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The Yalu

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Old 02-25-2018, 12:10 AM
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This dialogue took me a long time to find and I thought I might share it. It is from Paul Valery whom I was first introduced to from an opening quote of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Im not sure as to the exact publication date of the dialogue but it contrasts western and eastern perspectives on history, the implementation of knowledge, and linear and circular time.

In September, 1895, in Chinn, one blue and white day the scholar led me to a lighthouse of black wood on the sands of the shore. We emerged from the last thickets, and walked half‐asleep, drowsy from the sloth of the ground — a spongy powder that soaked up our efforts and yielded under our feet. At last we quit the sand.

I know not how there came to my companion a desire to speak and overcome the delicious air, the oblivion. At the first obscure words, I, wondered: “What is he going to say?”

“Nippon,” he said, “is making war on us. Her great white ships steam through our nightmares. They will trouble our estuaries. They will set fires in the peaceful night.”

“They are very strong,” I sighed. “They are imitating us.”

“You are children,” said the Chinese. “I know that Europe of yours.”

“You have paid it your visits with, a smile.”

“I may have smiled. Certainly, when hidden from other eyes, I laughed.... I cannot understand haw such confusion has endured even for so short a time. You have neither the patience that weaves long lives, nor a feeling for the irregular, nor a sense of the fittest place for a thing, nor a knowledge of government. You, exhaust yourselves endlessly re‐beginning the work of the first day. So your ancestors are twice dead, and you are afraid, of death.
“In your land, power can do nothing. Your politics consists in changes of heart, it leads to general revolution, and then to reaction against revolution, which is another revolution. Your leaders do not lead, your free men are forced to labor, you are afraid of your slaves, your great men kiss the feet of the crowd, worship children, and depend on everybody. You are at the mercy of all the ferocities of wealth and public opinion. But. now glance with your mind at the subtlest of your errors.

“For you, intelligence is not one thing among many. Every day it devours everything. It would like to put an end to a new state of society every morning. A man intoxicated on it believes his own thoughts are legal decisions or facts themselves born of the crowd and time. He confuses his quick changes of heart with the imperceptible variation of real forms and enduring beings.

“This is the law by which the intelligence despises law, and you encourage its violence! You are in love with Intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were Irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time.

“My dear barbarian and imperfect friend, I am a scholar from the land of Thin, near the blue sea. I am learned in writing, in war command, and in the management of agriculture. I prefer to be ignorant of your disease of invention and your debauchery of confused ideas. I know something more powerful. Yes, we men of these parts feed by continual, millions in the most favorable valleys of the earth, and the depth of this immense sea of individuals has kept the form of a family, in an unbroken line from the earliest days. Every man here feels that he is both son and father, among thousands and tens of thousands and is aware of being held fast by the people around him and the dead below him and the people to come, like brick in a brick wall. He holds. Every man here knows that he is nothing apart from this composite earth.
“Think of the web of our race and tell me, you who cut your roots end dry your flowers, how is it you still exist? Will it be for long?
“Our empire is woven of the living, the dead, and nature. It exists because it sets all things in order. Here everything is a part of history.

“All things dissolve in our magnificent mass conquerors lose their way in our yellow water. Foreign armies are drowned in the flood of our descendants or crushed under the weight of our ancestors. The majestic cascades of our rivers of lives and the swelling succession from our fathers sweep them away.

“Our, politics, therefore, must be infinite, reaching to both ends of time and leading a thousand million men from their fathers to their sons, in lines neither broken nor tangled. You who know so many things do not know the most ancient mid powerful, and you rage with desire for what is immediate and you destroy your fathers and your sons together.

“Gentle, cruel, subtle, or barbarous, we have been what was needed at the time. We do not wish to know too much. Men's knowledge must not increase endlessly. If it continues to expand, it causes endless trouble, and despairs of itself. If it halts, decadence sets in. Here, in order to think, we must know numerous signs, and only scholars can manage—at the cost of immense labor. Others cannot reflect deeply nor combine their shapeless notions. They feel, but their feelings remain shut within. All the powers of the intelligence therefore are left to the uneducated, and an unshakable order is founded on difficulty, and on the mind.

“And now remember that your great inventions had their origin with us. Do you understand now why we did not develop them further? To have singled them out for development would have spolled the slow grandeur of our existence by disturbing the simple regularity of its course. You can see that we are not to be despised; we invented gunpowder ‐ but for shooting off fireworks in the evening.”


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