Samstag, 27. Juni 2009

Records as Religion

"In fact one might say to all these records of human life, all these Grammata that have come down to us, what Marcus Aurelius teaches us to say to ourselves : each one is "a little soul carrying a corpse." Each one, besides the material and temporary message it bears, is a record, however imperfect, of human life and character and feeling. In so far as the record can get across the boundary that separates mere record of fact from philosophy or poetry, so far it has a soul and still lives. This is clearest, of course, in the records to which we can definitely attribute beauty. Take a tragedy of Aeschylus, a dialogue of Plato, take one of the very ancient Babylonian hymns or an oracle of Isaiah. The prophecy of Isaiah re- ferred primarily to a definite set of facts and contained some definite and generally violent political advice ; but we often do not know what those facts were, nor care one way or another about the advice.
Both soul and body are preserved, imperfectly of course, in Grammata or Letters ; in a long series of marks scratched, daubed, engraved, written or printed, stretching from the inscribed bone implements and painted rocks of prehistoric man, through the great literatures of the world, down to this morning's newspaper and the MS. from which I am speaking ; marks which have their own history also and their own vast varieties. And "the office of the art Grammatike is so to deal with the Grammata as to recover from them all that can be recovered of that which they have saved from oblivion, to reinstate as far as possible the spoken word in its first impressiveness and musicalness." That is not a piece of modern sentiment. It is the strict doctrine of the scribes.
We intellectuals of the twentieth century, poor things, are so intimately accustomed to the use of Grammata that probably many of us write more than we talk and read far more than we listen. Language has become to us primarily a matter of Grammata. We have largely ceased to demand from the readers of a book any imaginative transliteration into the living voice. But mankind was slow in acquiescing in this renunciation. Isocrates, in a well-known passage (5, 10) of his Letter to Philip, laments that the scroll he sends will not be able to say what he wants it to say. Philip will hand it to a secretary and the secretary, neither know- ing nor caring what it is all about, will read it out " with no persuasiveness, no indication of changes of feeling, as if he were giving a list of items." The early Arab writers in the same situation used to meet it squarely. The sage wrote his own book and trained his disciples to read it aloud, each sentence exactly right ; and generally, to avoid the mistakes of the ordinary untrained reader, he took care that the script should not be intelligible to such persons.
First, we may say, the chains of the mind are not broken by any form of ignorance. The chains of the mind are broken by understanding. And so far as men are unduly enslaved by the past it is by understanding the past that they may hope to be free. But, secondly, it is never really the past the true past that enslaves us ; it is always the present. It is not the conventions of the seventeenth or eighteenth century that now make men conventional. It is the conventions of our own age ; though of course I would not deny that in any age there are always fragments of the uncomprehended past still floating, like dead things pretending to be alive. What one always needs for freedom is some sort of escape from the thing that now holds him. A man who is the slave of theories must get outside them and see facts ; a man who is the slave of his own desires and prejudices must widen the range of his experience and imagination. But the thing that enslaves us most, narrows the range of our thought, cramps our capacities and lowers our standards, is the mere Present the present that is all round us, accepted and taken for granted.
The joy and grief of the artist in his art, of the strong man in his fighting, of the seeker after knowledge or righteousness in his many wanderings ; these and things like them, all the great terrors and desires and beauties, belong somewhere to the permanent stuff of which daily life consists ; they go with hunger and thirst and love and the facing of death."

- Gilbert Murray

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