More Other People’s Thoughts

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Other People’s Thoughts is a section in the Journal of the China Heritage site. It is inspired by a compilation of quotations put together by Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans), one of our Ancestors, during his reading life.

Pierre remarked that the resulting modest volume of quotations was ‘idiosyncratically complied for the amusement of idle readers’ (see Simon Leys, Other People’s Thoughts, 2007). Our aim is similar: to amuse our readers (idle or otherwise); as is our modus operandi: to build up an idiosyncratic compilation, one that reflects the interests of The Wairarapa Academy for New Sinology and its coterie.

In collecting this material, and by adding to it over time (this is a second instalment in the series), we accord also with a Chinese literary practice in which quotations — sometimes called yǔlù 語錄, literally ‘recorded sayings’ — have a particular history, and a powerful resonance.

The character ‘record’ 記 in the hand of Mi Fei 米芾, or ‘Madman Mi’ 米癲 of the Song. Source: 好事家貼.

The most famous collection of recorded sayings is The Analects 論語, compiled by disciples of Confucius. Then there is the timeless 5000-words of Laozi’s The Tao and the Power 道德經, as well as the Chan/Zen 禪宗 tradition of what in English are known by the Japanese term kōan 公案, dating from the Tang dynasty. Modern imitations range from the political bon mots of Mao Zedong to excerpts from the prolix prose of Xi Jinping’s tireless speech writers, and published snippets from arm-chair philosophers and motivational speakers.

Other People’s Thoughts also finds inspiration in the ‘poetry talks’ 詩話, ‘casual jottings’ 筆記 and ‘marginalia’ 眉批 of China’s literary tradition.

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This is the third selection of Other People’s Thoughts published in China Heritage. For the first, see here; and, for the second, here. The selected quotations in ‘Even More Other People’s Thoughts’ below will be added to the material already collected in Other People’s Thoughts under Projects in China Heritage.

The Editor, China Heritage, 15 June 2017


Editing and Reviewing

We do what we want and don’t try to figure out what the public wants. (Robert B. Silvers, Editor, The New York Review of Books)

Cultural Criticism

Writing about art only matters because art deserves to be met with more than silence (although ignoring art — not speaking about it, not writing about it — is itself a form of criticism, and probably the most damning and effective one). An artist’s intentions are one thing, but works themselves accrue meanings and readings through the ways they are interpreted and discussed and compared with one another, long after the artist has finished with them. This, in part, is where all our criticisms come in. We contribute to the work, remaking it whenever we go back to it — which doesn’t prevent some artworks not being worth a first, never mind a second look, and some opinions not being worth listening to at all. (Adrian Searle, art critic)

Education Under the Wheel

There was something wild, untamed, uncultured in him that must first be broken, a dangerous flame that must be extinguished and stamped out. Man as Nature created him is a dark, incalculable and dangerous creature — a spring that bursts forth from an unknown mountain, an ancient forest without path or clearing. An ancient forest must be cleared and tidied up and greatly reduced in area; it is the school’s job to break in the natural man, subdue and greatly reduce him; in accordance with principles sanctioned by authority it is its task to make him a useful member of the community and awake in him those qualities, the complete development of which is brought to a triumphant conclusion by the well-calculated disciple of the barrack square. (Hermann Hesse, Unterm Rad, translated as The Prodigal)

Translation

It must however always be borne in mind that translators are but traitors at the best, and that translations may be moonlight and water while the originals are sunlight and wine. (Herbert Giles, 16 October 1883)

The Power of Lies

Inequality creates liars and delusion. The powerless need to dissemble — that’s how slaves, servants, and women got the reputation of being liars — and the powerful grow stupid on the lies they require from their subordinates and on the lack of need to know about others who are nobody, who don’t count, who’ve been silenced or trained to please. (Rebecca Solnit, The Loneliness of Donald Trump)

Unity at All Costs

On 7 November 1937, the anniversary of the October Revolution, Stalin gave a toast at a meeting of Politburo leaders that was recorded by the Bulgarian Communist and leader of the Comintern, Georgi Dimitrov, in his published diary.

I would like to say some words, perhaps not festive ones … The Russian czars did a great deal that was bad. They robbed and enslaved the people. But they did one thing that was good. They amassed an enormous state, all the way to Kamchatka. We have inherited that state.

He went on:

We have united the state in such a way that if any part were isolated from the common socialist state, it would not only inflict harm on the latter but would be unable to exist independently and would inevitably fall under foreign subjugation. Therefore, whoever attempts to destroy that unity of the socialist state, whoever seeks the separation of any of its parts or nationalities — that man is an enemy, a sworn enemy of the state and of the peoples of the U.S.S.R. And we will destroy each and every such enemy, even if he was an old Bolshevik; we will destroy all his kin, his family. We will mercilessly destroy anyone who, by his deeds or his thoughts — yes, his thoughts — threatens the unity of the socialist state. To the complete destruction of all enemies, themselves and their kin!

At which Politburo members voiced their approval: ‘To the great Stalin!’ (Jonathan Brent, The Order of Lenin: Find Some Truly Hard People)

Dying for a Job

If the rich could hire other people to die for them, the poor could make a wonderful living. (Yiddish proverb)

On Writing

Write naked. That means to write what you would never say.
Write in blood. As if ink is so precious you can’t waste it.
Write in exile, as if you are never going to get home again, and you have to call back every detail. (Denis Johnson)

The Classics and Us

I often find my mind goes where another mind has been. (May Swenson in US Veterans Use Greek Tragedy to Tell Us About War) [See also Jonathan Shay, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (1995) and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming (2003).

Schooling

His duty, the task with which the State has entrusted him requires that he shall subdue and extirpate untutored energy and natural appetites and plant in their place the quiet, temperate ideas recognised by the State. Many a person who is at present a contented citizen and persevering official might have become an undisciplined innovator or futile dreamer but for these efforts on the part of the school. (Hermann Hesse, Unterm Rad, translated as The Prodigal)