Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Whole Human Race

On Thursday I went to the library and wrote this blog. Jess wanted to give me time away from my job and away from the house, time to think and write and do whatever I wanted. So I sat down to write. I didn't know what to write about (I rarely do until I've more than well started), so I tried to remember recent ideas/concepts/arguments that had drifted in and out of my mind in the last few weeks. I settled on a subject, and set my fingers to typing.

I finished, feeling very satisfied, and began to make my way out of the building. But I stopped myself. While writing I had been thinking of John Updike, whose writing has been haunting me and my thoughts for the last year or so, so I thought I would quickly try to find some of his prose. Sadly I could not, but in the process I found some Mark Twain (who I've never read, outside of half-assing my way through Huckleberry Finn in the 11th grade) and a few others. Lately I've heard a Twain reference or two, so I decided to give him a whirl.

So here I sit, Saturday morning, and I've cracked open the book of Twain essays to find, a bit to my surprise and a bit not, a kindred spirit. Iconoclastic and caustic, presumptuous and cocksure, obsessed with humanity, and possessed of a dim view of such. And he wrote the following, which is a perfect companion to what I wrote and published Thursday, that I just "happened" to stumble across. So if I'm wrong (wrong I may or may not be, but that I am championing an unpopular notion is not in doubt), I'm glad to be wrong in such good company:

"I have not read Nietzsche or Ibsen, nor any other philosopher, and have not needed to do it, and have not desired to do it; I have gone to the fountain-head for information--that is to say, to the human race. Every man is in his own person the whole human race, with not a detail lacking. I am the whole human race without a detail lacking; I have studied the human race with diligence and strong interest all these years in my own person; in myself I find in big or little proportion every quality and every defect that is findable in the mass of the race. I knew I should not find in any philosophy a single thought which had not passed through my own head, nor a single thought which had not passed through the head of million and millions of men before I was born; I knew I should not find a single original thought in any philosophy, and I knew I could not furnish one to the world myself, if I had five centuries to invent it in. Nietzsche published his book, and was at once pronounced crazy by the world--by a world which included tens of thousands of bright, sane men who believed exactly as Nietzsche believed, but concealed the fact, and scoffed at Nietzsche. What a coward every man is! and how surely he will find it out if he will just let other people alone and sit down and examine himself. The human race is a race of cowards; and I am not only marching in that procession but carrying a banner."

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