Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Arc of History

"Bending the arc of history" is a strange metaphor and phrase. Just saying.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ring Them Bells

Ring them bells, ye heathen
From the city that dreams,
Ring them bells from the sanctuaries
Cross the valleys and streams,
For they're deep and they're wide
And the world's on its side
And time is running backwards
And so is the bride.

Ring them bells St. Peter
Where the four winds blow,
Ring them bells with an iron hand
So the people will know.
Oh it's rush hour now
On the wheel and the plow
And the sun is going down
Upon the sacred cow.

Ring them bells Sweet Martha,
For the poor man's son,
Ring them bells so the world will know
That God is one.
Oh the shepherd is asleep
Where the willows weep
And the mountains are filled
With lost sheep.

Ring them bells for the blind and the deaf,
Ring them bells for all of us who are left,
Ring them bells for the chosen few
Who will judge the many when the game is through.
Ring them bells, for the time that flies,
For the child that cries
When innocence dies.

Ring them bells St. Catherine
From the top of the room,
Ring them from the fortress
For the lilies that bloom.
Oh the lines are long
And the fighting is strong
And they're breaking down the distance
Between right and wrong.

-Bob Dylan, "Ring Them Bells"

Here's a link to a slightly embarrassing version of this song, performed live in 1994 at something called the Great Music Experience. Don't click if grand orchestrations make you cringe. In that case, just look at those last two lines. It was hard to find something that matched this mood of happiness toward the world, but that last couplet comes close to expressing it. Not there yet. Hardly. But some kind of process of shrinking that distance, however temporary and fragile, and perhaps ultimately futile, has begun. For the moment, though, that even a gesture toward this reconciliation has occurred is somewhat hard to believe. It's enough to just express it right now.

Happiness and Redemption:

"There is happiness--such as could arouse envy in us--only in the air we have breathed, among people we could have talked to, women who could have given themselves to us. In other words, the idea of happiness is indissolubly bound up with the idea of redemption. The same applies to the idea of the past, which is the concern of history. The past carries with it a secret index by which it is referred to redemption. Doesn't a breath of the air that pervaded earlier days caress us as well? In the voices we hear, isn't there an echo of silent ones? Don't the women we court have sisters they no longer recognize? If so, then there is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Then our coming was expected on earth. Then, like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak messianic power, a power on which the past has a claim. Such a claim cannot be settled cheaply. The historical materialist is aware of this."

-Walter Benjamin, "On the Concept of History"

Everything is Better Now

Good job, America!