20 July 2009

Monday Quote Frenzy - John Masefield on Marco Polo

John Masefield wrote a foreword for a 1908 edition of The Travels of Marco Polo. He seems to have liked voyagers, as he also did the foreword for an edition of Dampier's travels. Henry Miller picked it up and referred to it in his story 'My Dream of Mobile', which is included in the collection The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. I think it relates not only to the physical traveler, but also to the intellectual, wandering among books.
It is accounted a romantic thing to wander among strangers and to eat their bread by the camp-fires of the other half of the world. There is romance in doing this, though the romance has been over-estimated by those whose sedentary lives have created in them a false taste for action. Marco Polo wandered among strangers; but it is open to any one (with courage and the power of motion) to do the same. Wandering in itself is merely a form of self-indulgence. If it adds not to the stock of human knowledge, or if it gives not to others the imaginative possession of some part of the world, it is a pernicious habit. The acquisition of knowledge, the accumulation of fact, is noble only in those few who have that alchemy which transmutes such clay to heavenly eternal gold…. It is only the wonderful traveler who sees a wonder, and only five travelers in the world’s history have seen wonders. The others have seen birds and beasts, rivers and wastes, the earth and the (local) fullness thereof. The five travelers are Herodotus, Gaspar, Melchior, Balthazar and Marco Polo himself. The wonder of Marco Polo is this – that he created Asia for the European mind….

06 July 2009

Monday Quote Frenzy: Two from Karel Čapek

Quoted by Ivan Klima in his introduction to War with the Newts:
You don’t see two bales of hay, but thousands of straws. Straw by straw you gather what is good and useful in the human world; straw by straw you discard the chaff and the weeds. You don’t cry out because of the oppression of thousands but because of the oppression of any individual; you’ve had to destroy the one truth in order to find thousands of them…. Ultimately, for want of anything more perfect, you simply believe in people.

Čapek in a 1926 letter to the New York Sunday Times:
Do you recall how Homer depicts Achilles’ shield? It took one song of the Iliad for the blind poet to describe how that shield was made; in America you would have made a casting and produced tens of thousands per day; granted, shields might be made cheaply and successfully this way, but Iliads could not…. To my knowledge, American efficiency concerns itself with multiplying output, not life. It’s true that man works in order to live; but it is evident that he lives also while he is working. Once could say that European Man is a very poor industrial machine; but this is because he is not a machine at all.