Friday, January 22, 2010

the majority

“Life for the majority of the population is an unlovely struggle against unfair odds, culminating in a cheap funeral.”

--Siegfried Sassoon, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, 1930

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

flung at random

“The greatest mystery is not that we have been flung at random among the profusion of the earth and the galaxies, but that in this prison we can fashion images sufficiently powerful to deny our nothingness.”

--Andre Malraux

Sunday, January 17, 2010

go lull yourself

And go lull yourself with what you can understand, and with piano-tunes,
For I lull nobody, and you will never understand me.

--Walt Whitman, “To a Certain Civilian,” Leaves of Grass

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


illustration in Van Loon's Geography: The Story of the World We Live In
1882-1944 Dutch/American

The Hideously Arrogant Desire to Preserve the Cultures of Poor Countries Against the Influence of the Cultures of Rich Countries as Living Ethnographical Museums for Citizens of the Rich Countries to Visit

“One afternoon, in the early spring of 1993, a young American Peace Corps volunteer in a north central town of Mongolia expressed to her Mongol friend, as they walked down the town's main street together, a sense of disappointment that local Mongols were learning modern Western dances soon to be demonstrated in a public performance. She animatedly explained that she personally liked traditional Mongol dances, had learned some herself, and thought that it was inappropriate for Mongols to learn modern dances. Like many Westerners, this young American had a certain vision of the Mongols that the incursions of modernity, in this case forms of modern pop dancing, threatened. Her tone and the way she addressed her Mongol acquaintance suggested that she knew what the Mongols should do based on her authority as an American.”

--Kevin Stuart, Mongols in Western/American Consciousness, 1997



"From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Once a certain capacity to resist distractions is achieved, people become less sensitive to distractions and more capable of maintaining mindfulness and staying inwardly absorbed and concentrated. Such people, unless on a mission of helping others, don't seek any interaction with the external physical world. Their mindfulness is their world, at least ostensibly."

Monday, January 04, 2010

Live in Russia

Search for “Russia” on Google Images, and after a photo of St. Basil's Cathedral and a map of the country, this is the third image that's returned:

“It’s not really like that, we only wear gas masks half the time.”

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Machine Gun in World War I

“The machine gun had been a symbol of European dominance over distant, alien and despised peoples in Africa and Asia.... By the second decade of the twentieth century, the machine gun had become a means whereby those societies that felt they shared the highest values of civilization, religion, philosophy, science, culture, literature, art, music and a love of nature, were able to continue to bleed each other barbarically year after year.”

--Martin Gilbert, The Somme: Heroism and Horror in the First World War, 2006

J.R.R. Tolkien: World War I British second lieutenant

“It seems now often forgotten that to be caught by youth in 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.”
--J.R.R. Tolkien, introduction to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings

“The Dead Marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme.”
--J.R.R. Tolkien

“Hurrying forward again, Sam tripped, catching his foot in some old root or tussock. He fell and came heavily on his hands, which sank deep into sticky ooze, so that his face was brought close to the surface of the dark mere. There was a faint hiss, a noisome smell went up, the lights flickered and danced and swirled. For a moment the water below him looked like some window, glazed with grimy glass, through which he was peering. Wrenching his hands out of the bog, he sprang back with a cry. 'There are dead things, dead faces in the water,' he said with horror.

“'Dead faces!' Gollum laughed. 'The Dead Marshes, yes, yes: that is their name,' he cackled.”
--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

World War I

On the firestep in the trenches during the night, you could hear the groaning of the dying — but you couldn't go out to help them. There were rats feeding on their flesh. They were dying there, dying in misery and pain, and the rats were nibbling away at their flesh.
--Cecil Withers, British private

The air in the dugout is so foul that I sit by the entrance. Walter Mayer and Hendrich from my squad sit next to me. Hendrich has completely lost his composure. He is down on his knees and prays. Mayer loses all patience. He tells him off. In this situation a prayer is senseless... Our roof is blown apart by a 28 cm shell. Because I am sitting by the entrance, I am left unscathed, just shoved inside. Most of the men are dead.
--Walter Pechtold, German soldier

The appearance of the trench is atrocious... In places pools of blood. On the protective wall, in the communication trench, stiff corpses covered with tent canvas... An unbearable stench poisons the air... I have not slept for 72 hours. It is raining.
--Charles Delvert, French infantry captain

When we started firing we just had to load and reload. They went down in their hundreds. You didn't have to aim, we just fired into them.
--German machine gunner

The first thing I saw were two legs sticking out of the ground... There was a skull high up in a tree and helmets with bits of head in them...
--John Masefield, British visitor to the front

Some injured men are able to drag themselves to the rear, the one supporting the other, some using their rifles as crutches. Stretcher-bearers follow them in single file, carrying their burdens of suffering... Oh! The terrible explosion! With infernal violence, a shell bursts right amongst this mob and hideously tears it to pieces.
--Thellier de Poncheville, French soldier

Soon a fresh gun gets through the fire to the front. They are selected soldiers. But by midday they, too, are finished. One of them, bleeding, comes to us. The men are so apathetic that they cannot bring themselves to bandage the man.
--Walter Pechtold, German soldier

All day long they lie there, being decimated, getting themselves killed next to the bodies of those killed earlier.
--French officer

The men often cannot eat in the forward lines because of the smell of corpses, and they cannot sleep either.
--Rupprecht Maria Luitpold Ferdinand, German commander

Shrieks of agony and groans all around me... All about me are bits of men and ghastly mixtures of cloth and blood.
--Anthony R. Hossack, British soldier

These are horrendous days... The infantry have lost about half their men, if not more. Some of those who have survived are no longer human beings, but creatures who are at the end of their tether...
--Albrecht von Thaer, German lieutenant-colonel

I can still see the bewilderment and fear on the men's faces when we went over the top. All over the battlefield, the wounded were lying there — English and German, all asking for help... You couldn't help them. I came across a Cornishman, ripped from shoulder to waist with shrapnel, his stomach on the ground beside him in a pool of blood.
--Harry Patch, British private

Among the living lay the dead. As we dug ourselves in, we found them in layers stacked on top of one another. One company after another had been shoved into the drum-fire and steadily annihilated.
--Ernst Junger, German officer

What a slaughter. Hell cannot be this dreadful.
--Alfred Joubaire, French lieutenant

I saw men dead from exhaustion from their efforts to get out of the mud... We were pitchforked into a quagmire in the dark and there was no possibility of a man helping the one next to him... It was the worst instance I came across of what appeared to be a cruel useless sacrifice of life.
--L.W. Kentish, British officer

Under no circumstances must we relax our effort, and we must retain the offensive.
--Douglas Haig, British commander


decomposed German soldier

legless dead French soldier

dead American soldiers

wounded British soldier

Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War by Alan Kramer, 2007
The Faces of World War I: The Great War in Words and Pictures by Max Arthur, 2007
The Pity of War: Explaining World War I by Niall Ferguson, 1998
The Somme: Heroism and Horror in the First World War by Martin Gilbert, 2006

photographs from Corbis, Getty Images, and the Imperial War Museum London

World War I flyers

skull with aviator's helmet and goggles and German 50-mark note between the teeth as a symbol of the cheapness of an aviator's life

Take the manifold out of my back
Take the crankshaft out of my brain
Take the pistons out of my stomach
And assemble the fucking engine again

--World War I aviators' song