
the flawless toga of his coat
glistened immaculate among the gutless purple-hemmed cutthroats

Incitatus had many virtues
he never gave speeches
stoic nature
I think that at night in the stables he read the philosophers

I loved him so much that one day I decided to crucify him
but his noble anatomy opposed it

indifferently he accepted the dignity of the consul
he executed his power superlatively
what I mean is, he did not do it at all

he couldn’t be persuaded into a permanent bond of love
with my fourth wife Caesonia
so unfortunately the line of emperor-centaurs was not created

therefore Rome fell

I decided to nominate him god
but on the ninth day before February
Cherea Cornelius Sabinus and other fools obstructed these sacred intentions

he calmly accepted the news of my death

he was banished from the palace and sentenced to exile

he took that blow with dignity

he died without heirs
slaughtered by a thick-skinned butcher from the town of Anzio

on the posthumous fate of his meat
Tacitus is silent

— Zbigniew Herbert (c. 1974) from his volume of poetry “Mr. Cogito”

My translation. The original poem is under Show More in the YouTube video.

Good Friday

What happened to Barabbas? I asked no one knows
Let off his chain he stepped on to the white street
he could turn right go forward turn left
spin in circles crow with joy like a cock
He the Emperor of own arms and head
He the Potentate of his own breath

I ask because I was somewhat involved in the matter
Lured by the crowd in front of the palace of Pilate I shouted
like the others free Barabbas Barabbas
All chanted were I alone to stay silent
all would be exactly as it was to be

Now Barabbas perhaps rejoined his gang
In the hills he kills cleanly robs quickly
Or he set up a pottery shop
and crime-stained hands
he purifies in works of clay
or he’s a water carrier mule driver loan shark
or a ship owner — on one of them sailed Paul to the Corinthians
or — this cannot be ruled out —
he became a valuable spy in the pay of the Romans

Behold and admire the capricious game of fate
of possibility potencies of fortune’s smile

And a Nazarene
was alone
with no options
up a steep
path
of blood

— Zbigniew Herbert (1990)


The above is my translation of Herbert’s “Speculation about Barabbas.” Original title: “Domysły na temat Barabasza.”