The Intellectual Situation
In issue six, we published a poem included in an untranslated essay by the Russian poet Kirill Medvedev who, because of his principled opposition to all literary institutions, refuses either to give or deny anyone to publish him. This superb Medvedev poem, we later discovered, was written by Bertolt Brecht.
As recompense to Mr. Brecht, we now publish his poem “For Future Generations,” produced by the same infallible method of translation from German to Russian to English.
For Future Generations
We live in a dark time.
When to speak without anger is only to reveal that you’re a fool.
When a forehead without wrinkles
Is testament to your heartlessness. When he who laughs
Has simply not yet heard
The terrible news.
What sort of time is this, when
To speak of the trees seems a crime,
Since it means you’re keeping silent about violence?
He who steps calmly down the street
Must be deaf to the sufferings and sorrows
Of his friends.
We can still earn enough to live on,
But believe us: That’s an accident. Nothing
We do gives us the right
To eat our fill.
We’ve survived by accident.
(If they notice our success, we’re finished.)
They say to us: “Eat and drink! Be glad at least you’re not hungry!”
But how can we eat and drink if
We’re taking food away from the starving, if
The glass of water we drink is what a thirsty man needs?
And yet we eat and drink.
We’d like to be wise men.
The ancient books tell us what wisdom is.
It means to put aside the battles of the world and live one’s life
Knowing no fear.
To abjure violence.
To answer evil with kindness.
Not to get one’s wishes, but to forget them.
This is considered wisdom.
And we’re incapable of it.
We live in a dark time.
The publishing house soft skull, in a recent catalog, announced that its new book Coming of Age at the End of History, by the young Frenchman Camille de Toledo, had been excerpted in n+1. Unfortunately, it hadn’t been. To fix the historical record, we here excerpt the book.
I ask you, and try to use your imagination, do you think growing up is easy when your mother is a cemetery? Was Fukuyama right? That’s a question for philosophers, not for me. But take the phrase “We’re at the end of History.” Try to listen to that with the ears of a child at bedtime. Try to hear what those words sound like as the book closes and voices are hushed, as the lights are turned out and the dim figures of the people who put us to sleep slip away with a phrase gentle and disturbing at the same time: Sleep tight.
. . . The crisis was past. We were the happy campers. There was nothing left to do but live happily ever after and sleep tight. We are the children of that funeral elegy. It would have been easy to believe it. To believe that any attempt at creating something is in vain, that writing is just a form of masturbation, that resistance is futile. The various causes that might have given us a reason to keep going were either retro or obsolete, check the right box. Independence? Retro. Alienation? Obsolete. Punk Rock? Retro. Rock and Roll? Obsolete. Unionism? Obsolete. Communism? Retro. Modernity? Outmoded.