Friday, 9 September 2011

Ten years of talking about it

I don't have much to add to my Arts Desk review of Headlong's Decade, directed by the brilliant Rupert Goold, in what they call a 'sitespecific' happening near Tower Hill: it was impressive to watch 12 top-notch performers acting, and dancing, their all through variable material. But it does seem appropriate to quote the end of Simon Schama's speech, the only one of the 20 scripts in the invaluable published playtext which attempts 'the truth' with a little help from Thomas Jefferson's wisdom.

In last night's context it felt a bit preachy, even if it was perhaps a necessary grounding among the polyphony. Still, as a West Wing fanatic who wonders what he's going to do when Series Seven comes to an end, I applaud the sentiments. So let me just quote the end of Schama's 'Epic':

...democracy is not in the piety business. It must tolerate everything but armed intolerance. Our only true enemies are the battalions of armed conformity. Jefferson said it best: 'it does no injury to me for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pockets nor breaks my purse'.

Is the light of our Enlightenment so extinct that we have forgotten that this was supremely an
American voice?

A voice that didn't shout 'GOD is great'.

What it said instead was

'Truth is great and will prevail if left to herself...she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error and has nothing to fear from...conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them'.

That's what should rise from Ground Zero. In letters of light. Every night.

Because you don't measure victory by the height of the building, but the power of your idea.

You can't bomb an idea you see; you can't murder it, you can't cremate it.

The idea wins. The idea lives.

When it's the truth.

Thank you, messrs Schama and Jefferson.


Andrew CRH said...

Oh dear... humanist rhetoric given unassailable force by invoking 9/11. And 'ideas' deified, which just replaces a personal God with an impersonal one, one of no significance to any but the educated middle classes. I usually like Schama, but he should stick to well-illustrated history.

There , glad to have got that off my chest.

David said...

Well, it was bound to divide opinions. I like it, thanks to the Jefferson presence, even if I don't always like him. You Godsquadders predictably don't.

Earlier Schama is at pains to point out that Jefferson as well as his sources Locke and Milton all believed in a Creator, but also that He 'made the mind of man free'. Does that sugar the pill?

Will said...

There's a big ruckus here about the total lack of any priest, minister, rabbi, etc. in the official NYC memorial service. I think it's incredibly refreshing to have a non-religious observance where the people honor others of the people directly without the intervention of what is increasingly becoming (or has been for centuries) The God Business, Inc.

David Damant said...

The Enlightment, without phrases:

Those that believe absurdities will commit atrocities

David said...

I see you and your dear friend the Rev. don't exactly see eye to eye on this one, then?

David Damant said...

My comment on absurdities and atrocities was from Voltaire. The words "without phrases" is a quotation from one of those who voted for the execution of Louis XVI - "death, without phrases" - that is, there is nothing to add.

I do not quite see how this comment has connection with Father Andrew's entry.

I knew Simon Schama at Cambridge - very charming and very intelligent, as he still is. But his prose is sometimes that of an an extract from a Sunday paper colour supplement

David said...

Yes, I know, very familiar with that comment. I did rather assume that Fr Andrew, who may embrace just a few absurdities in his admirable work, is rather at odds with the humanistic attitude, which I trust is yours. But I agree, parts of S Schama's speech for Decade were just as you say. At least he seems to have more integrity than Messrs Starkey or Figes, who just won't go away even in disgrace. People have such short memories...

Susan Scheid said...

Schama is right, and you are so right to quote him--quoting Jefferson--for this day. Democracy should not be in the piety business, and when it succumbs to that, well, I'm not sure what we've got. We over here have strayed so far from the best of our founding traditions it's hard to know how (or whether) we'll ever get back.