17 December 2009

the full glare

So many of my readers will say, and will blame the author for all sorts of improbabilities, or will call the poor officials 'fools', because man is very lavish in the use of the word 'fool' and is ready to apply it twenty times a day to his neighbour. It is sufficient if out of a dozen sides of his character he has one foolish one for a man to be put down as a fool in spite of his eleven good ones. Readers can find it easy to criticize, looking down from their comfortable corner on the heights from which the whole horizon lies open at everything that is taking place below, where man can only see the object nearest to him. And in the universal chronicle of mankind there are many entire centuries which he could apparently cross out and suppress as unnecessary. Many errors have been made in the world which today, it seems, even a child would not have made. How many crooked, out-of-the-way, narrow, impassable, and devious paths has humanity chosen in the attempt to attain eternal truth, while before it the straight road lay open, like the road leading to a magnificent building destined to become a royal palace. It is wider and more resplendent than all the other paths, lying as it does in the full glare of the sun and lit up by many lights at night, but men have streamed past it in blind darkness. And how many times even when guided by understanding that has descended upon them from heaven, have they still managed to swerve away from it and go astray, have managed in the broad light of day to get into the impassable out-of-the-way places again, have managed again to throw a blinding mist over each other's eyes and, running after will-o'-the-wisps, have manged to reach the brink of the precipice only to ask themselves afterwards with horror: "Where is the way out? Where is the road?" The present generation sees everything clearly, it is amazed at the errors and laughs at the folly of its ancestors, unaware that this chronicle is shot through and through with heavenly fires, that every letter in it cries out aloud to them, that from everywhere, from every direction an accusing finger is pointed at it, at the present generation; but the present generation laughs and proudly and self-confidently enters on a series of fresh errors at which their descendants will laugh again later on.

Gogol, Dead Souls (1961: 220-221)